welcome back to the German learning Advent Calendar, door number 18. And behind this door is kind of a little add on to an article that’s already on the site. I’m talking about the article on
the particle halt and its use
Because there’s something missing, that I think is really important. The article itself is fairly old and it definitely needs an overhaul because it’s too long and spends too much time on the verb halten. I wanted to do the rewrite for the calendar but then work got in the way and I can’t possible do that at the moment. Still, I wanted to share the missing bit, because it’s quite common and it kind of shows a character trait of millenial Germans.
So, the general gist of the article on halt was, that it is kind of a verbal shrug. People use it whenever something is NOT the “most desired option” but an alternative. How exactly to translate it or if it even should be translated heavily depends on tone, but this notion of a verbal shrug fits pretty well.
Here are two examples, just so you can see it in practice.
- “Wir haben keinen Kaffee.”
“Dann halt Tee.”
- “We don’t have coffee.”
“Meh… tea then.”
- “Ich gehe.”
- “I’ll leave.”
“Well, do what you gotta do.”
Now, if you pay attention to Germans speaking you will notice that people, especially between 20 and 50, use halt a LOT. And not always is there an alternative setting, like an A or B thing, going on.
So what does the halt express in these cases?
At first, my interpretation was that people use it when they’re struggling to express themselves.
- “Warum war das Date nicht cool?”
“Es war halt irgendwie komisch.”
- “Why wasn’t the date good?”
“I don’t know… it was kind of strange.”
In that sense we actually do have an alternative. It’s the perfect way of expressing their thoughts. But they can’t do that, because they’re not Goethe, so they have to settle for the second best way. And halt kind of marks that in the sentence. Like… “This is kind of what I think, I don’t know how else to say it, though it’s not really precise.”
And based on that notion, we have a key to another trend that I noticed. And this is what I want to eventually add to the article because it’s really important:
People use halt as an apologetic particle to subconsciously hedge their statements against direct confrontation.
Here’s an example… an employee complaining about having to do half an hour longer.
- Ich wollte halt heute pünktlich nach Hause gehen.
The translation of it is “I wanted to go home on time” … WITH a little verbal shrug in it. And what is that little verbal shrug doing there?
Well, to me (and I have paid a lot of attention to how people use halt) it feels a bit like the person is apologetic about wanting to go home on time. Not in a sense of really feeling sorry for it, but in a sense that they FEEL like they should apologize or justify themselves.
They’re saying their opinion, but they put something else in there. An apology or justification for their opinion, thus making it less exposed to direct confrontation.
Let me try to show you in English…
- I wanted to go home on time today.
- I like… I kind of wanted to go home on time today, or whatever.
The first statement is a clear and upright statement. You stand up for what you want. The second version conveys the same message, but it’s hiding it. It’s weaseling around a bit, trying to avoid being confronted directly. A bit like
- “These are my thoughts.”
- “Don’t blame me for it, but these is my thoughts.”
Now, I did not do scientific research on this. This is really just my observation over the years, but I do feel like that Germans have a tendency to avoid clear statements and really sticking up for their opinion. You will hear a LOT of halts when people complain about something. Some are because they don’t know how to express themselves, and some are adding a pinch of “apologetic-ness” into the statement.
And it’s not the only way Germans “hide” in their statements. I’ll talk about another BIG one next year. But I feel like there’s a trend of people not making clear bold statements and preferring to make it wishy washy in some way, hedging it. Having a backdoor.
It’s nothing people do conscioulsy or with bad intend. It’s just a mind set of the society or generation, or whatever. And it’s very subtle. But I have halt (being apologetic here :)) caught myself many times using halt or another option and then mentally saying the same thing again without it to see how it feels. And it feels different. It feels more exposed.
I’ll rework the article about halt and add some more examples for all this, but for today that’s all I wanted to share.
But I am super curious what you think. Those of you who have spent some time in Germany, have you noticed any of this? Do you think there’s something to my theory?
And am I even making any sense?
Let me know all your thoughts and feedback in the comments. Have a great day and bis morgen :)
Thanks for this.
I found your website is best way to speak like a local.
I think in Romanian there is a common expression that is very similar to halt, it can encapsulate the meaning of halt. It’s “pur și simplu” (pure and simple; rein und simpel) – Es ist halt so – E pur și simplu așa; Er hat halt geschwiegen und weggeschaut – A tăcut pur și simplu si s-a uitat într-altă parte usw. Ich wollte dir halt helfen – Am vrut pur și simplu să te ajut usw.
Hmmm, from your examples is feels a bit like English “just” to me… would you agree?
Hmmm… maybe, yeah. Somehow like English just or simply. At least that’s the meaning I can easily see and use.
