Word of the Day – “so”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. Today we’ll have a look at the meaning of one of the shortest words ever

so

(sorry for the noisy audio)

Of course, German so and English so are related. They’re both super common, they both have very similar meanings they’re often translations. But even more often, they’re not. It’s like they’re translations in 30% of the cases. That’s lower than the guessing rate of 50% and if logic class has taught me anything, then it’s that if you just guess, you’ll always use so corre… wait… I… I’m not sure if that’s how it works.
Well… I guess we really have to go over it together and see how to use the German so. And we’ll start with a look at the very core of the word… 

The core idea of “so”

And that is actually pretty easy to pin down – at its heart, so is the answer to one of the basic questions.
By basic questions, I mean those questions those questions that usually come to mind when you talk about question words: when, where, who, what, why and how.
And for each of those questions, there is a generic answer that is basically just a verbal pointer, that can either refer to something established in conversation or we just use it to accompany a hand gesture.
Here’s the pair for the question where:

  • Wo?            Da!
  • Where?    There!

There itself means nothing. It is the most generic answer you could give to where?.
And so is this for how. How is the question that asks for manner or style and while in English, the generic answer is that way or like that, in German you just say so.

And that’s not only valid for German. It’s the core notion of so and we can also find it in English. At least in Star Trek TNG…

“Gentlemen. Situation is serious. Crunch factor is near zero!!! Ideas?”
“Captain, we could realign the Warp Coils and then use the backup relays to induce a plasma shock into the secondary grid. That way we could manually override the controls and emit a short yet powerful Tyrion burst midships. With that we might just be able to toast this bread.”
“Make it so!”

Can see how so just points back to the “how” that the engineer just layed out? It’s really the same dynamic as where – there.

“Gentlemen! The now toasted toast can’t stay on the bridge! That is against Starfleet regulations. Ideas?”
“Captain, I could put it on a plate in 10 Forward.”
“Sounds good. Put it there.”

And if you’re now like “Star Trek TNG is so old. Do we also have so in Fortnite?” then don’t worry. There are other examples where we can see the old so shine through in English.

  • “I think so, too.”

So refers to a way of thinking that another person just laid out.
Now, English tends to use like that or that way in these kinds of contexts and so would sound quite old fashioned. But in German, using so is the way to go.
Here are some examples…

And just to make sure, let me point out that you CAN’T say “Wie das” or “diesen Weg”. It might be understood, but it sounds pretty bad.
So yeah… make it so, all the time. More examples :)

Cool.
So that’s the core notion of so, in German anyway. And we’ve seen that there are already pretty big differences in how stuff is translated.
But so is used in a variety of contexts in both languages… with more differences, of course. So what we’ll do now is go over them together.
And we’ll start with so as a sort of intensifier.

“So” as a sort of intensifier

German so is pretty true to the original idea, and so it’s no wonder that it is used to kind of quantifying adjectives. Like… how fast, how soon, how much?
English replies by using that…  that fast, that soon, that much.
And German does it with so. ALWAYS. And using das would be REALLY REALLY confusing and probably not understandable. 

In the last example, English actually does use so also. That’s because English so does work when the idea is just generally intensify something. So here, German and English so actually are translations for once. Hooray.

Now, we’ve just seen in the last example that both languages use so to intensify adjectives.
But you can actually also intensify nouns. In English, we do that with such a

  • I’m an idiot.
  • I’m such an idiot.

And now guess how this is done in German.
Exactly… it uses the beautiful word pfratzlich.
Nah… kidding. Of course, German uses so.

Now, in case you’re wondering if such and so are related, the you’re onto something. They are. Such actually used to be a combination of so and like, in its original sense of form, body. And German actually also has this combination: solch(e/r/…). It means the same, but in daily life, it sounds a bit too high brow and so is definitely more common. Also, it’s easier to pronounce for many of you, I imagine…

All right.
So far we’ve seen examples for how German uses so while English doesn’t.
The next difference is the other way around, so English uses so but German doesn’t.
Again, it’s about intensifying something, but instead of adjectives or nouns, we’re now intensifying verbs.
And one way to do that in colloquial English is using so. Or sooooooo.

