Word of the Day – “irgend”

irgend-pictureHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. And this time, it’s not just any word we’ll talk about.
It’s THE any word we’ll talk about.
Because today, we’ll take a look at the meaning of

irgend-

 

We’ll learn all about important words like irgendwann or irgendwo and we’ll talk about the differences between etwas and irgendetwas and lots more.
So are you ready to jump in?
Awe-some

And we’ll start with a look at the origin of irgend-.

The origin of irgend-

Even though it’s a fairly short, irgend actually used to be two words back 1000 years ago: Elrond and Éowyn.
Wait… no.. hold on… those are from the Lord of the Rings.
What I meant was io and (h)wergin.
Io is the great great grandfather of the German word je. Je is a brother of yonder and its core notion is “over there” – in a very general sense. But we’lltalk about that in a separate article at some point.
The other part, (h)wergin, is actually an old version of the question word wo with a little gin mixed in. It’s quite obvious when you think of the English where. Not sure about the gin though. I think Gin works best in a Negroni cocktail, but okay… I guess I’ll try a Gin-question word some time. No ice, please, Mr. barkeeper…. oh man… those were the good old days.
Anyway, the original combination of io and h(wer)gin actually meant in some location over there or simply: somewhere. Germans then slowly mumbled it into the shape it has today, but for a long long time it exclusively meant somewhere.
Only some 300 years ago, people started using it in a more general sense of some-ness. And that’s not a crazy change either. Just look at this example…

  • This will take somewhere between one hour and a way.

We’re using somewhere, but it’s not strictly about location. The main purpose of somewhere is to communicate some-ness.
And once people started using irgend that way, it soon lost it’s connection to location. I mean, the wo-part has diappeared completely anyway.
Now, for a while, irgend could be used as a stand alone, but that use has declined sharply. In fact, the only idiomatic example I can think of is this:

  • Versuch, wenn irgend möglich, nicht zu spät zu kommen.
  • Try, if somehow possible, not to be late (lit)

There might be a few others that I am missing right now, but it is really really rare.
Today, irgend is mainly used as a prefix of someness for question words and some articles and pronouns.
Wow… A prefix of someness… that actually sounds kind of epic.
Elrond and the Prefix of Someness… maybe I should write some fan fiction.
“Yeah, or maybe you should just stay on point and continue telling us about irgend-“
Gee, okay okay, chill bro.
Man, this quarantine really makes people on the edge.

“irgend” as some

Irgend- combined with a question word is the german translation for some- combined with the question word. So irgendwo means somewhere. And if you’ve been close attention, you will know that it kind of sort of means “somewherewhere”… well, based on the origin at least.
Anyway, time for some examples.

  • Gibt es hier irgendwo eine Bank oder einen Geldautomat?
  • Is there a bank or an ATM somewhere around here?
  • Ich habe irgendwo mein Handy liegen lassen.
  • I left/forgot my phone somewhere.

Same system with wann, and while English doesn’t use somewhen that often, German irgendwann is really common.

  • Hast du morgen irgendwann Zeit?
  • Will you be free some time tomorrow?
  • Ich will irgendwann gern mal nach Autralien.
  • I’d love to go to Australia at some point.

And guess what irgendwie means? Exactly, somehow. Bonus points if you thought of a song right now :).

  • Ich muss irgendwie nach München kommen.
  • I have to get to Munich somehow.

Actually, Germans also use irgendwie if they’re not really sure how to say something, so it’s also a common translation for kind of.

  • Heute fühle ich mich irgendwie komisch.
  • I feel kind of strange today.
  • “Und dann hat er mich voll komisch angeguckt…”
    “Wie denn?”
    “Na irgendwie so halt.” (trying to imitate it)
  • “And then he gave me this really weird look.”
    “Like what?”
    “I don’t know, kinda like this I guess…”

The one important question word where it doesn’t work is warum – and its cousins wieson and weshalb. But it’s the same in English. You wouldn’t say somewhy, but for some reason instead. Or in German aus irgendeinem Grund.
And yes, we’ll also get to irgendein, but first, I want to say some general things about irgend and any.
But first, let’s look at the remaining two main question words and see how those combine with irgend-. I’m talking of course about was and wer.

