Word of the Day – “graben”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to the epic new series Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel – the series in which we desperately look at uninteresting words because the interesting ones have already been discussed.
Okay… of course I’m being overly dramatic.
It’s not like we’re going to run out of words any time soon. But I do have to dig a little bit deeper, sometimes.
And speaking of digging, that brings us right to the word I brought back from the word mines, because today, we’ll take a look at the meaning of

graben

 

It looks a lot like to grab but that’s misleading. The better match in English is actually the grave because graben means to dig.
They are all one family though, so let’s excavate the root first :).

The origin is the seductively ancient Indo-European root *ghrebh- , which expressed the idea of grabbing, seizing. That’s where grab and also grip and the German greifen come from, but we’ll look at that branch some other time.
The thing is that the root had kind of a side hustle – the notion of “working the soil”. Seems a bit random at first but just think of digging a beetroot out of the soil for dinner! Or doing garden work using hands and simple tools that you “grab”! I don’t know, to me it makes perfect sense.
Anyway, so the German graben focused entirely on this aspect of “working the soil” and became the German word for to dig.

  • Der Hund gräbt ein Loch im Garten.
  • The dog digs a hole in the garden.
  • Wer anderen eine Grube gräbt, fällt selbst hinein. (common proverb in German)
  • Who digs a hole for others, falls into it himself.
  • Die Bankräuber haben einen Tunnel gegraben.
  • The bank robbers dug a tunnel.

I guess it’s worth nothing that graben does NOT work for to dig in the sense of liking something or vibing with someone.

  • I really dig this song, bro.

I’m not even sure, if there’s a good translation for that in German, but it’s definitely not graben.
Graben is really about the notion of working down somewhere. And that idea is pretty visible also for the prefix versions, even though the actual translations vary a bit…

  • Thomas gräbt das Weizenfeld auf seinem Balkon um.
  • Thomas digs over/breaks up the wheat field on his balcony.
    (don’t ask… let’s just assume he has a big balcony)
  • “Bist du Archäologe?”
    “Nein, wieso?”
    “Weil du immer alte Konflikte ausgräbst.”
  • “Are you an archeologist?”
    “No, why?”
    “Because you always dig up/excavate old conflicts.”
  • Die Ausgrabungen behindern die Bauarbeiten.
  • The excavations hinder the construction work.
  • Der neue Praktikant, der Germanistik studiert hat, untergräbt Emanuels Autorität.
  • The new intern, who studied German Studies, undermines Emanuel’s authority.

Ugh… this intern and his Bachelor o’ Farts. Thinks he’s so smart. Like… at the last meeting he was trying to tell me that untergraben was non-separable, can you believ… oh… wait… it actually really is inseparable. Haha … I… I guess he was right this time. Gee, that’s embarrassing.
Anyway, the other two inseparable versions of graben are vergraben and begraben. And they both mean to bury. Vergraben is about the mundane act of digging a hole and putting something away in it, like a treasure or a bone. And begraben is about the more “epic” burying in context of graves or being buried under something collapsing.

  • Der Hund hat vergessen, wo er seinen Knochen vergraben hat.
  • The dog forgot where it buried its bone.
  • Der Ritter begräbt sein Einhorn unter der alten Eiche.
  • The knight buries his unicorn under the old oak.
  • Emanuel will das Kriegsbeil mit seinem Praktikanten begraben.
  • Emanuel wants to bury the hatchet with his intern.

And this brings us also right to the related nouns – das Grab (die Gräber) is the German brother of grave and das Begräbnis is the German word for burial.

  • Niemand weiß, wo Merlins Grab ist.
  • Noone knows where Merlin’s grave is.
  • Auf dem Grabstein von Marias Opa steht: “Dein Hosenstall ist offen…. nicht!
  • On the tombstone of Maria’s grandpa is written: “Your fly is open…. not!”

Oh and then there’s also the noun die Gruft, which is also a kind of grave, but it’s usually a bigger hall underground. Crypt is the best translation, I think, but Gruft sounds less fancy. It sounds moist and dark and full of spiders and bats. Check out Gruft and crypt on Google image search, if you’re curious. The difference is quite obvious.

  • Der Geisterjäger öffnet die Tür zur Gruft.
  • The ghost hunter opens the door to the crypt/tomb.

And there’s the somewhat derogatory word der Gruftie(s), which according to the German dictionary is used by young people for old people, but I mainly know it as a German option for a person who follows this fashion style, where they go to the gym a lot and are really tan and wax all body hair. I think you all know what I mean… Goth(ic).

  • Thomas sieht nach dem Netflix-Wochenende wie ein Gruftie aus.
  • Thomas looks like a goth person after the Netflix weekend.

