Word of the Day – “achten”

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My mic crashed during (or before) recording, so what you hear is the backup. That’s why it’s so bad. I’ll redo the recording in the coming days. Sorry for that :)

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Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. And this time, we’ll take a look at the wonderful world of

achten

Which by itself might not really be a verb you have on your radar, but it has some pretty useful siblings. Like Achtung for instance, which you might know from warning signs. Or Achtsamkeit, which is pretty central in meditation.
And of course you’ve all know acht, the number, which is the one who ate nine.
Or wait… that was actually seven.
Sieben acht neun.
And it’s not even funny in German.
Probably because nothing is funny in German.
Not even the show Friends, which in German was called Coworkers.
Anyway… there are plenty of useful German words with acht in them and today we’ll explore what they all mean, how to use them and of course how they’re even connected.
So are you ready to jump in?
Then let’s freaking go…

And let me answer one of the most obvious questions right away:

No, the number 8 and the other acht-words are NOT related.

Acht, just like its sisters in English, Spanish, Russian and so on, all come from the impeccably ancient Indo-European root *okto(u) which back then actually still meant 2. It just got 8 over time because of iNfLaTiOn.
Nah, kidding of course. There’s not much to say about the number 8 but as we’re at it let’s look at the important number words with it

  • 18 – achtzehn
  • 80 – achtzig
  • 1/8 – ein Achtel
  • 8. – der Achte, die Achte, den Achten….

And here’s a couple of side uses you might hear in daily life…

  • Mein Fahrrad hat eine Acht.
  • My bike has a wobbling wheel.
  • Niemand:
    Toningenieure: Kugel, Niere oder Acht?
  • No one:
    Audio engineers: omnidirectional, cardioid or figure of eight?

And die Acht itself is of course feminine, because it resembles a voluptuous femme fatale and when it lies down, it becomes a symbol for eternity. Or maybe because all numbers are feminine, I’m not sure.
So that’s acht, the number, and now let’s get to the acht that’s at the core of all of those useful acht-words.

The watchful “acht”

And the origin of this acht is an old Germanic root *ah-, which carried the idea of “thinking, having in mind“. Just think of stuff like ah, or äh or ach or aha German. Or uh or uhm in English. Not that they’re related but they’re also about thinking so they could be a nice bridge for your memory.
Anyway, in German the theme of the root shifted from “thinking” to “minding” in the sense of “taking into consideration” and the old noun die Acht changed from “thought” and “opinion” to this vague blend between attention and heed, that we can see today in phrasings like sich in Acht nehmen or achtgeben

  • Im Wald in der Nacht,
    Nimm dich vor der gehörnten Mähne in Acht.
  • At night , in the forest
    beware of the horned crest.

  • “Kann ich kurz deinen Stift haben?”
    “Hier. Gib gut auf ihn acht.”
    “Ich verspreche es. Gott ist mein Zeuge.”
  • “Can I have your pen for a second?”
    “Here. Watch over him carefully.”
    “I swear it. God is my witness.”

Fun fact, by the way… for a long time these phrasings were spelled with a small acht. For centuries, people had just been like “Noun? Meh… imma treat this like a prefix“. Then came the spelling reform of the late 90s and it was changed to a capital A. But a lot of people were like “WTF is this… I hate this!” and eventually, in the reform of the reform in the early 2000s, Acht geben was changed back to achtgeben while the others were kept nouns, because… rEaSoNs.
So don’t get confused if you see different spellings somewhere. It’s the same stuff.

Anyways, these phrasings are fairly common and there are also some nice compounds with acht.

  • Achtsamkeit im Alltag macht alles besser.
  • Mindfulness in everyday life makes everything better.
  • Viele Menschen werfen ihre Masken einfach achtlos in die Natur.
  • Many people throw their masks thoughtlessly, carelessly into nature.

But generally the much more common and useful word is the verb achten. By itself, it is occasionally used for the idea of having respect, regard for someone or something

  • Der weise Uhu wird von allen im Wald geachtet.
  • The wise eagle owl is respected by all in the forest.

but the use you definitely need to add to your active vocabulary is achten auf, because that’s a really common option for the idea of paying attention, watching over.