German “halt” feels more like “just …like…” to me then. I’m not sure if Romanians really use your version in the same way and frequency and with the same vibe.
Ich wollte dir halt helfen, aber Ich hab wohl Scheiße gebaut… Macht das für dich irgendeinen Sinn?
Ich hab wohl *dabei* Scheiße gebaut, oder?
Muss nicht drin sein.
Ja, das geht super!
a link for this Advent Calendar post on HALT could really go in your dictionary entry for HALT. There is only a link to the main article on the verb halten. This post complements the main article nicely.
Ich wollte halt das Word lernen. ( :
Done! Danke dir!! This kind of feedback helps a great deal actually, because there is so much work with the dictionary and impossible not to overlook stuff :)
I haven’t spent much time in Germany, certainly not enough to have any opinion on why Germans use “halt” so much (it would have slipped by me in conversation altogether), but it sounds like what I think of here (U.S.) as a Midwestern kind of thing. Softening one’s words to be less direct. And oh, I think another way you could translate the “I wanted to go home on time today” sentence would be “I sort of wanted to go home on time today.” Pretty much the same thing but that’s how I’d say it as a good Midwesterner.
Just a little note… Germans don’t use this “halt” with the other person in mind. It’s not about not offending. It’s about themselves and how they feel about their statement.
But “sort of” does have some overlap with it, for sure.
Sounds like the best translation for “halt” is “kind of” – which you will hear a lot in American English, used to convey both slight imprecision and indirect, semi-apologetic non-confrontation.
Yup, the halt I described here does have a lot of overlap with that “kind of” and also with “like”.
– He was like (not halt), just like (halt so) , I don’t know like (halt) angry or something.
Nice to find a page with colloquial phrases that are hard to find in a normal dictionary. Well done. Halt gut gemacht.
You’ve noted that one way that English speakers do this apologetic thing is by using “like” as a filler. I do it myself and there’s an epidemic of it in the UK. I think it’s very similar.
In Vienna I hear “halt” quite often from the age group you mentioned. I sometimes throw it into the particle category similar to “just” in English. On a daily basis i hear “es ist halt so,” for example. I try to use it in an attempt to give what I say some flavor.
Yeah, “Es ist halt so.” is a prime example of a “halt” as it justifies a situation, that is not the ideal.
Have you also heard “halt” in conversation when people tell each other stories?
Yes, very often. “Ich konnte halt nichts mehr tun,” “er hat halt geschwiegen und weggeschaut” are good examples.
Hahahaha, yes!!! I especially like the second one. Like .. mimimimimi.
This article was very helpful. Just as the comments discuss “just” in English [see what I did there?], it often comes down to tone, intonation, and emphasis in English. I love that Germans can soften a request or opinion with the filler words–z.b., doch, noch, mal, bitte bitte mal, ja, na.. I have yet to find the over-50 Germans needing to soften their complaints or opinions, though. lol. Thanks for all you offer and share here. You are not “just” a Rock Star. ;-)
“. I have yet to find the over-50 Germans needing to soften their complaints or opinions, though.”…. hahaha, that made me laugh :D
Its definitely a millennial thing. Us over 50s have a different speech pattern. Less tentative sounding. I first noticed this tendency emanating from California in the 1980s with what became known as Valley Girl speak…refer to Frank Zappa…now it’s perhaps morphed into mainstream speech tendencies in the next generations…just my €0.02.
Hahah… the “€0.02” made me laugh. I mean… I know the idiom, but I’ve never seen someone using actual numbers. That’s cool.
Einhornfohlen: Mama, uns ist das Fleisch ausgegangen.
Mutter Einhorn: Dann musst du halt dieses Gemüse essen.
I have never heard Halt because of my poor listening skill. I must have missed it. But…very interesting as there are many ‘halt’-ish expressions in my native tongue, Japanese. Japanese uses those expressions partly because they don’t want to hurt the others’ feelings, partly because they cannot make up their mind. I wonder why Germans use halt. I try to listen more carefully! Thank you!
Oh wow, someone from Japan!!!! Finally!!! Do you know how long I have waited for a confirmed reader from Japan :D?
What I find interesting between German and Japanese is the fact that both languages are considered “head-final”. That means that the verb comes at the very end and everything else builds toward it.
I think Japanese works that way, and German does, too (with the exception of position 1 and two in “normal” sentences).
And great to hear that you have similar coloring words.
One question though… German speaker use halt a lot in casual conversation, for example if they’re telling their friend a story. There is no awareness of all the “halts” they’re using and they wouldn’t be able to tell.
