German Word of the Day – “so”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. Winter is coming. But first it’s fall. Autumnnm. Herbst. The weather gets colder, the people grumpier. And as the days get shorter so do the words. Today we’ll have a look at the meaning of


(sorry for the noisy audio)

Of course so is related to the English word so.  But that is deceiving because the words are actually so different that German  so is often NOT a good translation for English so. Today we’ll find out why and when. And we’ll find out what so is used for. But let’s start with a look at the very core of the word… 

So is incredibly super hyper mega common. Yes. It is THAT common. At it’s heart, so is the sister of da. And you know how common da is I guess :).
But what does that mean exactly.. being the sister of da?
You see… in every language there are a handful of the same basic questions you can ask about an activity. I am talking about when, where, who, what, why and how.
Now… for each of those questions there is a potropit… tropopytic… uh…  basic answer. An empty sound that gets its meaning entirely from context or from a hand gesture or something. Here’s what I mean….

  • Wo?            Da!
  • Where?    There!

There itself means nothing. It is the most generic answer you could give to where?. Let’s look at the pairs in German.

Okay… some of those have more than one generic answer but I hope you get the idea. Now, there was one question missing … the question how?, which is the question that is asking for manner or “style”. And so is the basic answer to that question

That is the very soooooul of so. This is what the word used to mean back when the Thor was hanging with the vikings rather than Natalie Portman. And of course the English so comes from that idea too. In fact, it still can be used that way.  I learned that from Star Trek.

“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!”

Data tells the captain a way. He describes how. And the captain doesn’t want to repeat everything and replaces the way they’re gonna do it with so. Just as you would replace a place with 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 like… Star what? Don’t worry. I think there are other examples where you can see the old so shine through.

  • “I think so too.”

Cool, thank you…
but English has moved on and it rarely does it that way for the most part any more while in German we still make it so…. … …

  • “Damn, this can…  it won’t open… this can opener isn’t working. It’s more like a can’t opener…”
    “Wait, you have to hold it like this/this way.”
  • “Mann, diese Dose… geht nicht auf.  Der Dosenöffner funktioniert nicht… … (lost in translation)”
    “Wart’ mal, du musst ihn SOOO halten.”

Whenever you have to translate like that or like this or something similar, so basically whenever you are referring to a manner without spelling it out, then so will probably do the job.

We use so for all of that and there isn’t really another way to do it. You can’t say “Wie das” or “das ist wie“… it is understandable but so is much better. We make it so all the time.
All right. So so is the generic answer for how and can stand for any manner whatsoever. But how is also used to sort of “measure” adjectives… like… how fast?
English often uses zat  in sose situa… oh…. ops… my accent just popped through. Leave, accent!! Leave! My tongue compels you! Thither to hell with thee…oh good. It’s gone. So… English does use so in that situations but it also uses that a lot. German on the other hand sticks to its guns and ALWAYS uses so.

It would be really confusing for a native speaker of German if you used das here.

  • I can’t run that fast.
  • Ich kann nicht das schnell rennen…. WHAT???

. the that in those situations stands for an answer to how. The German das can only answer to What?. We only have so to answer to how?.

Here are some more examples.

Now, you can’t only intensify adjectives. You can also intensify verbs and nouns. But this is where the commnnnnalteeth end.

so and so – so not the same

I just said, that you can intensify nouns. Uhm…. huh? I mean… I can’t say

  • Scarlett Johanson is a very woman.

No, what I mean is this:

  • I’m such an idiot.

This is more than just:

  • I’m an idiot.

The idiot is intensified. Now, in English this is done with the word such. German uses so.

Now, this is not really a difference after all because such is… drum roll… related to so. The real German version is solche/n/m/r and both words, such and solch, are a contrapti… I mean contraction of the old so and … another drum roll… the old form of like. And like (or lic) used to mean body, form. So such originally meant “so a body”. And then like changed from body to .. well… like. Confusing. But anyway… the German solch-forms sound a little stilted most of the time and people just use them for plural and go with so ein/e/n/m/r instead.

All right. Now, we have intensified adjectives, we have intensified nouns. But English can also intensify verbs. And it uses so.

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

The German so can’t do that. It can intensify nouns and adjectives but NOT verbs.And the reason is that the German so is so strongly connected to manner. It is the generic answer to how you do something. So if you say:

  • Ich will SOOO zum Konzert gehen.

then a German will understand

  • I want to go to the concert like that/in that manner.

For example… you meet with a friend and you want to go see Panthera… and you’re wearing a suit and a necktie. Then he would probably ask

So… German so cannot just intensify a verb and the best translation for this English so is probably unbedingt.

