Word of the Day – “irgend”

irgend-pictureHello everyone,

and welcome to our little photo technique blog. Neat little tricks and hacks on how to make the best pictures ever. So… have you ever tried taking a photo in dim conditions? Like, at night, with your eyes closed, or in an economy in recession…  hey … hey is that tumble weed passing by? Why is there tumble weed passing… oh…. ohhhhh, because it wasn’t funny, I get it… anyway… Where was I … ah right. So, unless you have had one of those eye-sight damaging flashes, your picture has probably turned out in 50 shades of dark gr… what’s that…  tumble weed? AGAIN??…I guess I’ll close the door real quick, hold on … (door shuts)Soooo… the reason for your picture being dark is that they are under exposed… and THAT just so happens to also be the explanation if you have never heard or seen the word irgend in German, which is what we’ll look at today.
(this intro was nominated for the “Worst Intro 2013 Award” but didn’t win )

So, today we’ll look at the meaning of the super common



and that means we’ll explore the origin, talk about the easy words like irgendwann or irgendwo and we’ll also find out about the differences between etwas and  irgendetwas and jemand and irgendjemand.
Quite a lot to do so let’s dive right in, shall we? Awe-some
(this hint was nominated for the “Worst Hint 2013 Award” but didn’t win)

The origin of irgend

As so many of the words we have talked about recently irgend used to be 2 words back 1000 years ago: io and (h)wergin. Io is the great great grandfather of the German word je that has starred in movies like “Je… desto… 2 cops re-compensate “, “Jemals, a story of the time lost” or “Jeders darling”. What does je mean exactly? Well, that would take up an article of its own so we’ll have to skip that for now.  But what I will tell you is that io is coming from an old Germanic word a, meaning always, ever, and this the root for ever and every. Now… the second part of irgend was (h)wergin which is basically the old version of the question word wo or English where mixed with gin. In my opinion gin works best with tonic, but okay, … oh… I.. I think I hear some tumble weed bouncing against the door, thank god I closed it… But seriously, I was not able to find any information about this gin-suffix but it doesn’t really matter… the main things are io and h(wer) the combination of which meant something like in some location or simply: somewhere. Soon the Germans fused it into one word, added a d, because they had done so with jemand and niemand and so irgend was borne and it meant… somewhere. Yes, that’s right. Actually just irgend alone used to mean somewhere until 300 years ago. Then, people started using it as a general tool to indicate …. “some-ness” if you will. On www.dwds.de, I found a sample (sadly, not a full sentence):

  • wohl irgend 20…

which meant:

  • probably some 20 or 20 something…

This way of using it, however, has somewhat declined, and the only example I can think of is this:

There might be others but it is really really rare and the main use of irgend today is as a prefix for the question words and some articles and pronouns and it always adds the idea some in sense of “don’t know exactly”.

irgendwie, irgendwo and so on

So irgendwo essentially means somewhere… and yes, if you look at it from the origin point of view somewherewhere :) but I think only few Germans are aware of the origin.

With wann, it works just the same. Maybe somewhen isn’t really used very often…. irgendwann certainly is

The combination with wie gives us one of the most frequently used ones…

Irgendwie is used a lot. Sometimes it isn’t really translatable…. almost like a particle it just adds the notion of “don’t know exactly”

So… when you hear irgendwie and you can’t really make sense of it as somehow… just ignore it :). And those are the most important ones… irgendwie, irgendwo, irgendwann. But there is another one… welche, which means which. There is no somewhich in English… but there is irgendwelche, and it means… some… just some as some persons or things.

All right. Now, if you know German question words you have probably realized that 2 very important ones are missing… wer and was. But before e get to those and to ein and jemand, I think we should quickly address another issue. Looking at the last 2 examples one question comes to mind…. “What about any?”

Irgend and any

In English, there are any and some and they kind of mean the same but it depends on the context and the sentence which to use … I find it really confusing actually and I am glad that all I have to explain is the easy German grammar. But anyway, the question we need to find an answer to is :

Does irgend also mean any ?

And the answer is … yes, BUT! Irgend is also any for any any that is kind of some and it is the only translation for it.

  • Is there an ATM anywhere?
  • Gibt es hier irgendwo einen Geldautomat?

But there is another anyany in sense of every and that is totally NOT irgend. Here are some examples:

  • I’ll go anywhere for you.
  • Für dich gehe ich irgendwo hin… is wrong… it means you go somewhere!!

In German, you can basically just use the every-version

So… think of irgend as some in sense of “not sure which”… it is not some in sense of a bunch but we’ll get to that later. Okay… so… so far we’ve learned that irgend works like the prefix some and you can add it to question words. Now let’s talk about was.

irgendetwas, irgendwas, etwas, was… wait what???

Was is the German question what but it is also a short form of etwas.

