Word of the Day- “halt”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will look at the meaning of:

halt

 

Many of you may have heard this before in movies that involve Nazis. The Billy the super-spy of the allied forces is trying to infiltrate some Nazi army base to steal important documents. Disguised as a Nazi-General he walks through the camp, trying to not draw attention to himself. All goes well and he finally reaches the building and starts opening the door but then someone behind him suddenly yells „Halt!“. Slowly Billy turns around, trying to look German. Maybe he can talk his way out of that. Four German soldiers are pointing their guns at him. Within tens of milliseconds Billy ponders all his options and then the decision was made.  Maybe it was audacious, maybe it was crazy, but that was just how Billy works best. But… let’s get back to halt.

halten – the verb

What the soldiers want Billy to do is to stop. Halt comes from the verb halten and halten is clearly related to both to hold or to halt but it also means to stop.

I don’t want to get too much into details on halten vs. to hold. The overlap is large but there are differences. Hold is used in a lot of expression in English and most of those do not translate with halten. Examples for such expression would be hold it down, hold dearly, hold up.
On the other hand the German halten has a meaning which is not to hold or to stop. This meaning is incredibly common though so we should mention them here. It basically expression your feelings or thoughts about something or someone.

So the whole construction is halten für, followed by what you think it is. A second way to use halten to express opinion is by giving a measure as to “how much” of something you “hold”. Yes, that does sounds really strange. The less you hold of something in German, the less you like it.

That can mean that you think he is a great worker, a great person, a great piano player… it expresses positive feeling but it is not really emotional.

is not quite the same as

although both may be translated as

  • I like my girlfriend.

Anyways… here is an example with a negative feeling.

So the structure for this is halten followed by a vague measure like viel, einiges, wenig, garnichts followed by von or davon. So… let’s move on to… What? You WANT an example with davon? Fine.

So… this is the verb halten. Sure there is more to say, but  about halt, there is even morer… or is it mucher? I am confused… both feel right to me…. hmmm anyways…  let’s talk about halt.
First, there is the noun der Halt. If you’ve ever been to Germany you might have heard it in public transportation:

Now, we’ve learned that halten can mean either something like stop or something like hold, which by the way have a common core… something like “keep from moving”… anyways. Der Halt is as broad in meaning as the verb and can thus also mean things in the area of support.

So this is der Halt with a capital h… and then there is this halt:

Wait… what?!?!

halt – a coloring particle

Yes. Halt is another one OF those wor… oh sorry… wrong emphasis… I meant of THOSE words…. those particles, ever so hard to translate. It is one of those words that are used to color and extend your sentences and sometimes also to buy time while the brain tries to get things organized.
It’s not as famous as doch, maybe, but it’s just as common, and actually people use it more and more because it’s a nice way to hedge your statement.

So what’s the core idea of halt?
Get ready, here it comes :

 Halt is a signal of giving in, caving, settling – a verbal shrug, in a way.
People use halt as a signal that something is not exactly the way they’d ideally want them to be, but they’ll accept them as reality.
(We can actually kind of see a relation to actual stopping here. You “stop” with your agenda, in a way. )

That’s pretty abstract of course, so let’s look at some examples.

In both examples, the speaker has to come to terms with not getting the preferred option. Dann by itself can also express that but it’s pretty neutral sounding.
Halt adds this verbal shrug. And it can do that in a range of “emotional states.”
The second example, for instance, depending on how you say it, can sounds like you’re totally okay with tea as an alternative but you can also have it convey how disappointed you are with the place.
Let’s look at some more examples…

 

 

These three examples are quite different in nature, but I hope you can see how there’s always this notion of shrugging your shoulders… a little pissed in the first one, a little ironically in the last one. And you have this notion of having to settle for something that’s not your favorite. Like… studying instead of not studying. Or running into a Grizzly instead of not running into one.

Cool, now, … we’re almost done, but what about a sentence like this one.