Is it the same in Japanese? Or are people aware that they just in that moment used it to sound less offensive or because they’re indecisive?
Ausgezeichnet! Natürlich höre ich jetzt halt oft … Ich werde genauer hinhören
The English translations vary between just, simply or only with the difference often being tone and facial expression.
What a great article! It’s so hard to understand what actual real Germans are saying… all these particles. It’s never like the textbooks!
Thanks for the great feedback :)!!
I’m outside the age range of the people who use ‘halt’ most (I’m 65) so if I used it would I sound ridiculous? Is this something to recognise rather than to use?
I did find it very interesting – you do a good job of explaining. I’m still at an early stage with all those words that German uses to colour sentences. I find them fascinating but I wouldn’t like to have to formally translate them!
DON’T USE IT!!! I really hate this trend.
No, you wouldn’t sound ridiculous. You might actually sound younger by using it. Still… DON’T :D
To say it’s an interesting observation is a huge understatement. I find this article full of insights. As a Russian taking German tourists sightseeing in Saint Petersburg, Russia, I can say I’ve noticed a lot of apologetic behaviour the Germans show. Well, yes, because of WWII, obviously. But maybe these things are connected? Postwar trauma, manifesting itself in the language? I mean, look at German stand-up comedians. What they joke about? Being a German, feeling guilt, towards Jews, towards other nations… And also about feeling sick of feeling guilty. I’ve sensed it. So yes, the Germans do manifest guilt in their language, the halt-thing is an awesome example as I see it. Of course, can be just my vista)) Interesting though is that Russians, too, tend to apologise for expressing themselves)) Maybe that’s why I’m sensitive to these things. Some Russians, the 50-s, 60s, 70s., I’d say. On the practical note, shall I start using halt a lot on my German tours to make my tourists feel more at home?)))
NO!! Do not start using “halt”. Germans need to learn to make clear statements and risk being called out for it :D.
Also, chances are you’ll be misusing it. Kind of like uncanny valley, if you know what that is.
Funny that you mentioned German stand up. It’s AWFUL! German comedy as a whole is NOT FUNNY! Usually, the stand up people that are funny are immigrants and talk about immigrant related stuff.
Great hint. I’ve never heard the “halt” but I wonder if I’ll hear it everywhere from now on!
very cool article! I hadn’t heard ‘halt’ like this before. But then, I haven’t been in Germany since 1991. :-(
That might explain it. It’s a thing of the last two decades, I’d say.
Oh please let me know :)!! I’m curious, because people really use it a lot.
I fully agree with your theroy, I have been in Germany for 7 years now and I have noticed this use of halt very often at least were I live (Tübingen). I would translate it in English often with “just”, so to use your example: “I just wanted to go home on time today….”
Ich habe noch nicht genug Zeit in Deutschland, aber diese macht Sinn!
Nice, glad to hear that you think I have a point :). And also nice to hear that you’ve been in the South, because my perspective is quite Northern so there’s always a danger that people in the South don’t actually talk that way.
Im Süden werden oft “nur” oder “mindestens” verwendet.
Halt kommt mir nicht so bekannt vor.
Neee, das passt nicht wirklich in diesen Kontexten. Wo hast du das denn gehört?
“mindestens” wäre in den Beispielen hier total verwirrend für mich.
Übgrigens… danke dür die Spende!!! Die is von dir, oder?
Ich verstehe halt—-offenbar nur Bahnhof !
Stimmt Spende war von mir. Bitte sehr..
Ich brauche keine Millionen
Dann vielen Dank, ich werde ein paar Leute for free anmelden (mach ich sowieso, aber ja) :)
Ich dachte , dass die Partikel halt ist synonym von eben . Es gibt das gleiche auf Französich . Je voulait partir JUSTEMEMENT à temps à la maison . Hier der Sprecher ist verärgert, verhindert und ein bischen resigniert .
Aber habe ich eine Frage. Diese Partikel ist es betont in einen Satz oder nicht ? Hat sie die gleiche Aussprache wie der Halt ?
Im voraus danke .
“halt” is synonymous with “eben” in the instance where you choose a second best alternative.
Like “Dann eben/halt Tee” for example.
But for this hedging “halt” it’s not always a good replacement. Sometimes it works but sometimes, like in the example with the job, it doesn’t.
Die Aussprache ist gleich wie der Halt, und es ist eigentlich nie betont.
Nice language bits. Now we 2.0 the whole website and Yourdailygerman 2.0. Jk
Thank you for the article
Uffff… overhauling this mess completely would take like a year :D WITHOUT NEW ARTICLES COMING OUT.
Then we shall have vote for the chosen ones ;)
The chosen words by the unicorns.