Word of the Day – “möglich”

moeglich-pictureHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
When it comes to successful language learning, two days can make all the difference. Don’t believe me?
Well… learning a language is definitely possible.
But, learning a language in two days is definitely… impossible.
*queues laughter
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “The jokes used to be funny around here, all the money has changed Emanuel”.
Well, I’m not sure about that. But it has certainly changed my car into a lambo.
And all that from an unfunny blog about the German language.
Anything is possible, folks!
“Is it possible to start the article now?”
Oh… uh… sure. So today, we’l take a look at


And that of course means that we’ll also take a look at the word möglich is based on… the modal verb mögen.

The modal verb “mögen”

Most of you will know mögen as to like

  • Ich mag dich.
  • I like you.
  • Einhörner mögen Wodka.
  • Unicorns like vodka.

And that’s indeed by far the most common use in daily life. But it’s not the original meaning, nor would it “qualify” mögen as a modal verb.
actually is the German brother of the English modal verb may. The origin of them is impossibly ancient Indo-European root *magh, which is also the origin of words like magic, mechanic, machine and the German die Macht (the might, the power). And the core idea of the root was the sense of  being capable, having potential.
And up until the 17th century the German mögen was indeed used like a modal verb talking about a potential – just like English may.

  • Das  mag ein Tip sein.
  • That may be a hint.

    (sounds a bit outdated)

  • Möge die Macht mit dir sein.
  • May the force (might) be with you.
  • “Ich habe nicht studiert, um jetzt als Praktikant Kaffee zu machen.”
    Mag sein. Aber so ist die Realität! Cappuccino bitte!”
  • “I didn’t go to university, to now make coffee as an intern.”
    Might be/possibly. But it is what it is. Cappuccino please.”
    (quite common still)

And as you can see, this original mögen is not completely out of use. But by far the main word to express potential is of course können and I’d say 80-90% of the mögens are indeed about liking.

But how did we get from one to the other?
Well, the like-meaning developed from a negation of the original meaning.
Suppose someone offers you their homemade Kombucha, and while they give you the whole spiel about how healthy it is, your nose is busy taking in the acidic sulfuric smell.
In that situation you might say this:

  • Sorry, I know it’s healthy but I can’t drink that.

And what you mean is of course that t you don’t WANT to drink it, because you don’t “like” it. Verbally, you kind of “mask” your lack of desire with a lack of capability.
And as können took over more and more of the capability talk, mögen eventually took on liking as a proper meaning.
This shift did NOT affect the related words, though.

möglich and its relatives

Those still revolve around the original sense of mögen – the idea of potential. And that’s why it makes perfect sense that  möglich is the German word for possible (which is of course a relative of potential, by the way).

  • Es ist nicht möglich, das Pdf zu verändern.
  • It is not possible to make changes to the pdf.
  • Ich müsste wohl die ganze Nacht durcharbeiten, um fertig zu werden, aber möglich wär’s.
  • I’d have to stay up all night to finish it but it’d be doable.


  • Wäre es dir möglich, früher zu kommen?
  • Would it be possible for you to come earlier?

Now, usually German DOESN’T bother with marking the difference between an adjective (how something is), or an adverb (how something is done).

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

That is different for möglich and möglich is NOT a translation for possibly. Instead, we needs möglicherweise.
Though, I have to say that it feels a little less likely than possibly and it’s probably better thought of as a translation for perhaps and maybe.

  • Bauchschmerzen?! Möglicherweise hast du zuviel gegessen.
  • Tummy ache? Perhaps you’ve eaten too much.

And it’s pretty long, though, which makes it sound a bit formal, so in daily life vielleicht is definitely the better choice.
Now, another adverb is the word möglichst. Taken literally, it’d be “the most possible” and it’s used to express the idea of if in any way possible or as [x] as possible.

  • “Bis wann brauchst du die Präsentation?”
    Möglichst heute.”
  • “When do you need the presentation?”
    “Today, if in any way possible.”
  • Ich brauche möglichst viel Ruhe.
  • I need as much rest as possible.

And if möglichst is a bit difficult to pronounce for you, can definitely go for “so [x] wie möglich”. Wouldn’t fit in the first example, of course, but it does work fine for the second.

  • Ich brauche so viel Ruhe wie möglich.

All right.
Now, next up in the related words parade we have the noun  die Möglichkeit, and you can probably guess what that means… exactly… possibility. It can also mean option and opportunity, but the underlying idea is the same.

  • Ich habe viel zu tun. Eine Möglichkeit wäre,  dass wir uns direkt bei mir treffen.
  • I have a lot to do. One possible option would be to meet directly at my place.
  • 3 Stunden Verspätung. Das gab mir die Möglichkeit, endlich mal zu entspannen.
  • 3 hours delay. That gave me the opportunity to relax a little for once.

And then, to make it a complete word family, we of course need everyone’s favorite word type… prefix verbs. Yeeaaaay.
And there, we have ermöglichen, which is a really classic er-verb with the sense of “getting into the state of possible.”

  • Das Stipendium ermöglicht es Maria, zu studieren.
  • The scholarship makes it possible for Maria to study.

And we have verunmöglichen, which is basically unmöglich – the word for impossible – combined with the ver-prefix, to create a “impossibilify“.
Actually, verunmöglichen is kind of a manufactured word and often “unmöglich machen is the better and more natural choice, but you can find verunmöglichen here and there, even in print.

  • Apple hat Downgrades verunmöglicht.
  • Apple has made downgrades impossible.

Why is it er- in one case and ver- in the other? Well, a lot of it is just happenstance. Both these prefixes can express the idea of reaching a state.
But generally, er- leans more toward creation while ver- has also has the ideas of away and mistake, so that is more prone for negative things.
I’ve talked about both prefixes in detail, so if you want to learn more about those and unlock whole new worlds of understanding, I’ll leave the links below.
And in fact, you can check them out right now because we’re done for today :).
This was our look at the meaning möglich and family, which is potentially very useful.
As usual, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Further reading:

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