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This would sound a bit outdated in German because people would say könnte instead but that is where mögen comes from.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.


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