This etwas-was is used A LOT in daily life. I actually think that I rarely say etwas at all. Always was. Now, why I am saying all of this? When we add irgend to was we get irgendwas and based on the logic it should mean somewhat. But it doesn’t. I repeat, it does NOT mean somewhat… it means something and most people perceive it as a short form of irgendetwas… which also means something. And now we get to the crux… etwas in itself already means something. So what’s the point of adding a prefix to express the idea of some? What is the difference between (et)was and irgend(et)was. I can’t give you a catchy answer. I think people just liked their irgend-prefix so they added it to etwas too. It doesn’t really change the meaning but it makes the thing even more some… even less defined, kind of like an any.

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

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

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.

So… irgendwas or irgendetwas sound more indefinite than just was or etwas. And you can stress the irgend to make it sound SUPER-indefinite. But don’t try to interpret too much into it… people might just use irgendwas because it sounds better rhythmically in some situations.

Here, irgendwas is mainly used for rhythm. Let me modify the example a bit:

This means the same and it sounds smooth because there is something before the was…. “was lustiges.”… this just feels a little truncated to me. So… bottom line… don’t think too hard … just take all 4 versions (irgend(et)was) as basically the same … something…. or anything if you will. But just to make sure… NOT this anything:

  • I will do anything for you.

Why not? Because that means everything… or at least it is closer to everything than it is to something.

All right. Now let’s get to the last question word… wer.

irgendwer, irgendjemand and other persons

Wer means who so irgendwer should mean “somewho”, right? It almost does… it means someone (or anyone)

And just as with was, there already is another word for someone… jemand. Jemand is a combination of io (which was the first part of irgend) and the word man… which is man or one. Makes for a nice someone :)… however, people were so fond of their irgend that they also slapped it on jemand… and thus we have irgendjemand…. which would technically be somesomeone … this word looks weird by the way… so, what’s the difference? Kind of like was vs. irgendwas… but maybe a little more important. I’ve read somewhere that irgendjemand underlines or indicates that I do not know the person, while jemand can be used for people I do know. This did sound adequate at first but I think the line is very very blurry and personal preference as well as flow does play an important role in which word people use.

You can ask that in a room filled with your friends. The irgend-version just makes it sound less like you’re directly addressing the people and it also kind of implies that knowing what time  it is is somewhat rare. But honestly… again, I’d say don’t worry too much about finding a difference. The essence of the words is the same. And now what about irgendwer… well, this is the same, too. And sometimes people even just use wer in sense of someone.

Irgendwer as a word has more flow in many situations. Irgendjemand is a little bit clunky. But again… they all mean someone. The situation changes a little when we talk cases… yes, jemand and wer of are going through the motions. We all do :)

Now, I know that you are all like “Soooooo complicated..” but before you start learning Spanish instead let me tell you a trick… just use jemand in those examples. It might not be grammatically correct but half of all Germans do it anyway and it doesn’t really sound wrong. Actually, I’d say jemandem sticks out more despite or FOR being correct :). All right, we’ve almost reached the part with the surprise but there is one last thing we need to talk about.


(this headline was nominated for the “Worst Headline 2013 Award” but didn’t win)
Germans also use their “don’t know/don’t care” prefix irgend- in combination with the indolphinate article ein. So what does this mean exactly? Now, ein or in English a are not very specific themselves but adding irgend makes it even less so… luckily there is an English translation so I don’t have to annoy you with endless and twisted attempts at explaining… the translation is … drum roll… some… or any of course.

So… irgend just underlines the “don’t know or care which one”-idea.

  • Ein Apfel…
  • An apple…
  • Irgendein Apfel…
  • Some/any apple…

Now, be really careful not to overgeneralize things here... irgendein  means some… but ONLY for singular things… it is NOT this some:

  • I have some apples in my bag.

This is plural and here some is used in sense or a few… that has nothing to do with irgendein… which is basically “one, no matter which one”. All right… Of course, since ein can get all kinds of annoying endings, irgendein can get the same ones but … cases shmases… whom cares.
I think we’re good for today :). This was our German Word of the Day irgend. It used to specifically mean somewhere, but soon people used it as a general indication of “don’t know, don’t care”… nowadays it lives on as a prefix for all the question words (except the why-questions) and some other words too… and it always adds the idea of some or any… and if that idea is already present… well… it just makes it “somer”.
If you have irgendwelche questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time… … oh and as a little bonus, here is a little vocab-table for you to get the whole picture on things

  • nirgends/nirgendwo  –  irgendwo(wohin)           – überall
  • nowhere                        –  somewhere/anywhere  – everywhere / no matter where
  • nie             – irgendwann                       immer
  • never        – some time/at some pointalways/no matter when
  • nichts       – (irgend)(et)was           – alles
  • nothing    – something/anythingeverything/all/no matter what
  • niemand         – (irgend)jemand/(irgend)wer/irgendwelchejeder/alle
  • no one(body)someone/anyoneeveryone/no matter who
    (this vocab table was nominated for the “Most colorful vocab table 2013 Award”… and freaking WON!! Hell yeah!)

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