Word of the Day – “gleich”

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.
means only two things. But let’s start at the beginning…

The origin of gleich is the  Germanic 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. Both these words do have the idea similarity in them but it’s more alive in gleich as its first meaning is  same, equal  or equally.
The first 2 examples are brought do you by: math and humanity… what a combination.

There is also a word for to equal German but for math we say “is equal”.  Anyway, gleich in sense of same is used as an adjective and gets all the corresponding endings. If you’re not sure yet which ending to put… that is no problem as long as you put at least an ‘e’. This will automatically get about 40 % correct and, what’s even more important, the rhythm will be correct. Gleich is just one syllable, gleich-e is 2. This change is huge and saying one syllable instead of 2 will smash to bits any effort to not sound like a complete beginner. So keep in mind for any adjective you use :


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.

Why is there no ending on gleich in the last example? 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 :)
The comparative form more same or more equal doesn’t really make sense but George Orwell gave us a wonderful phrase to translate.

Gleich is also used for THE same. Then it is das Gleiche, der Gleiche, die Gleiche, dem Gleichen etc, you know… the cases… sounds like a hostile alien race in Star Trek. “Captain, the Cases are about to over-complicate our warp-sentence.” “Raise shields and pick them at random one at a time!” “Great plan captain.”

There is also the word das Selbe in German and I guess there is actually a difference but I do not feel any, and the mighty Internet, or as some like to call it, the omniscient landfill did not help me out… so whenever someone gets all smart ass on you explaining why it is das Selbe instead of das Gleiche and how funny it was what you said, just tell him:

In this case gleich is the same as egal so the sentence basically means “I don’t care.” And you shouldn’t because finding differences between das Gleiche and das Selbe is really splitting hairs.
Cool, now let’s get to the second meaning of gleich and that is related to time.

gleich 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.

The German kid meant gleich in sense of 2 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.

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.

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?

All right.

So these are the two meanings of gleich – the idea of same and the idea of right away. And if you think about it, the temporal gleich kind of ties in with the sae-gleich. How so? Well, it’s referring to the same time as now…. well, sort of.
Anyway, here are 2 sentences – one for each gleich. They’re really almost gleich but the context makes it clear which meaning it is.

  • Thomas and Maria go equally fast.
  • Thomas and Maria will go to the movies shortly.

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’.

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