  • Thomas achtet auf seine Gesundheit.
  • Thomas takes care/pays attention to his health.
  • Im Zentrum gibt es viele Taschendiebe und man muss auf seine Wertsachen achten.
  • In the center, there are many pickpockets and you have to watch/be careful of your valuables.
  • Darauf müssen Sie achten, wenn Sie 2021 in den Urlaub fliegen wollen.
  • This is what you need to watch out for/pay attention to when you want to go on vacation by plane in 2021.
  • Seit Maria den neuen Fitnesstrainer hat, achtet sie sehr darauf, wie ihre Haare aussehen.
  • Ever since Maria has this new fitness coach, she pays a lot of attention to how her hair looks.

If you’re wondering about the difference to aufpassen aufaufpassen auf sounds more immediate and leans toward guarding, while achten auf is more toward “having an eye on” or “being attentive to“. Just remember the original sense of having in mind.
Like… suppose you’re at a cafe working on your laptop and you need to go to the bathroom, you’d ask your neighbor if they can aufpassen for a second. Using achten auf is not really wrong, but that for instance could also imply that the person should watch out for the laptop doing something.
And for paying attention to the road, achten auf is a bit better. I mean, people also use aufpassen but technically, that could also mean that you’re like road-sitting or whatever.
Bottom line… don’t overthink it :).

Besides the verb you’ll definitely also need the noun die Achtung. And just like the verb it can be about the idea of respect, but it’s more common as a warning “attention”.

  • “Ich habe große Achtung vor meinem Fitness-Trainer.”
    “Meinst du Achtung für oder Interesse an?”
    “Naja… beides.”
  • “I have huge respect for my fitness coach.”
    “Do you mean respect for or interest in?”
    “Oh well… both.”

  • Sehr geehrter Mr. McDonalds,
    dank Shiba Inu und Safemoon ist mein Crypto-Portfolio unterwegs Richtung Mond und ich muss nicht mehr arbeiten. Deshalb kündige ich.
    Hochachtungsvoll,
    Ihr Wojak.
  • Dear Mr. McDonalds,
    dank Shiba Inu und Safemoon, my crypto portfolio is on its way, moonward bound, and I don’t have to work anymore.
    Hence, I resign.
    Respectfully yours/yours faithfully,
    Wojak.

  • Achtung! In diesem Wald gibt es Einhörner. Bleiben Sie auf den Wegen und lehnen Sie Einladungen zu einem “Tee” ab.
  • Warning! There are unicorns in this forest. Stay on the paths and decline offers for a “tea”.

And of course the verb achten has what most German words have…
daddy issues!
Nah, I’m kidding. I meant prefix versions. Just wanted to make sure you’re still awake :).

prefix versions of “achten”

The first and most important prefix version is beachten.
Which looks like it can be a great way to talk about your summer vacation.

  • Wir haben den ganzen Tag Cocktails getrunken und gebeacht.
  • We drank cocktails all day and were at the beach.

That’ll only work if you’re hanging with some cool Gen Z, and even then it’s no guarantee it’ll gain you bro points.

The real beachten is of course simply the be-version of achten, and while the two do sometimes overlap, the main difference in meaning is that beachten is more about rules or requirements or plain information and it lacks the element of taking care that achten auf can have. Instead, at least in the context of rules, it leans toward the sense of obeying.

  • Was muss man beachten, wenn man einen Laptop kauft.
  • What do you have to pay attention to, when buying a laptop.
    (“Worauf muss ich achten…“… would also work.)

  • Bitte beachten Sie das Rauchverbot.
  • Please heed/mark that smoking is forbidden.
    (“achten auf” would sound out of place, because it lacks the sense of obeying.)

  • “Maria hat mich auf der Party überhaupt nicht beachtet.”
    “Naja… sie hat diesen neuen Fitnesstrainer.”
  • Maria didn’t pay me any attention/completely ignored me at the party.
    (“achten auf” would sound like she was careless, but not that she flat out ignored me)

The noun is die Beachtung and it mirrors the sense of the verb pretty closely, though it’s nowhere near as common.

  • “Wie gehst du mit Kritik um?”
    “Ich schenke ihr keine Beachtung, denn das sind alles nur Hater.”
  • “How do you deal with criticism?”
    “I ignore it/I pay it no heed, because it’s all just haters?”
    (this is pretty much a fixed phrase)

And while we’re at it let’s also mention missachten, which is kind of the opposite of beachten in the sense of obeying rules.