[(irgend)(et)]was… wait what???

Was is the German version of the question word what. So based on what we’ve seen so far, irgendwas should mean somewhat. But it doesn’t.
Well, actually it’s somewhat that doesn’t really mean what it should mean.
You see, irgendwo is about “some place”, irgendwann is about “some time” and irgendwie is about “some way”. So irgendwas should be about “some thing“, because was is the question word asking for things.
And something is actually precisely what irgendwas means. Somewhat on the other hand kind of shifted in meaning and became a synonym for somehow. But that’s not our topic today.
So, the problem is that there’s also etwas which also means something. And in spoken German, people use was in sense of something.

  • Hast du (et)was zu trinken?
  • You got some(thing) to drink?

So what’s up with that?
Well, the spoken was is basically just a short form of etwas. It is colloquial, but it is by no means bad style or anything.
And irgendwas to me feels like a short version of irgendetwas.
Now etwas by itself already means something. If we add irgend- to it, we basically get a more vague version of it.

  • Hast du was zu essen?
  • Do you have something to eat?

Here, I am hungry and I am asking if there is some food I could eat.

  • Hast du irgendwas zu essen?

Here, I am pretty hungry and I indicate that any kind of food is probably fine… no special wishes.

  • Hast du IRGENDwas zu essen?

Here, I am starving and I will gladly gorge anything you got… kind of like

  • Do you have ANYthing to eat, no matter what it is.

But there’s no fixed guideline on when to use (et)was and when to use irgendwas. Sometimes, people just pick one over the other because they like the flow better.

  • “Auf was für einen Film hast du Lust?”
    “Hmmm keine Ahnung… irgendwas lustiges.”
  • “What kind of movie do you feel like watching?”
    “Hmmm … no idea.. anything funny is fine/something funny.”
  • “Auf was für einen Film hast du Lust?”
    “Hmmm keine Ahnung… auf jeden Fall was lustiges.”

As you can see, the context and meaning is exactly the same, just the phrasing is a little different. This is the way I would say it, but someone else might switch it around. So… bottom line: don’t think too hard.
All four versions (irgend(et)was) as more or less the same the same: something. Just with a varying degree of vagueness or specificity.
And it’s actually a similar thing for the “irgend-person”

[irgend](wer)(jemand)

If irgendwas means something (which it does mean, as we just found out) it makes perfect sense that irgendwer would mean someone, or anyone, respectively. And it does.

  • Hat irgendwer zufällig ein Feuerzeug?
  • Does anyone have a lighter by any chance?

However, irgendwer is not the only option.
First of, there is the word jemand which also means someone, and which would be just as idiomatic in the example above.

  • Hat jemand ein Feuerzeug?

Jemand is actually combination of that io (which we learned was the first part of irgend) and the word man.
But just like with etwas, also here German felt compelled to slap irgend to it. And so there is also irgendjemand…. and yes, technically speaking this is kind of somesomeone.
Anyway, the difference between jemand and irgendjemand is a bit more clear than for the was-group, in so far as that irgendjemand always kind of creates an emphasize on some. So it leans toward anyone, if you will.

  • Weiß irgendjemand von euch wie spät es ist?
  • Does/do anyone of you know the time?

Jemand has a really nice flow to it, so adding this extra irgend makes you sound a little desparate.
But don’t think about it too much. Maybe just stick with jemand for now, and wait till you get a feel for irgendjemand.
Now, besides those two, there is also irgendwer. And this is more or less the same, as well.
And actually… in spoken German, people sometimes even use wer in sense of someone.

  • Kann mir wer erklären, warum es so viele Wörter für “someone” gibt?
  • Can someone explain to me why there are so many words for someone?

