and welcome to our German Word of the Day. Almost April, spring is coming, Germany is about to go into lockdown… AGAIN. Which gives at least those of you who are living here the chance to really learn even more German. Yeay.
And today, we’ll look at the meaning of
Uh… I mean bringen of course. But bringen might seem a tad bit boring, because it’s the identical twin of English to bring and the meanings are pretty much the same.
- Bring mir einen Kaffee!
- Bring me a coffee!
Anyway, so bringen doesn’t really look like a word that we need to talk about, but it’s actually full of surprises. And prefix versions. Want a taste? Well, verbringen means to spend time, umbringen means to kill.
Clearly, there’s a lot to talk about so are you ready to jump in?
Then let’s freaking go.
So, the basic meaning in German and English is definitely the same. The origin of the word isn’t really known but I think it might come from a super ancient Indo-European root *bring which was an imitation of the sound of the door bell. Makes sense, right? Someone who brings something does ring the bell.
Anyway, origin, shomorigin, the core idea is simply bringing.
- Ich habe dir ein Buch gebracht.
- I’ve brought you a book.
- Dieser Cent hat mir Glück gebracht.
- This cent brought be luck.
But there are also differences.
Because German is actually quite very very very fond of bringen. And it use it for a few other things, as well. And by few I mean of course… A BOATLOAD!
The various uses of “bringen”
Like for instance the idea of accompanying someone somewhere… English uses to take, German uses bringen.
And using nehmen, the “normal” translation for to take, would actually sound SUPER WEIRD.
- Thomas bringt Maria zum Bahnhof.
- Thomas nimmt Maria zum Bahnhof… NOPE!
- Thomas takes/accompanies Maria to the train station.
And this concept is not limited to actual locations in German. It also works for circumstances, like here…
- Dadurch, dass er (mal wieder) Marias Geburtstag vergessen hat, hat sich Thomas in eine schwierige Lage gebracht. Maria ist stinksauer.
- By forgetting Maria’s birthday (aGAIN), Thomas has maneuvered himself into a difficult situation. Maria is furious.
And it ALSO works for activities, making bringen zu is THE translation for making someone do something. So in German, you “lead” someone to the act, if you will.
- Ich bringe dich zum Lachen.
- I make you laugh.
I bring you to the laughing (lit.)
- Ich bringe dich dazu, meine Hausaufgaben zu machen.
- I’ll get you to/ I’ll make you do my homework.
I bring you to doing my homework (lit.)
Oh, and this not limited to people, but also works for stuff.
- Ich bringe das Auto wieder zum Laufen.
- I get the car working again.
Now you’re of course like “Wow, this is such a useful verb.” but there’s actually more. This phrasing, to be precise….
- Das bringt nichts.
- There’s no use.
The idea is that something, some sort of action will “bring/lead to” no results. Or some results, if you use it with the word (et)was. The translations vary, but it is unbelievably common and definitely a phrasing you should add to your active vocaury.
- Es bringt nichts, ihn immer anzurufen. Damit nervst du ihn nur.
- There is no use in calling him all the time. You’ll only get on his nerves.
- Thomas will abnehmen. Deshalb steht er jetzt jeden Tag auf dem Stepper. Aber bisher hat das wenig gebracht.
- Thomas wants to loose weight. That’s why he’s on the stepper every day. But so far it didn’t do much.
- “Ich trinke jetzt jeden morgen ein Glas wasserstofffreies Wasser.”
“Und was soll das bringen?”
- “I drink a glass of hydrogen-free water every morning now.”
“And what’s that supposed to do?”
Now, those wer STILL not all the uses of bringen. Another common phrasing in colloquial German is “etwas (nicht) bringen” in the sense of to have the guts. Or actually it is a general to have what it takes since it works not only for fear but also for moral hesitation or qualms.
- “Ach, der neue Kollege ist soooo heiß.”
“Na dann sprich ihn an. Frag ihn, ob ihr mal was trinken gehen wollt.”
“Nee… das bring’ ich nicht.”
- “*sigh*… the new colleague is soooo hot.”
“Well, then make a move. Ask him if you guys should go for a drink some time.”
“Naaaah… I don’t dare.”
- “Die Katze rasieren? Die arme Katze. Das bring ich nicht!”
- “Shaving the cat? The poor cat. I can’t do that!”
And then, there are a few phrasings that twist the whole notion of “leading somewhere” into a sense of accomplishment.
- Thomas der alte Scrabble-Fuchs hat es mal auf 900 Punkte in einer Runde gebracht.
- Thomas, the wily fox of scrabble, once made 900 points in one game.
- Sie wird es weit bringen.
- She’ll have quite a career/She’ll get very far in life.
She will bring it very far.(lit.)
(the “es” is just a generic filler; think of it like “make it very far”)
So those were the various uses of bringen and I feel almost kind of bad for saying this, but you kinda sorta should know almost all of them. Except the last couple examples, maybe.
I know it probably seems a little overwhelming, and I think it might not helpful to be like “Okay, I have to remember all the things that bringen is used for.” but instead go idea by idea. So you learn “How to say make someone do something in German” and then it just happens to be bringen.
Anyway, so this was our look at the verb bringen. Thanks a lot for tuning in again, and I hope I’ll see you all very soon.
And by very soon I mean right after a few lines, because it’s actually only halftime :).
Bringen doesn’t only have a lot of uses itself, it also has a lot of prefix versions.
So get yourself a coffee, or a tea or a beer or a unicron milkshake and let’s dive right into part two.
