The meaning (and use) of “noch”

noch-picture-swHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. And today it is time for a word that rhymes with doch and that’s almost as confusing:

Noch.  Noch the nightmare. Noch the spook. I know it sounds crazy but… the word has been taunting me. Really.  Like… under the shower I would think about it and the suddenly I would hear it ta…
“You want to explain me? YOU? Hahahahah…pathetic. You don’t even speak German that well.”
There…. there it was again… did you hear that? No? Oh god, I feel like I’m going crazy. It is really time we put an end to this. Today it’s on. Today we’ll look at the meaning of



I’ll just do 10 motivational push-ups real quick.  1    – pause –    1  –  pause. Perfect. Now I’m set.. what? Oh, that… haha… I did do 10 but those were nerd push ups… you count those in binary.
*Badum Tish.
All right, so let’s do this!

One problem with noch is that it is hard to grasp what noch is actually talking about…
“I could say the same about you, you looser…”
Shut up noch , will you!
What I mean is this… for a word like bald, for example, we can say that it talks about time. For noch, it is not that easy to say what it is talking about. But it hasn’t always been that obscure.

Boring history lesson about “noch”

Noch comes from the Germanic nu and it is essentially now with an ending. The ending used to be just -h 1000 years ago and it comes from the dazzlingly ancient Indo-European *-kʷe which meant… and.
An ending that means and? Yes, it sounds strange but Latin for instance made wide use of it. I can’t speak Latin but I’m very good at copying Latin from Wiktionary.

  • Senatus Populusque Romanus
  • The senat AND the Roman people.

So this is kind of how the ending worked.

  • I eat potatoes spinachkʷe.

In the Germanic languages this ending has pretty much disappeared but there are still leftovers of it.
Like noch. Or that other annoying German word that rhymes with noch ;)

So… noch is essentially now with idea of too or also attached to it. But we can actually ignore that for a second and just talk about just talk about now.
The German translation for now is jetzt.

  • Ich gehe jetzt schlafen.
  • I’m going to bed now.

There is also nun but jetzt is sharper, pointier. Jetzt is related to the English word yet, so back in the olden days there basically existed two ways to indicate the current point in time… the now-way and the yet-way. In English, they used now to do the normal time-business, while yet slowly changed…

  • I have yet to do this.
  • It isn’t finished yet.

1000 years ago those just meant:

  • I have to do this now.
  • It isn’t finished now.

But over the years, yet lost more and more of its “now-essity” and started to … kind of wander… make implications and such.

  • Have you been to Berlin yet?

Here, it kind of let’s us now that we’re not talking about one specific occasion but about life in general and it implies that the person might want to go.

  • It isn’t finished yet.

Here, the yet implies that there is still work going on and it will be finished at some point. But this is not about yet, after all. So there were those two options for now in old Germanic, English picked now to do the daily time-business and used yet more freely. And in German it happened kind of the other way around. Germans picked jetzt as their common, standard now and noch evolved similar to the English yet in that it lost its “now-feel”, its time feel and makes implications instead.

  • “Bist du jetzt fertig?”
    Noch nicht.”
  • “Are you ready now?
    “Not yet.”

“Hah.. so you’re saying that I mean “yet”?! That is even stupider than I thought. You’re laughab…”
Hush noch.  I just explained all that to show people where you’re coming from and that there is actually a sort of parallel in English; so they needn’t be scared. I do know that you are very often not a translation for  yet and yet is rarely a translation for you. And I also know the reason for that.
“Oh and what would that be?”
Well, that’s simple. You are not only now… you are and now… or now too, so you do refer to how it has been before… and that idea is lacking in yet.

“noch” means yet, still, left, now because of THIS

Let’s take a very simple example…

  • Es regnet noch.

Based on the original noch, this literally means

  • It is raining now as well.

Noch tells us that it is raining now and it was raining earlier and that is exactly what still does.

  • It is still raining.

Yet wouldn’t make much sense here because it lacks the whole “it was like that earlier too”-idea. But wait… what about this

  • I haven’t done it yet.

Isn’t this talking about the past too? Well, yes and no. The sentence does tell us that it wasn’t done in the past either. But yet has nothing to do with that.

  • I haven’t done it.

This tells us exactly the same about the past. Yet just adds the implication that I’ll probably do it. The rain example is different.

  • It is raining.