  • I sooo want to go to that concert.
  • I sooo have to clean my room.

And that DOESN’T work in German. And the reason is that the German so is much more connected to its core notion of being an answer to how.

  • Ich will SOOO zum Konzert gehen.

If you say this, a German will understand that you want to go to the concert in in that way/manner.
The proper way translation for that kind of English so is the German word
 unbedingt.

And there’s actually another really important use of English so where German so is NOT a translation. And that brings us right to the difference between English also and German also

German “also” vs. English “also”

if we look at the examples we had so far, it seems like so is much more common in German than it is in English. But that’s actually not the case, because the English so has taken on a second idea over the years – the idea of consequence.

  • Thomas was tired. So he went to bed.

And that actually kind of makes sense. I mean a lot of things we do are a result of how we are or feel. A leap in meaning, no doubt, but not a big one.
The German so however does NOT carry that idea and it’s NOT a translation for this consequential English so.

  • Thomas war müde. So ging er ins Bett.

This is NOT a translation for the sentence above because Germans will understand this so as a classic answer to how, not why.

  • Thomas was tired. He went to bed like that/in that condition.
  • Thomas went to bed tired. (as opposed to, say, hungry)

So what’s the proper translation in German? Well, we can say deshalb or deswegen. But what also works is the German word also. Because it can’t ever be confusing enough, right :).

And now what do you think… is this German also a translation for the English also.
If you said “yes” then you’re either super optimistic or you just didn’t pay attentions :).
The answer is of course a big fat red NO!
German also and English also are as false a pair of friends as you can imagine.
The English also is pretty much a synonym for too or as well. Which makes sense if we think of it as “all that way“.
But the German also does NOT mean that. The translation you need is auch.
The German also is the counterpart of the English consequential so.

Oh and German also can also be used like this English “paragraph”-so… I don’t really know what to call it, so I’ll just give you an example.

It’s nowhere near as common in that context as the English so, though.
I mean, just look at this article – I say “So this, so that” all the time. And that would be pretty bad style in German because the notion of consequence is much stronger for German also.
And just to make sure… also the German so DOESN’T work that way. So if you see it at the beginning of a sentence, it means that way.

  • So geht das nicht.
  • It doesn’t work that way.

Geez, I’m even getting confused just writing about it. It must be AWFUL for you guys. And speaking of awful… have you seen the Witcher yet? Were you as disappointed as I was? And are you looking forward to the Lord of the Rings show on Amazon as much as I am? And are you as tired of so as I am?
Actually, grab a beer, head to the comments below and let’s talk about TV series….
Nah kidding… we’re actually not done yet. We absolutely need to talk about another REALLY important thing… so in comparisons.
But before, let’s actually do a little quiz to recap what we’ve learned so far :)

And now, let’s get ready for part two.

“So” in comparisons

German so is one of the tools you need to make comparisons. Because the German counterpart for “as … as” is “so… wie”.

And just in case you’re wondering… this use actually ties in perfectly with the use of so to quantify adjectives, that we had earlier.

  • The coffee is that large. (hand gesture)
  • Der Kaffee ist so groß.
  • The coffee is as large as a beer.
  • Der Kaffee ist so groß wie ein Bier.

As you can see, German is a little more consistent than English here. And it gets even more consistenterer… because German also uses the so… wie pattern for comparisons where there’s no adjective but you rather compare to an object or being as a whole. Which is done with like in English.

But if you’re now like “Wow, German so indeed is really consistent” then I have to disappoint. Because there are quite a few common phrasings that don’t really tie in that much.
They’re super useful, though, if you want to sound like a native so let’s go over them real quick before we wrap this up.

Common expressions with so

And we’ll start with an English one, actually. If so does NOT translate to wenn so, but to wenn ja instead.
What CAN be translated to so, however, is if by itself.. in the sense of in case.
Luckily, it’s quite rare and sounds kind of theatrical but if you see an initial so in a book that just won’t make sense as “like that”, then it’s probably if.

