Word of the Day – “nachdenken”

Hello everyone, this man is doin' it intensively

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will take a close look at the meanings and mechanics of the great word :

nachdenken

 

Nachdenken…  hmmmm… how could I explain that…. let’s see… it is, what the person on the picture does…
What?
Noooooo! It is not to punch oneself in the face. So I guess I should do a real effort in explaining.
Nachdenken is composed of the basic verb denken and the preposition nach. Denken basically means to think and nach… well the word itself means a lot of thing but here it doesn’t really precisely mean anything. It’s just a prefix. Not satisfied? Well then, nach means to and after and according to and past and for and… just a prefix is fine? Cool.

Nachdenken is sort of the brother of denken, and it is translated to to think in many occasions but the 2 words are definitely not synonymous to a German native.  Other possible translations for nachdenken besides ‘to think’ are ‘to ponder’ and ‘to reflect on’. However, Pons.de doesn’t even list these ones … never trust a dictionary.
Anyway, to understand the difference between denken and nachdenken let’s look at how the words are used. Denken is first of all the general act of thinking, so this is what humans can do while animals can not. As René Go-Cart said…

Denken is also used in sense of having an opinion or an idea:

Denken can also mean to remember, at times:

Nachdenken on the other hand is usually thinking about one certain question. Suppose it is Friday night and your best friends ask you if you want go to the bar with them. Naturally this is a tough call and it sure is not something you could decide immediately as you also have lots of German learn and the kitchen sink is filled with sponge-hungry dishes. So clearly some meditation on the matter is necessary and you might answer by saying:

In this situation you are not just thinking, you are pondering a problem. A similar example that involves pondering and still you wouldn’t really ‘ponder’ the issue in English is the following:

So the main meaning of nachdenken is to think as a soft, rather brief pondering. If you have really been pondering on something I guess you need to add the term long to nachdenken:

So whenever there is a decision to make, nachdenken describes the thought process before. If you propose something to someone you can always say:

The word denken does not work in situations like these.

Nachdenken is also used in situation where you try to remember something you just can’t think of. You have put your car key somewhere but you don’t know where. You sit in class and the teacher has asked you something you should know. The thinking you need to do in these situations is also nachdenken and not just plain denken.

So to recap: denken is to think in sense of having an opinion or an idea and to remember as in to think of. Nachdenken is to think about something as in to ponder on it and to consciously think in order to come to a result.

Nachdenken is also considered a free time activity of sorts. So if someone asks you what you have done the last 2 hours it is totally fine to say:

People might ask, what you were thinking about but you don’t have to say it.

As usual we will finish the whole thing with a little grammar.

Denken mainly comes with 3 prepositions: denken an, denken über and denken von. The first one means to direct ones thought to a certain subject while the other 2 both mean to have the opinion on a certain matter.

If nachdenken comes with a preposition, it  is always going to be über.

Note that the last example does absolutely not work with just denken. It sounds weird and incomplete.

Back to the grammar. Both verbs denken and nachdenken built their spoken past with haben. The ge-form is kind of a free spirit as it has CHANGING CONSONANTS. Weeeeeird. Now if that ain’t crazy stuff, I don’t know what is.

  • Ich habe gedacht.
  • Ich habe nachgedacht.

Denken is one of the few verbs for which you can also use the real past in spoken language. The past stem is dachte so it is:

  • Ich dachte – I thought
  • Du dachtest – you thought
  • Er dachte – he thought

The most common noun related to denken is der Gedanke which is the thought.

And now to wrap this up here is one of the best phrasings to scare your partner with. Put on a serious face, use a neutral voice and slowly say:

“Du (meaningful break) …    Ich habe nachgedacht.... … …”

 

The silence will be very heavy. It has the same effect as “I must to tell you something… … … ” or even better “We need to talk … … … ” :)

So this was our German Word of the Day. I hope you enjoyed it and see you next time.

for members :)

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conanon

Wie immer ist diese Beitrag auch sehr lustig. Ich lache oft auf, da seiner Blog nie seriös wird. Zum Beispiel, Ihrer lezter Satz. Ich will jetzt diesen Satz nutzen, aber es gibt niemand um mich, wer den Witz verstehen kann. Auf jedem Fall ist es wieder ein schöner Beitrag. Danke!

Rhys
Rhys

another great article! I was just wondering if you could explain the difference between denken and meinen, when used in the sense of to think. thanks again!

Rhys
Rhys

wonderful. thank you!

Sam
Sam

A couple quick questions:

Your example:
“Was denkst du über dem Film?”

Why is Film in the dative case in this example?

Also, with regards to using the past-form of “denken” in conversation. When looking at the real past (dachte) compared to the conversational past (hat gedacht), is one form more commonly used in conversation than the other? Just curious.

Thanks, as always.