And irgendwer actually is pretty handy once we have to use cases.
You see, when someone is not the subject of the sentence, you’ll need to put it into Accusative or Dative. So (irgend)jemand would have to get endings. And that doesn’t really flow that well. In fact, in spoken German, people actually even skip endings and say jemand instead of jemanden or jemandem. Imagine that… Germans skipping case endings :).
So in these situations irgendwen and irgendwem is much easier to say and hence fairly common.

  • Kennst du irgendwen/-jemanden, der sich mit Computern auskennt?
  • Do you know someone, who knows stuff about computers?
  • Ich habe irgendjemandem/-wem mein Buch gegeben, aber ich weiß nicht mehr, wem?
  • I gave my book to someone, but I don’t remember to whom.

I know you’re starting to feel a little overwhelmed by all the option. So please let me tell you… I’m not mentioning all these things because you have to get them right all the time. The goal is just to have an overview over what’s out there.
That’s the only takeaway that matters, so don’t stress yourself about all the details.
All right, and that said, let’s look at yet some more details…. with the very very indefinite artile irgendein-.

irgendein-

Germans also add their vague-ness word irgend- to the already undefined article ein, essentially making it more vague. Ein- translates to a and irgendein- translates to… drum roll… some. Or any of course.

  • ein Apfel – irgendein Apfel
  • an apple – some/any apple

And it can refer to people as well as to things.

  • “Wo hast du diese Rose her?”
    “Oh… die hat mir vorhin irgendein Typ geschenkt.”
  • “Where did you get this rose from?”
    “Oh… some guy gave it to me earlier.”
  • Boah… diese Aufgabe ist echt schwer… hast du irgendeine Idee, was wir machen sollen?
  • Boah… this exercise is really tough… do you have any idea what we’re supposed to do?

Now, just to make sure… irgendein– only works for singular things.
So it would not work in this example:

  • Do you guys have some/any questions?

For plurals like this you need to use irgendwelche.

  • Habt ihr noch irgendwelche Fragen?
  • Hast jemand irgendwelche Einwände?
  • Does anyone have (any) objections (of any kind)?

And just to make sure… irgendwelche only works if the core notion of some/any is the idea of “no matter which“. It doesn’t work in the sense of a bunch of. Like here:

  • I have some apples.

The proper translation here is einige or ein paar.
Actually, there are some other somes that are not translated with irgend, and there is a whole bunch of anys, that are not irgend.
But I think it’s better if we do a separate article on that, because this was already quite a lot today.
The core theme that irgend- lends to a word is a sense of “not specified”. It’s basically in between the “no-” and the “every-“, if that makes sense.
Here’s a little overview for you.

no-some/anyevery-
nowhere
nirgends/nirgendwo
somewhere/anywhere
irgendwo(wohin)
everywhere / no matter where
überall
never
nie
at some point
irgendwann
always
immer
nothing
nichts
something
(irgend)(et)was
everything
alles
noone
niemand
someone
(irgend)jemand(..)
irgendwer/wem/wen
erveryone
jede(…)
no/none
kein(…)
some/any
irgendein(…)
irgendwelch(..) for plural
all
alle/jede(…)

You might have noticed that there’s a bunch of things in the table that we actually didn’t talk about.
But I thought it’s a nice little overview to have.
Sorry if we didn’t cover everything, but it’s a weird topic. Not necessarily a difficult, but super messy.
As I said, we’ll do a separate article on the different options to translate some and particularly any into German, and the things to watch out for.
But I hope you got at least an impression of what irgend- is and how to use it and you got some of your questions answered.
Of course, if you have “irgendwelche” questions about the article or the table just leave me a comment and I’ll try my best to clear them up.
Otherwise, stay safe and healthy and I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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Anonymous
Anonymous
3 months ago

Thank you so much for this article. I’m from Ukraine and when I tried to look up “irgend”in dictionary, it didn’t make any sense to me. I was like “How am I supposed to understand that?”, but your explanation made me klick somehow.
Thank you for the hard work you’ve done.

EM C
EM C
1 year ago

Hi Emanuel! Right now you’re like an German-wikipedia to me! Thanks a lot!
So does it mean that we can´t replace “jederzeit” by “irgendwann”, and “überall” by “irgendwo” in the Kontext like the following sentence?