Cool.
Next up, we have a really really common use and that is… so as a stand alone. Germans LOOOOOVE doing that.

The notion it expresses is conclusion/completion. You can use it when you finish some work for example…

or if you just want to metaphorically close a situation and move on…

 

It fits in many situations and I’m sure you’ll hear Germans use it a lot.

From the single so on to the double one… so so is also a fairly common expression.

And this expresses skepticism of what someone tells you. There is no sense to that meaning but hey… sense comes from absense, right? Haha…
Anyway, example…

I’d keep this between friends or family, though, because it can easily sound a little partonizing.
I mean, not that you should be patronizing to your friends.
Cool.
Next up, we have a couple of common German ways to express the middle ground between good and bad without sounding too negative while still clearly communicating that there is a lot to be desired.

And the last example leads us right to the next expression… where so is used to indicate two sides.

  • “Schatz, ich habe heute Kaffee über deinen Laptop gekippt und jetzt fährt der nicht mehr hoch.”
    “Macht nichts… ich wollte mir so oder so /sowieso einen neuen kaufen.
  • “Honey, I spilled coffee over your laptop today and now it won’t boot anymore.”
    “No problem… I was going to buy one one way or the other/anyway.

Sowieso means anyway, but it is only a specific anyway. If you want to find out which one, then you can check out the post on the word  eh  because they are synonymous… I’ll add a link below.
Of course, we also need to mention the super common abbreviation usw. which stands for und so weiter.

And then there is a really really handy combination oder so, which translates to a very general or something( like that).

And of course let’s not forget about one of the most famous German words of them all. No, not Achtung”.
I’m talking about

Literally, that means oh like THAT. But people use it whenever they understand some fact, that they haven’t understood before.

And last but not least, we have to mention that so one of German’s most common filler words, … especially by young people. Pretty much the German version of like… although it’s not as bad.

  • Und er dann voll so “Neee, kein Bock!” und ich so “Oh komm, komm ma’ mit” und er dann so “Na gut” und denn war’n wir so im Kino soo und der Film war auch voll gut und so aber er war auf einmal so voll komisch so… weiß ich nich’ … so voll so schlecht drauf und so. Und ich hab’ mich dann so voll schuldig gefühlt…
  • And he was like “Naahhh, don’t wanne” and I was like “Come on, come with me please” and then he was like “fine” and then we were like at the movies  and the flic was like all like … cool and stuff but he was like all of a sudden like totally like being weird or something… I don’t know…  like kinda like really pissed  … and I was  feeling like really guilty..

Okay… this may have been a little over the top… but people do use these filler so-s a lot… and I find it interesting that in German and in English they would use a word that is connected to manner when they need top buy some time.
But anyway… we are done for today. Yeaaaay.

This was our German word of the Day so. Its original meaning was like that/in that manner and in German it has pretty much stayed the course…. except for those fixed expressions we had. German so and English so do share some use patterns but there are also quite a few differ… you know what. We’ll just skip the recap.
And we’re cool so :).
If you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Click here to download all audio files (zip-archive, mp3 files)

further reading:

Word of the Day – “eh”

for members :)

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Neptune
Neptune

I suspect the English and German usage was much closer a few hundred years ago. I haven’t read Shakespeare for a while, but I imagine there will be lots more instances of something like ‘He hath done it so’ rather than ‘He hath done it like that’. Star Trek is of course drawing on an older, more formal use of English, which obviously reflects its Germanic roots. I don’t know how into sci fi you are, but there is another series, ‘Earth: Final Conflict, produced posthumously from a Roddenberry script. The aliens in that series often use the simple tense, where these days we would normally use the continuous. I guess the scriptwriters were, maybe subconsciously, also drawing on their knowledge of a slightly older form of English, having maybe some idea that a non-native speaker might speak in such a way, without making them sound as though they were clueless in the language (in fact the aliens sound more sophisticated, obviously the rules are only broken in acceptable ways). Sci fi obviously always has an other worldly element, so it’s understandable that scripts for both human and non-human characters are designed to be a bit different from normal everyday speech.

