The meaning of “gleich”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: June 1, 2022

Hello everyone,these boys are gleich

and welcome to our German word of the day.
This time we are going to look at the meaning of:


If you have spent time in Germany, gleich is a word you have probably heard and read a lot.
Fortunately, it is not one of those weird words that seem to mean nothing and everything at the same time, like doch or mal.
has two clear meanings – equal and right away.
And the first one is right in line with where the word came from…

“gleich” as “equal”

The origin of gleich is the Germanic… uhm… word ḣa-lîka. Yeah… no idea how to pronounce that :).
This Germanic word meant something along the lines of having a similar or matching body, and it is also the origin of the English word like. And while like still expresses similarity, gleich is more strict – it expresses equality, and translates to same, equal  or equally.
Here’s a couple of examples, from math and humanity :)

  • 2 + 2 = 4 – Zwei plus Zwei ist gleich 4.
  • 2 plus 2 equals 4.
  • Alle Menschen sind gleich.
  • All humans are equal.

There is also a real word for the verb to equal in German but at least in math we say “is equal“.
Now, if  gleich in sense of same is used as an adjective before a noun, then of course it gets all the corresponding endings. So there’s gleiche, gleichem, gleiches and so on.
And if you’re not sure yet which ending to put… I have a quick hack for you: add an ‘e’. This will automatically get about 40 % correct and, what’s even more important is that you’ll have the right rhythm. You see… gleich is just one syllable, gleich-e is two. This change is huge and saying one syllable instead of two will smash to bits any effort to not sound like a complete beginner.
I’ll add a link to the article on adjective endings below if you want to know more.
Let’s look  at some more examples for the same-gleich.

  • Ich habe das gleiche Fahrrad wie du.
  • I have the same bike as you.
  • Ich nehme den gleichen Wein wie letzte Woche.
  • I’ll have the same wine as last week.
  • All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
  • Alle Tiere sind gleich, aber manche sind gleicher.
  • Thomas und Maria sind fast gleich groß.
  • Thomas and Maria are almost equally tall.

Why is there no ending on gleich in the last example, you wonder?
That’s because gleich is referring to tall there; so it is an adverb (the things that end in -ly in English or -ment in French) and those never get endings in German. Don’t you love them already :)

Of course gleich is also the translation for THE same. Then it is das Gleiche, der Gleiche, die Gleiche, dem Gleichen etc, beacause… you know… the Cayszuss – that hostile alien race that learners have to deal with.

“Captain, the Cases are about to over-complicate our warp-sentence.”
“Raise shields and pick them up at random one at a time!”
“Great plan Captain.”

  •  “Maria hat eine neue Hose.”
    “Ja ich weiß, ich habe die Gleiche.”
  • “Maria has a new pair of pants”
    “Yes I know, I have the same.”

  • “Ich nehme ein Steak mit Kartoffeln.”
    “Ich nehme das Gleiche
  • “I’ll have the steak with potatos.”
    “I’ll have the same.”

Now, besides gleich German also has selbe as a translation for same. So there is das selbe, dem selben and so on. And on paper, there actually is a difference. Specifically, das selbe refers to the exact item, while das gleiche refers to an item of the same type.

  • Ich benutze die gleiche Zahnbürste wie du.
  • I use the same toothbrush as you.
    (the same type)
  • Ich benutze die selbe Zahnbürste wie du.
  • I use the same toothbrush as you.
    (the same one… like, literally)

But honestly… at least I don’t really feel this difference and in daily life I use the two interchangeably. Sometimes people pretend like it matters, but trust me… they perfectly understand what you mean.

Cool, so now that we know the first meaning of gleich, it’s time for… the second one :). And that is about time.

“gleich” as “now”

Gleich is a VERY common word for shortly or right away. It is not as soon as immediately but certainly sooner than… later.  I’d say gleich can reach like half an hour or so into the future but not more. But okay.. time is relative, after all.

  • “Hör auf zu spielen und mach Hausaufgaben.”
    “Ja, mach ich gleich.”
  • “Stop playing and start doing homework.”
    “Yeah I’ll do it in a second.”

The German Fortnite kid meant gleich in sense of two hours by the way – cause time is REALLY relative when you play computer – and just used it to make it sound as if the homework were to be dealt with any time soon. But mom is experienced and can read between the lines plus she knows the perfect counter to gleich.

  • “NEIN! Sofort!”
  • “NO! Immediately!”

Damn. She is being serious.
So… gleich means shortly or right away and it is SUPER common in daily life. Here are two of the most commonly used phrases.

  • Ich komme gleich.
  • I’ll be there right away.
  • Bis gleich.
  • See you in a bit.

Now, besides being used in relation to right now, gleich can also be used with a referenced point in time in past or future.
What do I mean by that?

  • Ich ruf dich gleich an, wenn ich nach Hause komme.
  • I will call you right away, when I get home.
  • Gleich nachdem ich die Tür zugemacht hatte, fiel mir auf, dass mein Schlüssel noch in der Wohnung war.
  • Right after I closed the door, I realized that my keys was still in the apartment.

All right.

So these are the two meanings of gleich:  the idea of same and the idea of right away.
Here they are again, back to back.

  • Thomas und Maria gehen gleich schnell.
  • Thomas und Maria gehen gleich ins Kino.
  • Thomas and Maria go equally fast.
  • Thomas and Maria will go to the movies shortly.

They’re really almost gleich but the context makes it clear which meaning it is.
Some of you might be wondering, if we can tie the meanings together somehow? Well, we could say that the timegleich is referring to the same time as now. But it’s definitely some mind yoga, and maybe it makes more sense to just see them as two completely separate ideas.

To wrap this all up, here are some words that originate from gleich, to build your vocab. The verb gleichen means to resemble, the words ausgleichen means to compensate or to balance and vergleichen means to compare. The ge-stem is -glichen by the way. As for nouns we have die Gleichung which is an equation and die Gleichheit which is equality. Oh an important one is gleichfalls. It means ‘the same to you’.

  • “Einen schönen Tag noch.”
  • “Have a good one.”
    “And you./You too. ”

I feel like I have forgotten some important ones but I will just add them later. If you have questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

further reading:

German Adjective Endings 1


Test yourself :). 

How much do you remember from the article?


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