“Aber heutzutage kann man die Wetterinformationen jederzeit und überall über Apps empfangen”

EM C
EM C
1 year ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Vielen Dank!

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

This was absolutely well explained! Thanks so much :)

Amy Sheppard
Amy Sheppard
2 years ago

This was SUPER helpful and by far the most useful and comprehensible of the multitude of sites I visited. Danke!

Someone
Someone
2 years ago

Avoid the stupid jokes

DianaM
DianaM
1 year ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

You tell ’em. People who don’t like goofy jokes should just go elsewhere. Your sense of humour is what keeps me (and a lot of others, I know) coming back.

Pax
Pax
2 years ago

Hallo.
Neulich in einem Gespräch habe ich den folgenden Satz gehört (sofern ich mich nicht verhört): “Ich muss kurz wohin gehen”. Gehe ich recht in der Annahme, dass “wohin” ist eine “Abkürzung” von “irgendwohin” und bedeuted einfach: “I must go somewhere”? Könnte ich da auch “irgendwohin” nutzen, wenn ich ausdrücken wollte, das ich weiß, wohin ich gehe? Und müssten wir etwas ändern, um zu sagen, dass wir NICHT wissen, wohin wir mussen?

grogberries
grogberries
5 years ago

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

i nominate you for “the best teacher ever 2016 award” and you will win :D

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Very nice article.

As a native Spanish speaker I find this part of german fairly simple (you still gotta work on it though), but when you try to understand it from an english point of view ….. It becomes confusing :/, probably because english isn´t just as wide as german or spanish when using this kind of grammar.

However, it is always helpful to tear a language down from two different sides, and spanish is a strong one in this aspect, also with the cases, well, sort of.

Keep up with the great work and thank you for giving such clear explanations about that mean but awesome language called German :D

Celesco
7 years ago

Danke für diese Schreibs das du machen bist. Sie sind so gut. Du bist funny

Ich habe viele Gern wann ich spielen ein Deutsch-übersetzt RPG auf meinem Handy. Dies hat so nette Exempel für die Praxis. Und da ist auch Mitsprechen zwischen die kleine Männerchen. das macht es sehr gut in meiner Meinung ähnlich ein Dasein da, so kann ich lerne als wenn ich da war. Dies lehrte mir “lecker” und “schrecklich”. So suß

berlingrabers
7 years ago

Toller Artikel, wirklich hilfreich.

Man, “some”/”any” is such a headache to try to explain. But the differences are completely clear to native speakers, even if we can’t make them clear to anybody else.

One thing I will say is that “any” really does have a different meaning from “every.” The examples you gave:

– Für dich gehe ich überall hin.
– Ich tue alles für dich.

reeeally don’t sound like they mean “I’ll go anywhere/do anything for you” to me. They sound much more like this:

– I’ll go everywhere for you (so you don’t have to go yourself, or I’ll go on all the errands you need to run)
OR
– You’ve got me running around all over the place. (more of a complaint)

– I’ll do/I’m doing everything for you. (either an offer to take care of everything, or a complaint that I’m doing all the stuff you should be doing)

“I’ll do anything for you” is really saying “There’s nothing (that I can imagine) that I wouldn’t do for you.” I grant you that this sounds sort of like “everything,” but “everything” really implies that there is a known set of things to do.

Comparing it to “some”… I think “irgendwas” vs. “etwas” is a good comparison.

– Habt ihr irgendwelche Fragen?

definitely means “Do you have any questions?” and NOT “Do you have some questions?” The latter question really means “I expect that you have questions, which you may now ask” as opposed to “If you happen to have questions, you may now ask them.”

Basically, “some” always describes a real person/thing/location, even if you don’t know which one; “any” describes a POSSIBLE person/thing/location (or a number of those). Hopefully that’s some help. It’s really helpful to me to get a better handle on how Germans see these things, so thanks again!

berlingrabers
7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

You really do well – I’m thoroughly impressed that you can do a readable, entertaining blog in a foreign language, and you’ve got a great feel for a lot of stuff in English. I think “some/any” and present simple vs. continuous are incredibly difficult for Germans in particular, so great job with this post. Below are a couple of things maybe to tweak:

– Hast jemand irgendwelche Einwände?
– Does someone have (any) objections (of any kind)?