I think Goth is the more common word by now in German for that.
Cool.

First up, we die Grube. We’ve actually already seen it in one of the first examples and it is the German word for a dug hole, a pit. A Grube can be rather big, but there’s also the cute version die Grübchen, which is the German word for dimples (or foveola as the Mr. Bachelor Man suggested)…. you know, these cute little indentations in the cheeks that some people have.

  • Vor meinem Haus ist eine riesige Baugrube.
  • In front of my house, there’s a giant building pit.
    (what’s the most idiomatic word for the big pit at a construction site?
    The dictionary had several suggestions…Danke :))
  • Die alte Kiesgrube ist jetzt ein See.
  • The old gravel pit is now a lake.
  • Thomas mag Marias Grübchen.
  • Thomas likes Maria’s dimples. (the “indentations” in the cheeks some people have)
    Lit: small cute “Gruben”

 

And then, there’s der Graben (die Gräben), which is the German word for a ditch.
Or a trench. Or a fosse. Or a moat.
Or a rift.
English has quite a bunch of words for that actually but in essence a Graben is like a looooong Grube. Mir. Bacherlor intern guy suggested line-shaped excavation as a paraphrase, if you like that better.

  • Das selbstfahrende Auto fährt selbst in den Graben.
  • The self driving car drives into the ditch by itself.
  • Die Einhörner füllen den Burggraben mit Pferdedung.
  • The unicorns fill the moat with horse droppings.
  • Die Gräben in der Partei vertiefen sich.
  • The rifts in the party are deepening.

And before we move on to the last word for the day, I’ll give you a nice little connection to English. Are you ready?
Die Grube and der Graben are directly related to… drumroll please… groove. Yup, the musical groove.
And while you now brood over how this connection could possibly make sense, let’s look at the last word for today…. the verb grübeln.

grübeln

And grübeln is actually the German word for brooding, ruminating, thinking something over and over. Seems a bit weird at first, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Originally, grübeln was a repeated digging in the ground, maybe for finding a certain root or something, but soon people started using it in a figurative sense of digging for facts or answers and eventually, it focused on this intense thinking you do for big problems.

  • Maria lag die ganze Nacht wach und hat gegrübelt.
  • Maria lay awake all night ruminating. (lit.: “and ruminated”)
  • Zwanghaftes Grübeln kann eine Krankheit sein.
  • Compulsive ruminating can be an illness.
  • Diese ganze Grübelei bringt nichts.
  • All this ruminating leads to nothing.

It’s much stronger than nachdenken. Like… when I hear grübeln I think of someone who looks really serious and tense and whose forehead is full of furrows. Nachdenken is a good thing, grübeln is a bit too much.
Cool.
So, that’s pretty much it for today but of course I still have to tell you about the connection between Grube and groove.
Now, when we hear groove we immediately think of music, but a little over a hundred years ago, the main meaning of the word groove was actually the same as for Grube and Graben… a ditch or pit. Then, jazz musicians came up with the expression of “standing in the groove” which meant playing well in the sense of not doing too much grandstanding. You’re not drawing too much attention, you’re “in the groove” with the band. And because rhythm plays a crucial role in jazz, groove slowly shifted toward this aspect.
Tadaah.
And that’s it for today. This was our look at the meaning of graben and all the nice related words.
As usual, if you want to recap a little you can test yourself with the little quiz we have prepared.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you dug it and see you next time :)

 

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0fqj3
0fqj3
2 years ago

Your description of goths is surprising to me. In the U.S.A., at least, I think of a goth as someone who is scrawny, pale, and brooding; in opposition at least to tan and goes-to-the-gym-a-lot. (I don’t think American “gothism” has much of a stance either way on hair).

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago

Let’s begin

Er hat ein bisschen tiefer gegraben und ein Telefon ausgegraben.

Still cannot figure (umgraben) out

Der hund vergräbt Kacka in Viele geistelos Bereiche Im ganzen Garten (bad dog)

Emanuel untergräbt Seine Studenten Vertrauens ,wenn er gesagt hat, Sie werden nie Erflog machen. Er sollte darüber grübeln (Bad Emanuel ;)

Note :

1) Wer anderen eine Grube gräbt, fällt selbst hinein.

We have an Arabic equivalent ( من حفر حفرة لأخيه وقع فيها )

I would use it when a friend,for example, tries to prank me.

