Word of the Day – “möglich”

moeglich-pictureHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. When it comes to successful language learning, 2 days can make all the difference. Don’t believe me? Well…
“Learning a language is definitely possible.”
“Learning a language in 2 days is definitely… impossible.”
Now you’re probably like “The jokes used to be funny around here, what happened?”. But the truth is… they never really were funny… just funnier. The joke is not funny, just funnier. Hold on. Not warm, just warmer. Not weird, just weirder… isn’t this an oxymoron?
Anyway… the real reason for these stupid intros is of course creating a very smooth, seamless, natural transition to the topic. And today we did greatly. We’ll look at the meaning of



Möglich consists of the two parts mög and lich. Lich is related to like and it is one of the most common ways to create and adjective in German… männlich, weiblich, sächlich. You might know those 3 from going on your nerves. Oh and speaking of nerves…   –lich, -lig, -ig, -ich, -isch. There is just no rule for when to use which one so best is to just go by ear. In fact, it’s possible they are not related. Same problem in English.  -Ly comes from the ancestor of like  while -y comes from Greek –iskos. I did a decent amount of digging around but I was not able to find even so much as a mention that there might be a connection. But anyway…. back to möglich.
The other part mög comes from the verb mögen  and mögen means to like.

So it would make a lot of sense if möglich meant likeable. But it doesn’t. Mögen is actually a modal verb…. hooray, modal verbs. So exciting. The English brother is the verb  may and both are related to the word Macht (might, power)  which makes the following quote kinda odd in German.

The words all go back to the flabbergastingly ancient root magh  which meant… be capable, help, can. and up until the 17th century the German mögen was very much a modal verb talking about a potential… the potential is pink by the way.

This would sound a bit outdated in German because people would say könnte instead but that is where mögen comes from. The like-meaning developed from the negative.

Spelled out that meant something like “I don’t have the potential to drink it” and then it slowly shifted. Maybe because people kept using their “lack of potential” as an excuse for their lack of desire…

  • “Ohhh tut mir wirklich leid, aber ich mag dir nicht beim Frühjahrsputz helfen. Ich bin frühjahrsmüde, weißt du?”
    “Ja schon klar. Wenn du keinen Bock hast, dann sag’s einfach”
  • “Ohhh.. I’m really sorry but I may not help you with the spring-cleaning. I have spring fatigue, you know?”
    “Yeah, right. If you don’t feel like it, just say it, okay?”

And soon mögen had a new meaning… to like … while the old modal meaning “did the John”… it wa… okay no, this is so bad, I won’t finish it. But the modal-mögen didn’t wa.. uhm disappear completely and among other things it is still very present in related words… and this is why möglich means … drumroll….

  • possible

And possible is related to …  potential. Which is the idea of the modal may/ mögen. Gee, English you’re such a Romance language fan boy sometimes. Why didn’t you use your own  may-stem to … oh wait you did. Maybe. Like possibly. Just less likely. Oh… Hold on. Wasn’t -ly related to like? Doesn’t that mean that likely is  likelike… and oh there is another thing… mögen means to likelike… likely… this starts to be really confusing. We’ve dug too deep and now we’ve woken something. Quick, let’s run to examples for safety…

If you want to include a person and say that something is possible for someone… then you can just use the Dative.

Now, usually German doesn’t care very much whether a word is an adjective (how something is), or an adverb (how something is done).

  • Du bist schön.
  • You’re beautiful.
  • Du singst schön
  • You sing beautifully.

However, for möglich it is different. The adverb is möglicherweise. And I don’t know if it’s true but I feel like möglicherweise is a little less likely than possibly. At least it works fine as a (somewhat formal) translation to perhaps and maybe, also because Germans like to start their sentences with it.

And since we’re at it already, let’s continue with other words that have möglich in them. Another adverb is möglichst…literally, this is the most possible.  One translation that you can find would be this

This is fine, but there is also

  • Ich brauche so viel Ruhe wie möglich.

and möglichst is not always so viel wie möglich.

and I’d say this better captures the essence of möglichst.
Anyway, the next word is the noun die Möglichkeit, which means possibility or option, but also opportunity.

And of course compounds like Parkmöglichkeit (parking option) or Übernachtungsmöglichkeit (“overnightingoption”,accomodation, place to sleep). Yap, it’s long but German compound power makes it possible. Apropos… making something possible is a very good translation for ermöglichen.