Aside from fixing the “hast” typo, I’d change “someone” to “anyone.” Like I mentioned, to ask “Does someone have objections?” sounds like you are under the impression that there’s somebody who does have an objection, so “Does someone have any objections?” feels really weird. (Oddly, “Does anyone have some objections?” would work, but it would mean something different: “I’m looking for some objections. Anybody got some?”)

– Weiß (irgend)jemand von euch wie spät es ist?
– Does anyone of you know the time?

I would probably make this “Do any of you know the time?” That just sounds more natural, even though it’s perfectly understandable the way you wrote it. (“Any” by itself feels sort of plural to me, but I’m sure you could start a big argument on an English grammar forum about whether “do” or “does” is correct in my version.) If you kept the “one” part, I actually think it looks better to divide the word: “Does any one of you know the time?” If you include the “one,” it sort of automatically gets emphasized because it’s not strictly necessary; it sounds like “I’m looking for one volunteer who can tell me the time.”

That’s the only stuff I would change other than what I mentioned before. There are a few examples where either “some-” or “any-” makes sense, and some where I’d phrase things differently for a natural translation but think it makes sense to leave them as they are to show the meaning more clearly. I can specify if you really want. :)

By the way, “irgendwann” is what English speakers think “eventuell” should mean. Forgot to mention that in my earlier comment.

Der Vorschlag, dass ich einen Englisch-Blog mache, ist wirklich ein wunderschönes Kompliment. Allerdings frage ich mich, ob ich das auf Deutsch schaffen könnte, wie du es auf Englisch tust. Dafür bräuchte ich viel viel Zeit und meine Posts wären nicht halb so unterhaltsam wie deine. Irgendwann vielleicht…

berlingrabers
7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Nee, hast du nicht nur reingehört…

Yeah, “eventually” can only be future (so “at some point” is a safer translation into English for “irgendwann”), and it does have more information to it.

I think the way I’d describe it is more with an emphasis on what comes between now and “eventually.” “Eventually” could be 5 minutes from now, as long as several things happen in the meantime. So “I’ll do that eventually” could mean:

– That’s my goal, but a lot of other things have to happen before I can reach it.
OR
– There’s a lot to do before I can get to that; it’s not at the top of my list of priorities.

You’re right about “I’d like to live on a farm eventually” – it definitely sounds like “my goal is to move permanently onto a farm,” and again, “at some point” definitely fits “irgendwann mal” nicely. At the same time, there are other ways you could translate the German sentence:

– Eventually I’d like to be living on a farm. [Here it’s a goal, but not necessarily a permanent condition.]
– Eventually I’d like to live on a farm for a while (mal).

The whole thing is a little context-dependent, but the thing that’s really clear is that you won’t get to live on the farm until a bunch of other stuff has happened.

Also gibt es ein anderes deutsches Wort (bzw. Phrase), mit dem man “eventually” gut übersetzen kann?

Doc Green
7 years ago

Hast du morgen irgendwann Zeit? Will you be free tomorrow at some point?

A native speaker would probably say, Will you be free sometime tomorrow?

alexviajero
alexviajero
7 years ago

Wow, another great article. I’ve just spent an hour taking notes and digesting all of this terrific information. A special thanks also for thinking to include the fact that sometimes, people use “jemand” when “jemandem” is really the more grammatically correct form — that type of detail is really, really helpful to people like me who might come across “jemand” in writing, when the rule I know says it should be “jemandem” and then I’d obsess over why I’m not getting it! So, now I know it might just be because it is sometimes used incorrectly even by native speakers! That possibility would not have every occurred to me, so those types of extra tips are really helpful for those of us in the earlier stages, hahaha. ;-) Problem solved!

