German Word of the Day – ” ganz”

Hello everyone,

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



On the top 100 German words list of the University of Leipzig ganz ranks in at number 99, just before Berlin but this is based on written German and I think in spoken it is even  more common.
So let’s break it down, shall we.

  • z, g, a, n

Cool, so now it’s broken. BRO-KEN! Like those guys here
Now, let’s reassemble it..

  • ganz

Awesome, now we fixed it. Now it is not broken. It is ganz. Now you’re like “Is he drunk?” but no, not this time. I just wanted to show you what ganz is… it means whole, not broken :)

And in combination with the most generic German verb machen it can mean to repair.

But I think it is better to use reparierenganz machen sounds odd in a lot of situations. So … the main use case for the not broken-ganz is a phrasing like

It is the direct opposite of

And something is pretty much limited to pieces of technical of mechanical equipment. Ganz  doesn’t work for a broken bone or for a  broken vase… at least not to me.
Anyway…  this is the original meaning of ganz, and it be traced back to the 8th century.  But the word has broadened since… just like me, this winter… I guess, I sit too much. Hold on, I’ll lay do…

Ganz – the whole

If we had to choose one English word  as the MAIN meaning of todays ganz and ganze and ganzen/m/r/s  that word would be: whole.
And that makes absolute sense.
You see… the word whole is related to the words health and heal and both those words are related to the German word heil which is part of other German words like heilbar (curable), Heiler (healer), Heilung (healing) and also heilig the English brother of which is holy which, despite the similar sound and spelling, is not related to hole which is something you can dig in the
sand which is something to eat …. don’t worry… I am confused too.
In short, whole is part of a big heal family and the common core of this family could be described as ... not injured or not broken…. hey… just like the original ganz.
Clearly, ganz is not related to this family and still it kind of came down the same path as whole…  (oh god, what did I just say? That sounded and awful lot like a different word)… from a meaning not broken to a meaning entire or all. .Time for examples…

And more:

Now this is pretty straight forward (except for the endings…but that is another story) and this is THE MAIN thing you should remember of this post. You can take any entire or whole pretty much…  ganze/m/n/r/s/y will be the translation.
And now it starts to get complex… with all. Here are some version that do work.

And here are some versions that don’t work:

  • I forgot all I had learned.
  • Ich habe das ganze, was ich gelernt hatte, vergessen… sounds wrong and is long and clunky
  • Ich habe alles, was ich gelernt hatte, vergessen…. is correct …  still long and clunky though :)
  • I did all I could.
  • Ich tat das ganze, was ich konnte… is wrong
  • Ich tat alles was ich konnte.
  • I payed for all of us.
  • Ich habe für uns ganze bezahlt… is terribly wrong and not even understandable.
  • Ich habe für uns alle bezahlt.
  • You need to find all 3 rings to complete the quest.
  • Du must die ganzen 3 Ringe finden um die Mission zu erfüllen…. is wrongish
  • Du musst alle 3 Ringe finden um die Mission zu erfüllen.

I have really thought a lot about this and I found it almost impossible to come up with a rule… so here is my best shot:
Whenever you can think of the all thing as an entirety of things (like the entirety of my beer or the entirety of my college stuff) then ganz probably works. If a rephrasing with every (one/thing) is natural, then ganz doesn’t work.

I know that there is an overlap and it is blurry and probably doesn’t even work for all the examples but I honestly can’t do any better than that. If you find a good source online then please please share it with us.
Oh but don’t think it has to do with singular or plural… it doesn’t. There is plural ganze too. It just means something different….