The Smileyman
The Smileyman

Hi, German-is-easy moderator!
As a student of this site, I have noticed that at times some English sentences could be translated better to suit the speech of localized English.
For example;
“Denk daran, dass du morgen schon um 7 aufstehen musst!”
I personally have trouble remembering this sentence as:
“Remember, that you have to get up at 7 already tomorrow!”
Although this would be comprehensible, it just sounds too foreign and odd to my native ears. I would suggest something along the lines of:
“Remember that already, you gotta get up tomorrow at 7!”
I would contend that the “already” is the main idea of the sentence and therefore, should be highlighted like this from the beginning to give it more emphasis. Also, it just sounds more natural for me to hear it this way than the translation you gave. There are dozens of sentences like this all across the website which I have noticed could use a tune-up of this kind. I am too lazy to point them all out, but I think this gives you a general idea of what some people might think…

I hope I did not offend you, I’m just trying to get my opinion across on the matter.
Love the site, keep on Germanizing!:)

The Smileyman
The Smileyman

Interesting question. These particles in German are always subjects of debate wherever I go. On different language forums I usually get the response that these modal particles have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, since they have different effects on the sentence depending on context and their position and such… I don’t know too much about particles other than there are numerous books and online grammar lessons which focus solely on modal particles in and of themselves. One surefire way to have some understanding of particles in my opinion would be to look at already established examples of their usage in dictionaries. For instance, my Larousse Ger-En dictionary gives the following: schon adv. 1. [bereits] already; > wir essen heute schon um elf Uhr we’re eating earlier today, at eleven o’clock In this example, no ‘already’ was necessary, since other words were used to convey the meaning. > er ist schon lange hier he’s been here for a long time Notice how ‘already’ has also been omitted completely. I’m not sure if it could have been included or not, but this translation sounds good enough to me nonetheless. Also on wikipedia, they give the following; > Ich kenne mich in Berlin aus. Ich war doch letztes Jahr schon dort. (“I know my way around Berlin. I was here last year, after all/as a matter of fact.”) So sometimes “schon” can even be translated as “after all/as a matter of fact”. As for “The meeting will start already at 11.”, I think it is a matter of the overall idea and usage. English and German sometimes try to state the same ideas, but with different word usages. This can be observed most often in movie subtitles. I have noticed that in some German movies, the English subbed sentence will use a different choice of words to convey the same effect. Although it might sound perfectly normal to hear the literal German version of “The meeting will start already at 11.” auf Deutsch, the wording may be altered in English to better suit the speech of casual English. Personally, this example might be like two sides of the same coin. I, myself, do not really see too much of a problem with this choice of words to convey that the meeting will start today at 11, rather than at the usual time of 10 or whatever. But I can see how some other native English speakers might have a problem understanding it. Therefore, like I stated above, it might sometimes be better to use what I like to call, the “movie subbing technique”. Just pretend you are subtitling this sentence for English speakers as if it were a motion picture, and simplify it for the movie goers. Deutsch Film; The meeting will start already at 11. (Das Meeting wird schon bei 11 starten.)??? Englisch Untertitel. The meeting will (now) be starting at 11 today. Today, the meeting will be starting at 11. The meeting is going to start already at… Read more »

MegaMu
MegaMu

So…. The difference between nachdenken und überlegen….?

Ramkrishna
Ramkrishna

Hi about the phrase “Denk daran, dass du morgen schon um 7 aufstehen musst!”
Did you mean or does ‘schon’ here mean “Remember you need to wake up at 7 on the dot / 7’o clock sharp!” Am considering another scenario. Supposing there previously wasn’t much clarity on whether you had to wake up at 7 and then at some point later 7’o clock is the confirmed time, then I suppose they’d say “Remember you need to wake up at 7 itself.” Hope that’s what ‘schon’ here means.

mrbosch07
mrbosch07

I would have loved to have an example of denken von…

danieljvdm
danieljvdm

Great article! A common pattern that I noticed while reading this, is it seems denken seems to be used when asking people what their thoughts/opinions are (they already have them), while nachdenken is used more to develop those thoughts/opinions.

Heute Abend denke ich über den Film nach.
(Am nächsten Tag)
Hallo Daniel, was denkst du über den Film?
Ah! Ich habe gerade darüber nachgedacht! Ich denke, dass der sehr philosophisch war.

Does this make sense?

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi German is easy

In your example
Hmm, klingt gut, aber lasst mich kurz nachdenken.

Hmm, sound good, but let me think about it for a minute.

I believe the sentence is: aber lasst mich kurz nachzudenken or something like that. Lasst = Let so it is another rule or it is equal to English.

Thanks

person243
person243

Hi,

thanks for this recap of “nachdenken”. Now I know that I should not use “already” as I sometimes do in English. (as early as, or just somehow early, cool)
I see you cut short this time with the related words section. I would like to add “nachdenklich”. That does not often mean “thoughtful” as some dictionaries might suggest. So: “How thoughtful of you.” is not: “Wie nachdenklich von dir.” but rather: “Wie aufmerksam von dir.”
“nachdenklich” basically means “with a lot of pondering” or “full of pondering”.
“Das stimmt mich nachdenklich.” = “That makes me think.”
“Er sieht mich nachdenklich an.” = “He looks at me pondering.”
“Sie verfielen in nachdenkliches Schweigen.” = “They fell into a pondering silence.”

That makes me think (the pun is obviously intended and not funny at all.), when these words are actual translations of each other. I had a similar problem with “Lust” and “desire” before. Maybe you can help.

PS: That makes me realise that you probably did not mention “nachdenklich” because it is not easy to translate.

Nicklas Kulczycki

I know this article is quite old now (Emmanuel, your English has improved considerably in the last 4 years!), but I wanted to offer an extremely literal translation for the last “boyfriend/girlfriend” sentence: “So…I’ve been thinking.” This is 100% the likeliest line you would hear in this situation when your significant other is about to drop a bombshell. I think the present perfect progressive (gotta love English verb forms) expresses this quite nicely, as the construction seems to imply frequent, careful deliberation and a recent (and ultimate) determination.

Brandon Gilles

Vielen Dank für einen tollen (und lustigen) Artikel!