So, on that note, I’m trying to figure out why in your example sentence above, when you’re talking about picking out a film to watch, the answer is “irgendwas lustiges.” Why is this “lustiges” and not just plain ol’ “lustig”? It seems like “lustiges” would be inflected to modify a “das” word and I don’t see any in the entire context, i.e. “der Film”, “die Lust” etc…, so what does the “lustiges” form refer to?

Thanks very much, as always. Your Blog is soooo much help to me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you have a truly remarkable skill when it comes to TEACHING. Many people can convey information but to be able to do it by anticipating what is going on in the students’ heads so that you can make these fairly complex issues seem almost easy when you are finished explaining, is quite frankly amazing. Also, towards the end of this lesson, when you wrote, “Of course, since ein can get all kinds of annoying endings, irgendein can get the same ones but … cases shmases… whom cares?” I had just taken a drink of my Coke, and it ended up coming out of my nose! Freaking hilarious!

Seriously, bravo! ;-)

Eduardo
8 years ago

Hey! I’ve been following this blog for some time now and I think it’s great! :D That aside, I have a question and I think it might be somewhat related to this post… so here goes:

At least in my language (Portuguese), I can use the singular to talk about a group through an unspecified member thereof – for example: “A man who never reads doesn’t know anything about the world”. (Also, “the man” could convey the same meaning, right?) Is this allowed in German too? e.g. “Ein Mann, der nie liest, weißt nichts über die Welt”. Does it need some special construction, or some irgend- word? And could “Der Mann” convey the same meaning of talking about a collective through one of its individuals? Thanks! =D

AnDrEw
AnDrEw
8 years ago

ist niemand-em- falsch ???
kann ich zum beispiel (mit niemand) ohne -em- sagen ??? Danke :)

AnDrEw
AnDrEw
8 years ago

sind (alle) und (jeder) und (niemand) wie ( -irgend-jemand) ich bedeute , kann ich (niemanden),(niemandem) und so weiter sagen
ich weiss dass Sie gesagt haben dass die deutschen nur (jemand) immer verwenden
aber ich will es wissen =D
ich habe (jedem) vorher gesehen , also ich warte auf Ihre antwort :)

AnDrEw
AnDrEw
8 years ago

please what is the difference between (manche-irgendein-einige-etwas-ein paar) i mean is there difference in the using or the meaning ???
Danke schön im voraus :)

Adam
Adam
8 years ago

Hey! I’ve just found this blog, and daaamn it’s great! Specially the articles about the ‘short but useful’ words (which are very hard to grasp)!
Anyway, I have a question about ‘irgend’… You’ve basically used question examples in the ‘irgendwer’ section, so…If it is an affirmative sentence, does it work the same? Taking an infamous song as an example: ‘Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you’… what would be the best translation for that someone? ‘Irgendwen / Irgendjemanden’, or ‘Irgendein Typ’ or something else entirely?
Thanks!

Filipe
Filipe
8 years ago

Hi, dude :) . I’m reading a book and I saw two apparitions of “irgendwelch”:
“Ich sollte meine Chef beoabachten und ihm mitteilen, wenn ich auf irgendwelche Beweise für deine Verdachte stoße.”
“Für solche Fälle ist die Polizei zuständig und nicht irgendwelche Journalisten.”

Could I substitute irgendwelch for irgendein in these cases? As a matter of fact, I didn’t get the difference between irgendwelch/ein.

Filipe
Filipe
8 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

It makes sense, I didn’t stop to see whether the nouns were singular or plural.

About THAT, you DO deserve it. I can’t donate more now. but I will surely make other donations soon. Your blog has been helping me for almost two years (I was looking for the difference between hinter/hinten, unter/unten, etc when I found out it) and you solved many of my doubts here. I just thought I should retribute you somehow. Thanks :)

By the way, for those who Emanuel’s explanations helped to understand better the German grammar/vocabulary, I ask you to make a donation, I think that any amount would make him feel better with himself (of course, and I think he agrees with me, the more the merrier!), once it’s a way of appreciation of his work.

Paul
Paul
8 years ago

This is just brilliant!