  • “Äh, und warum genau darf ich zwei Tage nicht mehr in die Küche?”
    “Du hast die Community Guidelines missachtet.”
    “Das hier ist eine Wohngemeinschaft, nicht Youtube. Und jetzt schließ auf.”
  • “UH… and why exactly am I not allowed to enter the kitchen for two days?”
    “You violated/didn’t heed the community guidelines.”
    “This is a flatshare, not Youtube. And now unlock the door.”

Cool.
Next up, we have beobachten. Looks a bit like beachten with an ob in there, but actually it’s a be-version of an old verb “aufachten” , which doesn’t exist anymore. We can think of this old aufachten as kind of “to watch upon” and from that it’s not all that far to the modern beobachten, which is about watching in the sense of monitoring or observing. It sounds very visual, usually, though it technically doesn’t have to be, and it has no active component…. though that’s debated in Quantum physics and psychology.

  • In den Bäumen versteckt beobachtet das Eichhörnchen die Einhorn-Versammlung.
  • Hidden in the trees, the squirrel watches/observes the assembly of the unicorns.
  • “Der Abwasch ist nicht gemacht, Thomas.”
    “Ja, und das ist deine Schuld. Weil du in die Küche geguckt hast. Der Beobachter beeinflusst die Realität. Schrödingers Abwasch … duhhh.”
    “Oh man…”
  • “The dishes are not done, Thomas.”
    “Yes, and that’s your fault. Because you looked into the kitchen. The observer influences reality. Schrödinger’s dishes… duhhh.”
    “Oh man….”

Last but not least, we have verachten, and as usual for a ver-verb the question is which of the four ideas of ver- are we looking at here: away, change, for or fault. If you see these for the first time now, then I highly recommend my article about the meaning of ver-, which I’ll link below :).
The ver- in verachten is of similar nature to the ver– in verkaufen, so it’s about “away“. Kaufen is to “trade to you“, verkaufen is “to trade away“. And similarly, if we think of achten as “to regard“, verachten used to be to disregard. You DON’T respect something or someone.
Over time, it actually got stronger, though, and today it’s pretty damn intense and essentially mean to disdain, to loath.
It’s not as visceral as hassen (to hate), but it’s equally as strong and deep.

  • “Willst du auch Weißwein?”
    “WAS?!?! Ich VERACHTE Weißwein! Wie kannst du mir das anbieten…”
    “Oh… äh… tut mir leid.”
  • “Do you also want white wine?”
    “WHAT?!?! I DISDAIN white whine! How you can offer that to me…”
    “Oh… uh… I’m sorry.”

  • Voller Verachtung guckte die Einhorn-Königin den Botschafter der Eichhörnchen an.
  • Full with disdain/contempt the unicorn queen looked at the emissary of the squirrels.

There’s also the adjective verächtlich, which means disdainfully, and this actually leads us right over to our last point of today… which is a third Acht.

the hateful Acht

Yes, you read that right. There’s actually a third Acht, and while it’s kind of out of date now, it was fairly common in the Medieval age. Back then, die Acht was actually an official decree that declared someone as an outlaw who may be hunted and killed by anyone in a realm without repercussions. Pretty much what a ban was, I think.
It’s unclear where the word comes from, but it’s definitely not related to the other two Achts that we’ve seen today.
And while the noun has fallen out of use and people generally use der Bann for bans of any kind, the verb based on this ban-Acht has survived – ächten.
I think the best match is to ostracize, though it’s not always a good match. Ächten is kind of weird to describe… it’s definitely about strongly rejecting something that you think is bad, but it’s not technically a ban. Or at least, it doesn’t have a “legal” component.

  • Schwarze Magie ist von fast allen Bewohnern des Zauberwalds geächtet.
  • WBM (weaponBlack magic is banned/outlawed by almost all inhabitants of the magical forest.
  • Bob, das Einhorn wird von den anderen Einhörnern wegen seiner Zebra-Mähne geächtet.
  • Bob, the unicorn is being ostracized by the other unicorns because of his zebra mane.

Anyway, it’s not really a word you’ll need much, but I wanted to mention it because it might be really confusing if you think of it in terms of heeding or the number 8.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of our little tour. Or should I say Achterbahnfahrt :). Well, okay, it wasn’t THAT wild, I guess. You know… Achterbahn is the German word for rollercoaster because it’s a train track that has a lot of 8 shaped curves.
But yeah, I hope you had a fun time today.
As always, if you want to check if you remember the most important points, you can take the little quizz I have prepared for you.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
Have a great week, and I’ll see you next time.

Further reading:

German Prefixes Explained – “ver-“

 

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