This halt is little more than a filler. And it is a description of a thing so it is kind of hard to see the alternative here, halt approves of. The way I see it, this halt expresses that you lack better words. You know what you’re saying or how you’re saying it is not quite capturing your feelings but for a lack of a better wording you say what you say and halt kind of expresses that this is not the most precise information ever. You lack a better way to express yourself so you halt opt for the not so perfect alternative. This really is purely based on feeling and other Germans may heavily disagree with me. What’s certain though is that the halt of the last example doesn’t mean much at all so if my explanation makes sense to you, fine if not, dann halt not ;). And here a final example… family in a car. Mom is in the drivers seat, dad is in a hurry, kid is in despair because he needs to pee.

  • Kid: “Mama, ich muss mal.”
    Mom: “Ich weiß, wir sind gleich da.”
    Kid:”Aber ich muss voll doll, wirklich.”
    Dad: “Jetzt reiß dich zusammen, ich muss pünktlich zum Termin kommen und wir sind schon jetzt fast zu spät.”
    Kid:”Ich mach mir gleich in die Hose…”
    Dad: “Mach halt!
    Mom:”Oh Schatz, nur, dass du es weißt… wenn er sich wirklich in die Hose macht, dann bist du der, der die dann wäscht.”
    Dad:”OK OK, dann halt halt an!”
  • Kid:”Ma’, I need to pee.”
    Mom:”We’re almost there.”
    Kid:”But I have to pee REALLY bad, I swear.”
    Dad:”Now pull yourself together, will you! I have to be on time for my appointment and we’re late already.”
    Kid:”I think I’ll pee my pants.”
    Dad:”Well go ahead.
    Mom:”Oh honey, FYI.. if he REALLY pees his pants, you’re the one to wash ’em.”
    Dad:”OK OK fine… then stop.”

     

Alright, I think we’re done here for today. There are numerous words with halt in them… haltlos, erhalten, Haltung just to name some. A really long word with halt in it is das Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum. It is part of the daily life and if you do your annually fridge purge you will look for specifically this word on … say… the yogurt. Why? Because it is the expiration date.  Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum translated literally would be least-tenability/ “holdability”-date. It is the date to which you can keep your food without having it suffer any decay in quality. It’ll be still edible after that… sometimes for a week or longer, just the company that produced it won’t guarantee that there is no … chunks in the milk. The abbreviation of Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum is MHD  and there has been a debate this summer, whether it should be removed from the package because it makes people throw away food that is still completely fine. An alternative, that you find on ground beef for instance is the Verbrauchsdatum which indicates by which date the stuff had better be used. The Verbrauchsdatum is to be taken seriously. Stuff really starts to become dangerous when this is exceeded. So the MHD is just a guarantee of quality, the VD is an information about when you shouldn’t eat something anymore.

Wow… I did get carried away a little here. SO folks… this was our word of the day halt, which as a coloring word is a give-in-afier, a verbal shrug. If you have questions or suggestions, please leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

for members :)

37
Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
Filipe
Filipe

Wow, it’s really a tough particle :)
I didn’t know that halt could be a particle, but now I will try to do my best to fully understand it.

Good job!

JEAP
JEAP

You really killed me with this one: “Then go … stop… hold… WTF ????“

The use of this word reminds me of Twain’s funny remarks about Schlag and Zug on his infamous essay about the german language.

I’m guessing you’ve read it. One of the funniest things written about this crazy twisted language.

jourdanstacer
jourdanstacer

This is so helpful!!

Sam
Sam

Does “Mach halt” also translate to “might as well”
as in:

Person 1: Should we take the bus or just walk to the restaurant?
Person 2: Let’s walk, it’s nice outside
Person 1: (Sure,) might as well.

Person 1: Wollen wir ins Restaurant mit dem Bus fahren oder zu Fuß gehen?
Person 2: Lass uns zu Fuß gehen, es ist schön draußen.
Person 1: (Klar,) mach halt.

berlingrabers

“Halt” has really confused me for a long while, so thanks a million for this post.

I feel like I hear the “little more than filler” version most often. I actually wondered if the best comparison was to the way “like” gets used by some of us ’90s-raised Americans – I guess that’s not far off.