The Prefix Versions of “bringen”
And because bringen has so many nice versions and they’re so different, I have decided to just give each of them their own headline and I’m not gonna put them in any particular order, so you can skim and skip like merry little bunnies on the German vocabulary meadow :)
Mitbringen is about the basic act of bringing something somewhere, so it doesn’t really twist the meaning of bringen in any way. It just adds an extra bit of information. Specifically, it expresses that the bringing you do is kind of just a side effect or an add-on to the coming you do.
- Ich bringe dir das Buch.
In this example, I am bringing the book to you. That is my goal and the purpose of my coming to you.
- Ich bringe dir das Buch mit.
This sentence implies that I am going to you anyway and I could just bring along the book.
In English you would probably say bring with me but also just bring but German is actually kind of strict. So you HAVE TO use mitbringen.
Like… you’re having a party and I am invited and I already said I’d come. Then you call me and ask
- Kannst du mir mein Buch bringen?
I would be quite confused.
Why do I need to bring you your book? Can’t I just mitbringen it, when I come, later? People feel this difference between mitbringen and bringen in German, so make you definitely need to start using both.
Cool. Moving on.
I already mentioned it in the intro… verbringen is about spending time. And when you just see that in a dictionary, there really seems to be no connection to bringen.
But of course there is one and it is not even that twisted. If you’ve read my article on ver- (which I recommend), you already know that one of the ideas ver- can add is away. And that’s what it does to verbringen. You “bring away” time or a vacation.
- Ich verbringe den Sommer in Schweden.
- I spend the summer in Sweden.
I bring away/by the summer in Sweden.(lit.)
- Ich habe einen Tag damit verbracht, meine Excel-Tabelle zu formatieren.
- I spent a day formatting my excel sheet.
Why only “bringing away” time and not for instance the kitchen garbage? Well, there’s no logic there. It just over time focused on that sense, and Germans DON’T really know the connection to bringen anymore.
And the same goes or the other verb I mentioned in the intro… umbringen.
umbringen means to murder, to kill and again, there seems to be no connection to bringen whatsoever. And once again, it’s actually really simple once you know it. Because the meaning evolved from the idea of “brining someone around a corner into a dark alley”. Just think of 18th century London and Jack the Ripper.
That’s also why umbringen is really only used in context of murdering people, not killing animals or killing time.
- Die Langeweile im Lockdown bringt mich um.
- The boredom in lcokdown kills me.
And while we’re at, let’s also mention the r-version rumbringen. And this is actually similar to the verb we had before, verbringen. Because rumbringen is a colloquial verb for the context of killing time.
- Ich habe nichts zu tun, aber ich muss noch 3 Stunden rumbringen bevor ich Feierabend machen kann.
- I have nothing to do but I have 3 more hours to pass before I can go off work.
And here, we have another one that might confuse the hell out of you if you just see it in a dictionary. Because unterbringen is a word for to accommodate in the sense of giving a place to stay. And once again, it’s actually not all that twisted. All we have to do is think of it in terms of “bringing under a roof”.
- Wir waren in dem Hotel sehr gut untergebracht.
- The accommodation was really good.
We were well brought under in the hotel.(lit)
- Ich weiß nicht, wo ich meine Sachen unterbringen soll, während ich im Ausland bin.
- I don’t know where to put all my stuff while I’m abroad.
As you can see, it works for people and for things but the people-use is the more common one, I think. Especially the noun die Unterbringung is something you’ll find a lot in context of vacation and travel.
It’s not really one you need to use actively, though. It’s enough to understand what it means.
What you definitely do need, though, is its r-version runterbringen. Because that literally means to bring downstairs and it is what you do with the trash.
- Bringst du bitte den Müll runter?
- Can you please bring out/down the trash?
Oh man… so annoying. It’s 2021 for God’s sake. Why do I still have to take out the trash by hand. Can’t wait for my AI robo-buttler so I can teach it to do this.
And speaking of teaching… that brings us right to our next verb, which is one of the most useful one.
And I’m sure many of you have noticed the similarities to to bring by. I mean, it’s the same parts.
But of course, that’s NOT what beibringen means. No, we’re talking about a German prefix verbs, here, after all. So what weird, twisted, absurd meaning could German possibly have bent this into? Its is… to teach.
Yup, beibringen means to teach or to show and it does kind of make sense if you think of it as kind of delivering knowledge or skill to someone.
It’s used for direct face to face teaching of skills and you can do it to yourself and it is actually BY FAR the most common choice for to teach. Yes, lehren is only used in a context of higher education and unterrichten in sounds very stiff.
- Ich bringe dir Jonglieren bei.
- I’ll show/teach you how to juggle.
- Ich habe mir selbst Programmieren beigebracht.
- I tought myself to code.
And it’s also sometimes used in context of deliviering … well… hard to swallow news ..
- Ich weiß nicht, wie ich meiner Freundin beibringen soll, dass ich ihren Laptop kaputt gemacht habe.
- I don’t know how to tell my girlfriend that I broke her laptop.
Just note that beibringen has the focus on completion. So it is not a good fit for the act of studying.
But it’s definitely one to add to your active vocabulary and all the textbooks can now feel bad for not including it. Stupid textbooks. Have no idea what they’re doing.
Anyway, there a lot more prefix versions like anbringen, aufbringen, erbringen and so on, but none of them are all that useful in daily life and I’m sure you’ll understand most of them from context, so I’d say we’ll wrap it up here for today.
I’ll definitely add the other ones to my dictionary, so you can find them there, and of course, you can also ask about them in the comments if you want.
So yeah, that’s it for today. This was our little (not so little) look at bringen and I hope you got an impression of just how useful and common it really is.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.