Jimmy Vu (@jimmyvooh)

That seems plausible. You see the German meaning of so in English phrases like “Say it ain’t so!”, to which one can sadly respond “It’s so”, which wouldn’t make sense in any other context. In English, you can also say “Like so” instead of “Like this” when you’re demonstrating something… Gives it more of a traditional feel, like you’re doing things in the proper/correct way.

Lisa D
Lisa D

Hi, I just have a grammar question. In your explanation of ‘so’ you wrote: Ich will so sein wie Justin Bieber. I was wondering why it wouldn’t be,” Ich will so wie Justin Bieber sein.”?
Thanks

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

sodass?

TheHillma
TheHillma

Killin it as always dude, just a suggestion/idea; perhaps it might be a good idea to have some sort of quiz or ‘try it yourself’ part at the end? The problem I sometimes have living in the UK is that I often don’t get as much time to practice the phrases as much I would like, and perhaps with some sort of quiz scenario at the end it would help the phrases you’ve taught us become more fixed in our mind…? Just a thought and I would understand why you wouldn’t want to do one bearing in mind you’ve probably fully exerted yourself as much as you would have liked to when explaining the terms themselves!

George
George

It looks as if German has tons of words that are only said in one in English. Are there any cases where English has several words (verbs, conjunctions, or nouns) for something that German says in one way?

Alberto
Alberto

I love it when you go all in depth :) One thing though, you said that in German you wouldn’t say:
Ich denke nicht so.
Then what would you say?

Alberto
Alberto

Also I thought of another thing: I get that you would say “Ich bin so ein Idiot” as “I’m such an idiot”, but what if I want to say “What at idiot”?

George.
George.

Lastly, I am having a great deal of trouble with the word order in sentences. I don’t mind verb final, but having to reverse them?
“I know, that I at Video games no beaten been have will try to, and will I at this house with my friends sitting on a sofa a soda offered been have.”
Dear lord, are there any tips? I suppose every German Child can say the alphabet backwards simply because they are so used to saying everything in reverse! And for a language with word endings the switching around of words is quite a lot, maybe even more than Mandarin which has no word endings! Okay, enough complaining and subtlety begging for reassurance that it is not so bad after all, so what’s to do?

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

From my perspective as someone who also learns German:

One tip is to understand and memorize, which words or situations cause the reversal (e.g. wenn, dass, weil…, phrases like “der Zug, *in welchem* …[verb]”) and which never do (und, oder, denn…). That system is pretty self-consistent.

Next, in everyday speech overburdened constructions are generally avoided, and simple phrases are easier to reverse. The KISS principle. Your example is only complex because its difficulty level is artificially inflated :-)

Also, I’ve noticed, that Germans break these rules every so often as they speak. Yep, they mangle the poor auxiliary sentences. :-)
Sure, it won’t sound good if you never do the reversal, but if you don’t in like (off the top of my head) 30% of cases, I would think it’s OK (at least for a foreigner). (Written speech is different since you have time to think; there you must always write correctly).

Last tip: there is an important exception to the general rule, when modal (and some other) verbs are used in perfect tenses.

– Wenn ich das hätte machen sollen…
– … dass er das hat kaufen müssen.
– … obwohl ich das werde haben erledigen dürfen. (But you’re unlikely to ever meet such a construction in real life in spoken language.)

This is the sort of construction that can cause temporary trouble. But once you get used to it, it can make your life simpler, because all you do is end your sentence with a simple verb (say, habe) and then you can take a breath and append the rest of the verbal baggage in unreversed form ;-)

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

As for your example, here’s my attempt – without any guarantee of accuracy. Note that while clunky, it’s stoll much easier to understand than your original ;-)

Ich weiß, dass ich beim Daddeln versuchen werde, nicht geschlagen zu werden und dass mir ein Soda angeboten wird, während ich und meine Freunde in diesem Hause auf dem Sofa zusammensitzen.

George
George

Thanks, I just want to ask what the verb reversion is properly called? I tried googling but I could not find a definition or term.