He tries to trip me, but he falls instead. So I say من حفر حفرة لأخيه وقع فيها

2) to dig somebody. I though this was “stehen auf jemand”

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Turtles

The classic in English is from Hamlet: “hoist with [or “by”] one’s own petard.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoist_with_his_own_petard

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

I’m not sure about common – it’s definitely something you’d use to make yourself sound cultured/educated. But it’s fairly well known. Turns up over 200,000 Google hits. Granted, an awful lot of those are to pages explaining what a “petard” is… XD

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

I am gonne use this to confuse other non natives. Thank you

david_l
david_l
2 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

The modern saying in English is “He who digs a pit for others falls in himself.” The German version seems to be a direct translation of the Bible verse “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein.”

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

I guess it’s worth nothing that graben does NOT work for to dig in the sense of liking something or vibing with someone.

I suspect you mean “I guess it’s worth noting…..”

TomBambadil
TomBambadil
2 years ago

hi, i can’t have correct answers of questions.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago

This is personally interesting for me, having the last name “Graber” and all.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but a “digger” (or miner?) would be a “Gräber,” right? I’ve tended to assume that my ancestors dropped the umlaut at Ellis Island or wherever when they immigrated – you do see the name “Graeber” as well – but at least since being in Munich, I’ve found that people perceive “Graber” as a “real” name and think “Gräber” would be sort of odd as a surname. I think I have found the name on Google without an umlaut in Switzerland, which is where my people came from originally.

I’m curious what your take on that would be. Might the no-umlaut version be original?

Nikitalev
Nikitalev
2 years ago

Dear dailygerman community, today I received one-year membership sponsored by your donations. I want to express my gratitude to all of you for making it possible!

0fqj3
0fqj3
2 years ago

Bitte verzeihen Sie meinen ersten Versuch mit Deutscher Komposition. Ich hatte gedacht, dass “groove” im Sinne “ruminate” sich auf den Prozess des Tragens einer Furche vom Hin- und Hergehen bezieht.

aoind
aoind
2 years ago

The English verb “grub” means to dig out by the roots and in the literal sense would typically be applied to digging up root vegetables, particularly grabbing them out of the soil by hand. In the figurative sense it is typically used with reference to dirty secrets. The adjective “grubby”, meaning dirty, presumably references someone who has been “grubbing”.

aoind
aoind
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Cute! And a very uncompromising statement of pure rawness. Now I would be all over that like a cheap suit but I am weird amongst my countrymen. Why “englisch” is synonymous with undercooked meat in Germany is truly a mystery to me – it is not at all representative of the preferences here.

gorkam
gorkam
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Almost like Steak Tartare, except without the raw egg!

Simon Wickham
Simon Wickham
2 years ago

And don’t forget the word grub, which is a small worm or maggot found in the soil. Only by knowing the German word can we see see where our word grub comes from. Also we English refer to dirty people as grubby, again without any understanding of the German root word or the connection to the soil. Except in American English they call soil ‘dirt’ (hence ‘dirty’) So the connection between grubbiness and working with soil is clear and must derive from our agricultural past and Saxon linguistic roots. Very interesting this thread. I am a newcomer.

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

Danke für den Artikel. Mir ist gleich aufgefallen, dass “untergraben” in deinem Beispiel mit “undermine” zwar untrennbar ist, aber auch noch eine trennbare Variante hat. Z.B. “Die Pflanzen, die als Gründünger gepflanzt wurden, müssen dann später mit untergegraben werden.” Was würde man auf Englisch sagen? “to dig in”? Viele Grüße, Birke

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Der englische Wikipedia-Artikel über Gründünger (“green manure”) hat “plow/plough under”.

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Interessant! “Unterpflügen” gibt es natürlich auch. Aber im Garten muss man ja nicht wirklich pflügen. Sagt man es da trotzdem?

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Habe ein bisschen weiter gegoogelt und eine Seite gefunden, wo es “dig in” heißt, wie etwa:

– The plants are then dug in the following spring while still green.
– Dig the green manure into the top 10-25 cm of soil.

Alternativ gab es auch auf der Website “incorporate into the soil”.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Definitely sounds a bit more technical, but it’s actually not that weird to a native speaker. “Incorporate” really has a pretty broad range, including the idea of “making something part of something else” (using “into”). You probably see that more figuratively most of the time:

– I tried to incorporate as many of my team’s suggestions as possible into the second draft of the presentation.

Barratt
Barratt
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

This sounds totally normal to me. A similar context occurs in baking. “Whisk until the eggs are fully incorporated into the batter.” In diesem Kontext bedeutet das einfach “gründlich durchmischen”.