So… die ganzen followed by a plural noun means all the/those … in sense of  all but not literally all… in the movie example using ganz suggests, or better, doesn’t rule out the possibility that there might have been one or 2 good scenes that were not in the trailer. If I used “alle guten Szenen” that would really mean EVERY good scene…. Oh my, I hope this makes some sense.
Anyway… I think we have spent enough time on that.
Just think of ganze/r/n/m/s as whole or entire. Sometimes it’ll work for all too, sometimes won’t… and sometimes it works but only in colloquial speech:

I’m sorry I can’t do any better. If you have specific questions just leave me a comment and we will continue the discussion there. But for now let’s move on to the other meaning of ganz… because it is just as important.

ganz – the intensifier … kind of

If you take the idea of whole and you bend it a little then words like total or complete are not that far away.  Why am I saying this? Because ganz – this time without any ending – can take things to the extreme to the extreme… just like totally or completely.

Now.. does this works too?

Sure does… and even this… I mean, kind of

So… whenever a description has an extreme or maximum of sorts, ganz can take it there. This also implies that nicht ganz means about the same as almost and it is used that way a lot.

Now… not all adjectives have an extreme … for instance fast doesn’t.

  • The car was completely fast.

That does not make that much sense.
For those adjectives ganz can work like a “normal” intensifier.

However, I would suggest to not use it that way. If you need to take things to the extreme use ganz but if you can just intensify go with other intensifiers like sehr, total, voll or echt !
Why? Because ganz doesn’t always sound right. Often it sounds really of place while all the other words are just fine.

I can’t tell you when or why this is. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that ganz sometimes, for certain words it doesn’t intensify anything. Sometimes it does the opposite.
Oh… … … … …
Yes, I am sorry but in combination with certain adjectives, ganz actually seems to tone it them.

All this feels kind of like this:

  • The movie was very okay.

I don’t know what it does but very doesn’t intensify okay here. The sentence is not a more positive judgment than

  • The movie was okay.

So… sometimes ganz doesn’t amplify at all… mainly in combination with the following words: gut, gern, ok, nett, interessant, lustig or schön. Especially ok, nett and gut. Why those and not others? I think it is random.

Sympatisch and nett are both moderately positive and yet, reading the first version, I would perceive ganz as giving not a strong clearly a nice emphatic tone to sympatisch. In the second version I would assume that it is the toning down, skeptical one. However, it all ultimately depends on how people actually say the sentence. I can say the second sentence in a way that makes ganz a positive intensifier. I actually think that the toning down effect has not so much  to do with ganz. It is just the melody.

So… bottom line:  ganz is an “extremifier” that, for some words works as an intensifier too and when you hear someone saying:

with a voice that sounds rather unexcited or even disappointed… don’t be confused. Ganz then doesn’t mean anything pretty much.

Some expressions with ganz

Now… before we wrap up, let’s look at some fixed expressions with ganz. The first one is ganz schön something.

I think the main difference between ganz schön and ziemlich or similar words is that ganz schön has a more personal touch. Ziemlich can be an “objective” word while “ganz schön” always implies that you think that and you’re maybe surprised or stunned or skeptical.

is more of an accuse than

  • Du warst ziemlich lange im Bad.

And, since it is always fun to see what weird stupid things we can do with German…

Everyone will understand that immediately as

  • Oh my the woman is pretty beautiful.

But I don’t think anyone will ever say that.

All right. Then there are a bunch of combinations with gar.
Ganz oder gar nicht can be translated as all or nothing.
Then there is the similar looking ganz und gar which as a whole is a strong “extremefier”…

Of course there are also compound nouns … for example

I’m sure you can find out about Ganzkörperkondom yourself.
And last but not least there is the expression im großen und ganzen which can be translated as overall.

So… uh… did the second ganz intensify, tone down or do nothing? I’d say it did  nothing… maybe tone it down a little. I am sure you have “ganz viele Fragen” (a LOT of questions) so please go ahead and ask and let’s see if we can zero in on it a little better than I could do.
This was our German Word of the Day ganz. The original meaning was and still is not broken but it has broadened to THE words for whole and entire and since even that was not enough ganz is also used to intensify things… or not. It depends ganz on the context :).
If you have questions or suggestions leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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