German Word of the Day – “aussehen”

joke aussehenHello everyone,

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

aussehen (pron.: ows zae uhn)

So to start this of let’s do a little guessing game. How many different concepts or meaning does this verb have? And the first one to call is Jane from New York, Hi Jane, tell us your guess please…
“Hi Emanuel, just based on the looks of it I’d say 27….”
Hmm… and why so many?
“Well it has the basic verb sehen in there which means to see and to look then there is the prefix aus which can mean out, from, of, off or  un- … so … I mean it’s probably less but I’d say at least 20…”
Well, Jane then I have a surprise for you, because aussehen only means one thing… 
“Wow just one…”
Yeah, one meaning.
“Is it really useful then?”
Do you watch America’s next Topmodel or other casting shows like that?
“Yeah I actually do…”
And do you talk with your friends about it?
“Of course I do…”
Then you MUST LEARN aussehen, so keep listening ok?
“Hahah… ok will do, bye.”

So the only meaning of aussehen is to look. And it is even less because it is only to look in sense of having a physical appearance. It is NOT the to look in sense of directing ones vision in a certain direction. So when you look at the following examples you do not aussehen at them :).
Aussehen is a good word to demonstrate why the little word at the end makes a big difference.

  • Maria sieht sehr gut.

This means that Maria has a very good sight. Adding aus to the end changes that completely.

  • Maria sieht sehr gut aus.

This sentence means that Maria IS a very good sight … she looks good. Now let’s exaggerate.

  •  Maria sieht nach den langen Autofahrt von München, wo sie beruflich zu tun hatte, nach Berlin zu ihrem Freund Markus, mit dem sie, sobald sie einen Job in Berlin bekommt, zusammenziehen will,  sehr müde und erschöpft aus
  • After her long drive from Munich, where she had job related stuff to do, to Berlin to her boyfriend Marcus, with whom she wants to move together as soon as she gets a job in Berlin, Maria looks very tired and exhausted.

Yeahhh… nice colors… and so many. So now you think of course that this is a fictional example. German is weird but it can’t be THAT twisted. Well, it might be at times… it is not a nice sentence and yet not too far fetched. But to console you a bit… 200 years ago it was WAY WORSE… try to read Kleist. He just does not know how to finish a sentence. Anyway… back to aussehen.

So aussehen means to look in sense of to have the physical appearance. In English you either look like something or as if you do something. In German there are 3 possibilities for that: wie , als ob and co. and nach.
If you look like something or someone the German preposition to use is wie.

  • Du siehst aus wie ein Engel.
  • Du siehst wie ein Engel aus
  • You look like an angel.
  •  Die Küche sieht aus wie ein Schlachtfeld aus dem zweiten Weltkrieg.
  • Die Küche sieht wie ein Schlachtfeld aus dem zweiten Weltkriegaus.
  • The kitchen looks like a battle field from world war 2.

For sentences with wie,  the wie-part, especially when it is longer, feels like a side sentence. So you can put the aus before. Aus is just one word, and you shouldn’t split you main sentence with a side sentence if you end up with one part just being one word.  In the first example both version are equally fine, in the second I would prefer the first versions here, 200 years ago they would have favored the second :).
So…. if you look like a thing or a person, you use wie.
Then there are the situations where the comparison involves a new verb. An example is this:

  • You look like you could use a glass of soy milk. (there… I don’t NEED to use beer all the time)

German offers different possibilities for this but they all involve als. Wie alone does NOT work and will NOT be understood.

  •  Du siehst aus, als ob du ein Glas Sojamilch gebrauchen kannst
  •  Du siehst aus, als wenn du ein Glas Sojamilch gebrauchen könntest/kannst.
  • Du siehst aus, als könntest/kannst du ein Glas Sojamilch gebrauchen.

And just for completion:

  •  Du siehst aus, wie als wenn du ein Glas Sojamilch gebrauchen könntest.

There are no real big differences between all these versions so you can just use one. What is important to realize is a special feature of the sentence structure of the 3rd example. If you just use als, the verb remains in the 2nd position. In all the other version it goes to hang out at the end. As for the question which form of the verb to use, just present or conditional/fantasy land form, this is not very strict in German… at least not in spoken German. If you just use als or als wenn then conditional is the better pick but don’t worry too much there… at least not in present. In past tense it depends on whether the thing is realistic or not.

  • Deine Haare sehen aus, als ob sie aus Gold wären.
  • Your hair looks as if they were made of gold.
  • Deine Haare sehen aus, als ob sie gefärbt sind.
  • Your hair looks like they are dyed.

The last way to use aussehen is aussehen nach… this is used to express that the visuals give clues to something without being visually equal to that thing. They just hint at it. The first example that comes to my mind is connected to weather.

  • Es sieht nach Regen aus.

This does not mean that something literally looks LIKE rain. It means that it looks like it is going to rain.

  • Das sieht nach einer schweren Aufgabe aus.
  • That looks like it is going to be a difficult task.

This works also in past tense. When you enter a flat that is totally trashed you may say:

  • Das sieht nach einer sehr guten Party aus.
  • That looks like it was a very good party.

It doesn’t mean that the party is now… the looks of the flat just indicate that there has been a party.

So… we are almost done. The only thing missing is some grammar… I mean… some more grammar.
Aussehen
 is actually one of the verbs where the real past is used.

  •  The food looked weird but it was very tasty.
  • Das Essen sah komisch aus, aber es war sehr lecker.
  • Das Essen hat komisch ausgesehen, aber es war sehr lecker.

The first translation is definitely the better choice here. As you can see the real past stem is sah aus so the conjugation would be:

  • Ich sah müde aus.
  • Du sahst aus.
  • Er sah müde aus.

The ge-form is ausgesehen and the spoken past is built with haben but go for the real past here.
Finally we have the noun das Aussehen which is the appearance or the looks.

  • Maria cares a lot about her looks.
  • Maria ist ihr Aussehen sehr wichtig.

So… this was our Word of the Day aussehen. It means to look in sense of… I think you got it.  If not just drop me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.