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
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?
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…”
“Na irgendwie so halt.” (trying to imitate it)
- “And then he gave me this really weird look.”
“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”
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-.
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.
|everywhere / no matter where|
|at some point|
irgendwelch(..) for plural
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.