Alex93
Alex93

Hallo! “So” ist ein sehr wichtiges Wort. Jedoch habe ich eine frage: kann “so” wie “um…zu” funktionieren? Hier gebe ich Sie ein Beispiel: <>
What I think it means is: Befragten waren der Meinung, dass eine Ernährungsumstellung nicht nötig ist um gesund zu essen.

Alex93
Alex93

Ich bin nich sicher warum das Beispiel nich da ist. Jedoch schreibe ich hier das Beispiel noch einmal: Zwei Drittel der Befragten waren der Meinung, so gesund zu essen, dass eine Ernährungsumstellung nicht nötig ist.
Können Sie mir bitte erklären wie “so” in diesem Satzt funktioniert?

Paul Speirs
Paul Speirs

Just tagging on to the bottom of this post. In this article it was said that Ach…sooo, meant ahh..like that. When i was in bavaria several years ago in the würzburg area, i was sure i heard this phrase being used all the time, but it sounded to me like they were all saying “alsoooo” instead. Has anyone lived/is living in this area and can they confirm it? In fact they used “also” extensively there if i remember correctly, that and blah blah blah oder?

Just wanted to get that one off my chest.

Ihre antworten sind willkommen.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Nice

Diego
Diego

Hello Emanuel,

Once I’ve read this example you gave:
– Tut mir leid, wenn ich mit dem, was ich gesagt hab’, verletzt hab’… es war nicht so gemeint.

I got an alarm in my brain, that alarm is the “isn’t there supposed to be a ‘damit’ instead of ‘mit dem’?”

Was that a false alarm? Am I missing something? Help me please!

Thank you in advance.

Sam
Sam

Great article, really important word to understand. Thanks for breaking it down. All I have to say for now is the last example was hilarious. Definitely nailed how some people talk using the word “like” and it’s interesting to know there is a similar word in a German.

Welton Gonçalves

In this article (http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/technik/hightech-forscher-entwickeln-folie-mit-farbwechsel-a-986725.html) there are instances of “so” I can’t quite understand: “Aus dem Licht wird so elektrischer Strom und daraus wiederum Wärme.” and “Die neue Technologie könne laut der Autoren Maschinen so unempfindlicher gegenüber Umwelteinflüssen und energieeffizienter machen.”

Anonymous
Anonymous

Was heißt soweit auf Englisch?
Heißt es “as far as”, “Such a distance” oder etwas anderer? Könnte es etwas mit Zeit oder Mal gemeinsam haben?Weil ich auch stoßen habe, auf der Phrase “Es ist soweit”. Der Übersetzen, ich habe ist “This is it” oder “now is the time”. Gibt es so-Worter anderer als die, die in diese Post sind?

Pooja
Pooja

Very useful. Thanks

Olivia
Olivia

What does it mean when you say, for example,
“Was machst du so auf der Arbeit?”
as opposed to just,
“Was machst du auf der Arbeit?”

My interpretation would be that it’s,
“What do you do at work?” in general, like every day,
as opposed to,
“What are you doing at work?” like right this moment.

Or “Was geht hier ab?” vs. “Was geht hier so ab?”
Is that like “What’s going on here?” (right now) vs. “What goes on here?” (in general)?
I always wondered how you could distinguish between the two in German…now I’ve heard it being said this way but I don’t know if that is the solution.

Andy G.
Andy G.

First off, thank you. I love your articles, they are very helpful.

My question is unrelated to “so” and more about general conversation.

so in this sentence: “Tut mir leid, wenn ich dich mit dem, was ich gesagt hab’, verletzt hab’… es war nicht so gemeint.”

you use “hab'” which I have heard in conversation before and I know it is short for “habe” correct? My question is that if you were typing with someone, like say in WhatsApp or Facebook, would you type this way to reflect they way you would sound or would you write habe?

The answer would seem obvious if the contraction made the word shorter, but it doesn’t really, so that is why I ask.

Vielen Dank!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi! Thanks for your great blog.
What about the use of “so” as in:
so der Duden
meaning according to
I guess it’s short for: so sagt Duden