All right.
Up to this point the differences were minor. Time to get to the real stuff. Here’s a really quick recap.
The original meaning of so was in that manner. In German it has kept this meaning. In English it has kind of kept it but it has also taken on a second idea… one that is equally prominent now.

  • Thomas was tired. So he went to bed.

It is the idea of consequence. Thomas goes to bed as a result of his being tired. The German so does NOT have this idea of consequence to it.

  • Thomas war müde. So ging er ins Bett.

that is not wrong. But it means something else.

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

The German so is really just about how. How did he go to bed. Not why.
So… if so doesn’t work… what works? Well… get ready for some confusion because the German translation for the consequence-so is… also (pronounced like ullzough)

Also as in also as in too? No. Not at all. The German also has nothing to do with the English also except the spelling and their common enceste…uh… family. The English also translates to auch.

I know it is confusing but I think you’ll get used to it. The German also is really close to the English consequence-so and it is also used as a sort for filler.

All in all, the German also isn’t used as much though. Just look at how many of those initial so-s I have in this text. This would never be possible in German. The reason might be that the German also has a slight notion of conclusion, while English so is also for short term consequences….  like… in a step by step explanation. Those are real nuances though.
Anyway…. and there is one very common situation where it doesn’t really work.

German also would sound like a school teacher who is trying to guide the pupil to find the answer himself.

“I’m hungry.”
“Aaaaand? What do smart kids do when they’re hungry?”

All right. So the English so that opens a sentence (like the one I just used) is NOT going to be just so in German. And what if the German sentence opens with so? Isn’t that the same then? Well, no. Don’t let that fool you. Remember, the German so is a full blown answer to how. It can answer that question alone. It can fill up the how-box. And because in German any box can open a sentence, so can the how-box.

Now let’s look at the German so-s that don’t translate to English. And the most important one is the one we use in comparisons. The German version of “as … as”   is “so… wie”

This use of so is really along the lines we had earlier… like… the idea of measuring an adjective. And German uses the same pattern for situations in which English uses like… so whenever you don’t compare two adjectives like tall or smart but rather things or persons.

Technically, we don’t need a so in those examples. We don’t even always need it when comparing adjectives. But the so makes it more “equal”, more measured…

  • Schnell wie ein Tiger.
  • Fast as a tiger.

I don’t know though.. please English native speakers… correct me if this was nonsense :).
Hey speaking of nonsense… the German so  can also mean if…. or better in case. Yeah… I know… don’t ask. This meaning rare though and no one uses it in daily speech. But you might see it in books and then it can be really confusing. So here’s an example.

But it sounds really stilted.
All right. There are more differences in use. For instance you wouldn’t say

  • Ich denke nicht so.
  • I don’t think so.

in German. Also, if so translates to wenn ja… and not wenn so.
But you’ll pick that up over time.
The two main differences are : German so  means as in comparisons and English so, when used to open a sentence or in jargon… the conjunction so, means also. German also.English also means auch. And auch can mean even, too. And even looks like eben. But it translates to sogar.  And sogar comes from so. And so everything is in a nice order after all. It is in a nice order. It makes sense. Because it is in a sensible order. Good. Guys… … …. I….. … …
I’m utterly confused.

Common expressions with so

There is a multitude of common expressions with so and they’re all really useful, so let’s look at some of them here. Do they all tie in with the core of so… I don’t think so.
The first one is really just the word

This is used to conclude something. You can use it when you finish some work of your’s…

or if you’re done preparing…

Or you can use it when your teacher keeps rambling about cases and adjective inflections and strong mixed and weak declination without stopping and at some point you’re fed up….

So basically whenever you reach a certain way mark.
All right. Now, what comes after the single word so? Exactly… the double so.

And does it mean that we’ve reached the second way mark… or that we’ve finished completely? Of course not. It means that you’re totally skeptic of what someone tells you. There is no sense to that but hey… sense comes from absense, right? … What? c? Really? You spell it so? Oh…  example to the rescue

This is something that is more between children and adults. Or between a cop and a suspect. Among colleagues it sounds a little … patronizing maybe.

All right. Then, so is part of 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.

The last example leads us directly 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 eh … because they are synonymous… I’ll add a link below.
Now… another important use is this:

No need for any explaining here … but the short version of the first part is something you have certainly seen somewhere

  • usw.

Then, there is a really really handy one…. oder so. And that translates to or something( like that)… as in… the filler one.

And then, finally, we have one of the most famous German expressions of all.

  • Achtung!!

Oh wait… wrong one…

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

Is that it? I think that’s it… okay… wait… I should probably tell you that so is also used like a filler… especially by young people. For them it is kind of like the German version of like.

  • 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.

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