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ich kannte die Variante. Der Beispielsatz ist von mir, aber ich denke, ich habe bestimmt mal irgendwo gelesen, was man so mit Gründünger (oder auch Pferdemist, für die Erdbeeren ;-) ) macht – und dann im Unterbewusstsein aufbewahrt. :-)

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ja! :-D
Und dazu noch Lehrerin für Deutsch als Fremdsprache. Das Grübeln über Feinheiten von Wörtern und Bedeutungen in dieser oder jener Form ist mir also nicht so fremd…. ;-)

rileylee
2 years ago

I think there is a misspelt word in quiz question #4 der Bergräbnis. It was spelled correctly in the text: der Begräbnis.
One question: Why is it that in my dictionary all five answers in #5 are listed as meanings for der Graben, though it said ‘rift’ was an old definition?
BTW, thank you for your entertaining newsletter.

jeff
jeff
2 years ago

angraben is listed as one of the vocab words but i don’t see it used/demonstrated in the text???

did you mean to show ausgraben?

patrik.osgnach
patrik.osgnach
2 years ago

Last summer I came up on my own with the expression “stirb im Graben” as a way of saying “fuck you”, “fuck it”, “fuck this shit” and so on. I was pretty sure it’s a common German expression, but my colleagues proved me wrong. I felt proud

donk747
donk747
2 years ago

A great article (as always). :)
Just a correction suggestion… one can ‘wrack’ one’s brain when thinking about something (which could lead to one wrecking one’s brain….)
An old word, ‘wrack’. Check it out.

SCviic
SCviic
2 years ago
Reply to  donk747

I love the website. One thing: you haven’t done any posts on the prefix verbs with “setzen”, e.g “ansetzen” and “einsetzen”. Do you think they are not worth doing?

aoind
aoind
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

“wrack” and “rack”, in the sense of what one does to one’s brain, are two spelling variants of the same word.

Jpanosky
Jpanosky
2 years ago

I would call a Baugrabe for a large building an excavation site. For a home, I’d call it the foundation hole or cellar hole – cellar hole in particular if it’s for a house that’s no longer there.

quiz #6: while grübeln may wreck your brain, I think you’re actually looking for the word rack (to strain in mental effort). And nowadays people often call this kind of thinking “obsessing over” something rather than ruminating. For me, ruminating brings to mind long, slow, deep thoughts, not stress.

Jpanosky
Jpanosky
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Brooding seems a good fit. Obsessing doesn’t bring to mind talking for me, but rather inability to think of anything else, having the thoughts running around incessantly in your mind.

Barratt
Barratt
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ich benutze oft “ponder” als Übersetzung für grübeln. (Das Wort “ruminate” benutze ich eigentlich nie in meinem Alltag. Ich denke immer an eine Kuh.) “Ponder” verknüpfe ich mit Sachen, die für den menschlichen Kopf einfach zu groß/unbegreiflich/Ehrfurcht-einflößend sind. e.g. “to ponder the meaning of life”, aber man kann auch über alltägliche Themen intensiv “pondern”. Ich finde “brood” nicht (allgemein) treffend, weil das Wort eine sehr negative Assoziation hat. “To brood over something” bedeutet meistens “über etwas beunruhigendes nachdenken, und dabei negative Gefühle entwickeln (Traurigkeit, Ärger, usw.)”. z.B. “it is unhealthy to brood over your mistakes”, oder “Trump spend hours brooding over his defeat before unleashing a Twitter storm.”

LCantoni
2 years ago

I really dug the digging, man! :D One quibble – “ruminating” to me has the connotation of calm thinking, like a cow serenely chewing its cud in a peaceful meadow. If “grübeln” has the connotation of a more intense or negative thought process, then maybe “brooding” (which you suggested) or even “obsessing” might be better translations? Danke schön!

drachenreiterin
drachenreiterin
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

I think brooding also works, but I understood right away when you said ruminating. They both carry the idea of something being processed over and over. I’m trying to think if I’ve heard those words in everyday speech. You definitely could, but I think they would tend to be written. Especially ruminating, since it’s a long word. A lot of people would say obsessing, like others have said. Personally, I would probably say my mind is racing or I have racing thoughts. Like, my mind just would not stop racing last night. Fixating could also work.

P.S. If this is scraping the bottom of the barrel, please keep it up. It was very interesting. Liebe grüße aus den USA.

david_l
david_l
1 month ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

As a Canadian I had never heard or seen the word ruminating before reading this article. If you type ruminating into Google Translate it likes to try to replace it with “urinating”, so surely it’s not a common term.

Alan
Alan
2 years ago

Sicher war es Einhornkot?

Shawn
Shawn
2 years ago

not sure how I stumbled across this, but I love it – subscribed!

imane
imane
2 years ago

nyway, the other two inseparable versions OFFFFF graben are vergraben and begraben. :))))

fairyhedgehog
fairyhedgehog
2 years ago

I love your articles! I’ve shared this one on Facebook.

I got two questions wrong: on related words and on how to handle your intern. I had you getting him to make coffee for a week!