And that’s actually the only verb with möglich in it. Okay… except for this plant here

  • verunmöglichen

It is ver + un + möglich + en. Unmöglich is of course impossible and the ver-prefix adds its idea of “change into” to the whole thing. So the actual translation is

  • impossibilify

Or was it “impossibilitate” :). But seriously verunmöglichen is no joke word. It has been around for some time and it used regularly in journalistic writing…

It is a handy word. But it is not the nicest one in the language. And that leaves us with one last word for today… unmöglich. It consists of möglih and the prefix un the English equivalent of which is… wait… unmöglich… god damn, we already had unmöglich… I just explained the same fucking thing twice. Who is responsible for that script??? I look like a complete idi…. hold on. We have a call… uhm (clears throat) hello, welcome to German is Easy, this is Emanuel
“Hello, this is Betty-Ann  from Wyoming.”
Hi Betty, what can I do for you?
“Young man, I am not learning German but my grand child does and we listen to your show together because she likes it so much…”
That’s great to hear.
“Yes, well, you must know that she is 9 years old and it is absolutely unacceptable that you use the f-word …”
But I didn’t…
“Oh but you did. I grant you that it was the first time that I’ve heard it but really wanted to remind you of your responsibility and I hope you don’t make a habit of it. It’s a nice show so don’t ruin it.”
Oh my, what can I say… I’m sorry and I promise it won’t happen again.
“Well, I’ll have a watchful ear… take care.”
Yeah you to. Well… again I’m sorry. It really was out of place… now… what was the last word… uhm… I don’t remember, actually. But oh by the way, do you know what we could call this in German… unmöglich.Yap. It means impossible but it is also used to describe inappropriate, or even obnoxious behavior.

And that’s it. We’re don. That was our German word of the Day möglich. It comes form the verb mögen which means to like but it’s related to may . At the core is the idea of potential and that makes it not only a translation but also a nice parallel of the word possible... which also has potential in it. And you know where is there is potential? In you. Fluency potential. And plenty of it. Nichts ist unmöglich, you know.
Now, enough with the stock motivational talk :)… if you have any questions or suggestions, as always just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.


Further reading:

for members :)

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Nikolaus Wittenstein

“The scholarship makes the studies possible for Maria”
I would say “The scholarship makes Maria’s studies possible” or “The scholarship makes it possible for Maria to study”.

Also, in English you wouldn’t say “Till when do you need the presentation?” – I would interpret that as asking when I can have the presentation back (that you borrowed from me?). You would just say “When do you need the presentation?”.

Thanks! I voted for “er-” :)

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

I also voted for er-. Who are all those who voted for noch, as if that simple word required any explanations! Really! ;))


By when do you need the presentation? This is the usual problem with bis translate to until and by.


And another one, from HIMYM’s Barney Stinson : “vermöglichbar”, or possimpible, beyond the possible and impossible, where the possible and impossible meet (as he says!). Your explanations actually made me understand how they came up with that word, thanks!


My german from years ago is awakening. I spotted “durch” buried in there. Doesn’t that mean “through”. So durcharbeiten is work-through, ie finish?

I didn’t know if this made sense: Wir fahren durch die Stadt wo meine Eltern wohnen nach unser Haus.

Would this be like: we are driving through the city my parents live on the way home (implying without the decency to stop and visit).


I was wondering, if I removed the comma in „Das Stipendium macht ermöglicht es Maria, zu studieren.“ and changed Maria for a field of study like „Das Stipendium macht ermöglicht es Biologie zu studieren.“, would it mean that the scholarship makes it possible for Biology to be studied? How would I go framing such a question?

Thank you for your work! :-)

Paul Speirs
Paul Speirs

I knew it was going to be noch before i even voted. doch, du kannst doch nicht über “noch” schreiben! Somehow i feel like that sentences meaning will need an explanation… This in combination with the further reading at the bottom for “mögen gern gefallen” really solidified my understanding of the various mechanisms. I felt like i understood the use of them through context/exposure but i did not know the rules as such. Danke schon weider.

As a reply to your other post about mögen’en something that doesn’t gefall you. How about an adult use of gefallen? In english we can say my wife/partner/girlfriend is pleasing me. Can we use it like that in german? z.B ich mag meine Frau aber sie gefällt mir gar nicht. was denkst du darüber?