“Just go ahead” definitely sounds annoyed even in writing, though. You would actually need to tone it down/add words in speech to keep it from sounding that way: “Just go ahead whenever you’re ready” (even that could come across kind of impatient).

Qiou25
Qiou25

Thank U for sharing, this is so awesome. Ten times better than any German teaching I ever had…
I still have a question with your explanation, what does “afier” in “give-in-afier” mean? Sorry I’m not a native English speaker, and I couldn’t find “afier” in any online dictionarya

Shari Anderson
Shari Anderson

Just found your site today. I love it! I can’t wait for my son to take a nap so I can explore what you have available. Kudos.sh

AhmedA
AhmedA

Wow i didn’t know it has all these details!! thanks!!

crittermonster
crittermonster

Hi Emmanuel! Just thought you might enjoy a little bit of insight into halt’s English cousin, “hold”.

First of all, I’m sure you know that English does indeed have the idea of holding an opinion (as in “Ich halte den Plan…”). But perhaps you have not yet encountered another phrasing: “I don’t hold with (that idea, that point of view, etc)”. This one is somewhat associated with older people– in my mind they’re from New England.

And the filler “halt”… Is it not really the same thing as sprinkling your speech with “uh….hold on” ?

Some readers are compaing it to “like”, but I would imagine “Hold on…” to be the better translation. It’s the same word, and is 100% literally a way of buying time while speaking.

While “hold on” is certainly not as common as “like”, “Like” actually serves a very specific function. Despite the “valley girl” stereotype it is usually NOT mere filler, but rather shorthand for “alert! I’m only paraphrasing here, but…” . (“He was like…(sentence) and then I’m like (facial expression)…and they were all like (response)”. Hold on has no such function. It’s just a stopgap.

crittermonster
crittermonster

Oh, and I thought of another thing regarding “like” …but I don’t know how to edit comments so this will be a new one, sorry…

The filler-sounding particle “like” which is used between words, especially by teenagers, also does in fact serve a function even if they themselves don’t realize it ;-) . It’s a mini version of the “I’m paraphrasing” like, and the hidden meaning is “I am actually insecure about whether I really mean to use the word I am about to use. So I’ll throw in a LIKE just in case I want to say I didn’t mean exactly that, OK? God forbid I actually take a stance on an actual word choice.”

The result is speech such as: “I gave him a, like, a flirty look..but not TOO flirty…just, like, a glance. And then he took his, like, notebook or whatever and put it like touching mine so I think he kind of like likes me, ya know?”

Then combine this with the “paraphrase” like: “Oh my gawd. So then was he all like ‘want to hang out?'”
“Nahhh…I never found out, ’cause the teacher was like “Time for the test!” and then he never got to, like, elaborate.”
“oooooh big word, elaborate. Was that on the test?”
“Are you, like, making fun of me?”

And so forth. Congrats, you now speak teen.

Alex

Fantastic!!!

Anonymous
Anonymous

At last, halt, in talking, has been untangled. . . In an unlearned kind of way! Vielen Dank!

Awad
Awad

In arabic we have a similar word with the same exact usage. The word is “بس” pronoinced bas with soft s like in sea

Paul
Paul

Great discussion of “Halt/halt/halten” usw. Even if — reading back on it later — you don’t think you “nailed it,” I think your effort to describe the meanings of halt as a flavoring particle really help me to understand the word more. I have been fascinated by that usage of “halt” and afraid of it for some time now because I haven’t really grasped its meaning enough to effectively translate it. I was in Stuttgart once recently on business and heard a young woman using “halt” in her sentences every few minutes and it really had me wondering what sort of function that word serves. Thanks for helping me to understand it better. Danke vielmals! Paul

NotTill
NotTill

I am loving your site. The reasoning is so clear. You are a gifted teacher.

GermanLover
GermanLover

Great great lesson.. I really enjoyed it…but I still have some nagging problems with ” ja ” , ” aber ” , ” nur ” …That would be so sweet of you if you gave me an insight.