Glücklich machen. My iPad autocorrect brains must be scrambled now. It tried to autocorrect my first 2 words as glückliches madchen. At least the grammar is correct : ) I will have to try and remember that one. Ich mache meine Frau glücklich, dann wird sie glücklich.

It would appear my sentence does need some correcting. I noted that the poll was indicating you should write about noch next. And then I tried to say. But you don’t have to write about “noch” (if you don’t want to).
Ich sollte vielleicht wiederversuchen. Du musst doch über “noch” nicht schreiben. Habe ich ein besser satz gemacht?

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Mir ist grad etwas eingefallen, woraus noch ein paar Listen entstehen könnten: die Adverbien auf -maßen und -weise, und besonders die Weise, auf welche man neue solche Adverbien bilden kann. Ist es z.B. bei -weise so, dass ich einfach die “genitive” weibliche Form eines Adjektives zum -weise-Suffix hinzufügen kann, um ein neues Wort zu schaffen? Freundlicherweise – das hab ich gehört. Politischerweise? Vom Google bestätigt… Vllt sogar grammatikalischerweise?

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Emanuel, ich hab eine Idee – könntest du vielleicht eine Liste mit “guten” deutschsprachigen Filmen (inkl. Animationen und Serien) erstellen? Ich verstehe, dass es eine reine Geschmackssache ist, was so eine liste enthalten soll, aber man muss doch von etwas anfangen… Ich verlasse mich auf dein gutes Geschmack :P

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

*deinen guten Geschmack


Drei Kommentare:
– ich schlage vor, du schreibst etwas über “-ver”. Das ist doch kein Witz! Das Präfix heißt nicht immer das selbe: verstehen und verlangen, aber verlassen, verfahren, verraucht, verschlafen, verspielt sein, verwickeln… Ein paar Regeln wären gut!
– Ich mag auch gerne, dieses Adverb: “schnellstmöglich”, das “so schnell wie möglich” entspricht.
– Bezüglich “möglicherweise” schlage ich auch vor, dass du uns die Liste gibst, alle Adverben, die ähnlich aufgebaut sind. Ich kenne einige (und mag sie sehr gern, wie zum Beispiel “lustigerweise”, “bedauerlicherweise”) aber weiß nicht genau, ob alle Adjektive es ermöglichen oder nicht. Und der Trick ist, dass es auch Wörter gibt, die mit “weise” enden, aber etwas anderes bedeuten. Zum Beispiel “Arbeitsweise”.


Ups… ich entdecke, dass das “ver” Präfix seinen eigenen Absatz schon hat! Entschuldigung, ich habe erst vor kurzem dein Blog entdeckt und brauche noch Zeit, alles durchzulesen!
Für die anderen, die wissen wollen, wo es steht: http://yourdailygerman.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/german-prefix-ver-meaning/

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Du sollst Adverbien (möglicherweise) und Nomen (Arbeitsweise, Herangehensweise…) nicht verwechseln.


“Herangehensweise” ist ein schönes Wort!
Du hast natürlich Recht. In der Tat habe ich “Arbeitsweise” als Beispiel gegeben, weil ich vor kurzem es falsch benutzt habe. Was ich sagen wollte, war “beruflich”. Das bringt mich zu einer Frage: kann man jedesmal mit einem Adjektiv oder Adverb eine “-weise”-Forme aufbauen? (zB “beruflich” -> “beruflicherweise”. Und dann, wie ändert es die Bedeutung des ursprünglichen Adjektivs oder Adverbs?)

Andrés Pinto
Andrés Pinto

Danke für das Artikel! Dein Blog ist immer interessant und hilfreich. Ich kann nicht das Posts über “noch” erwarten. Dieses Wort hat mir verunmöglicht, einige Sätze zu verstehen, wenn ich mit deutsche Leute spreche.

Off-topic, can you explain me what the prefix -an does with verbs related to motion, like anfahren, anfliegen and anlaufen? You already explain angehen in other Post, but I can find the relation between that word and the others.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

In general “an” in those cases is “at”, “on” – the idea of approaching something, accumulating at/on something. (Obviously it has thousands of uses outside this context).


Very good post as usual, thank you very much, I am learning a lot from your site. ;)
Sorry but I have to talk about the elephant in the room…The elephant drawing on the post is kind of exotic, I dont know how many legs
it has, or how many legs are missing, unmöglich zu verstehen. =D