This sentence tells us nothing about the past. Was it raining earlier? I don’t know. And yet cannot add that. Noch and still can.  But noch isn’t a pure still either.
You see, still is about a lack of change.  Just think of “Stand still”. The word kind of freezes things in time.It can imply change, too… but only if used in the past. 

  • Ich war noch ein Kind.
  • I was still a child.

Here, we are told that I am not a child anymore… but still used in present tense is just… well… still.

  • Ich bin noch ein Kind.
  • I’m still a child.

The noch in that example is more ambiguous than still in that it can also imply a coming change. Kind of like it’s brother now.

  • You say that NOW.

This can mean that earlier you didn’t or that later you won’t. So it can make implications both ways and context tells us what it is. Noch is just like that.Sometimes more about that something still is the way it is and sometimes more about that it hasn’t changed just yet but it will soon.

  • I still haven’t done it.
    I haven’t done it yet.
  • Ich habe es noch nicht gemacht.

Here, the German sentence is actually closer to the yet-version.  Still puts  much more emphasis on the time that has already passed. And as soon as it is given a little extra boost, noch can’t cut it anymore…

  • I STILL haven’t done it.

Noch alone is simply not “still” enough for that. It is too weak and there is too much change implied.  So in those cases you would say immer noch in German.

  • Ich habe es  IMMER NOCH nicht gemacht.

So noch is kind of a mix of yet, still and now. Like still it has the idea of ongoing in it and just like yet or an emphasized now it can imply coming change.
Often it is a mix of the two and which one is more interesting, the still-part or the change-part depends on context.

  • Thomas schläft noch.
  • Thomas is  still sleeping.
  • Ich hab’ nur noch 10 Euro.
  • I have only 13 Dollars left.

“You’re so boring.”
“I said, you’re boring. You’re explanation is boring. It puts me to sleep and probably everyone else too.”
Whatever noch. I am not listening to you anymore. You’re just a word, you can’t even really talk.
“Oh but I c…”
Shut up!
Where was I. Oh yeah… the still-part and the change-part and when they are used. So .. we had context  but what’s probably more important to mention isemphasis.  A strong emphasis shifts the noch towards change and away from the still-idea.

  • “Kannst du das Piano noch halten?
    “Geht noch.”
    Noch geht’s” (emphasis comes mainly from having it in position 1)
  • “Can you keep holding the piano?”
    “It’s okay.”
    “Well, for now yes (but not very long).”

Or let’s take a sentence with a negative….

  • Die Existenz von Einhörnern wurde noch nicht widerlegt.
  • The existence of unicorns hasn’t been disproved yet.
  • NOCH wurde die Existenz von Einhörnern nicht widerlegt.
  • The existence of unicorns hasn’t been disproved… YET.

In negative sentences, the noch is more about coming change anyway but we can see that the strongly emphasized noch implies change much more strongly.
Besides emphasis, also the type of sentence plays a role. In questions, the still-part is much stronger…

  • Regnet es noch?
  • Is it still raining?

Okay… it wasn’t all that obvious maybe… but noch cannot be the question yet.

  • Is it raining yet?

Why not? Because remember… noch has the now as well idea in it and that has no place in a question like that

  • Is it raining now as well?

There is no way this could mean yet. It is straight up still in this case.

  • Is it still raining?

And how about an order or request.

  • Bleib bitte noch hier!

This noch is also more about the now as well but future or potential change is kind of implied. I mean, why else would you say that if the person weren’t about to leave.

  • Please, stay (further/longer)!

Now, all that sound probably kind of confusing but I don’t think there is much merit in making a list of  translations like “noch means ___ when…”
It can mean still, it can mean yet, sometimes it means longer sometimes it isn’t translated at all… think you should try to remember the essence of it rather than the translation.
“Yeah, that is good advice… remember my essence. You have no idea what my essenc…”
Quiet noch. I do have an idea. You are a form of now,so you can imply coming change, but you also have the idea of also, too and this is where the still-part comes from.
“Pfff… whatever.. that wasn’t even half of what ….”
Shut UP! Wir sind noch nicht fertig. We’ll deal with the other half now.
“Ohhh.. I’m so scared.”
You should be.

“Noch” as another, again, else

There is another, a second idea to noch : the idea of addition.
GASP… Who told you tha..”
WILL YOU SHUT YOUR GODDAMN FACE ?!?! This is outrageous… I can’t even say two sentences without you blurting  out something.  So annoying man, so annoying.
“Oh… uh…  sorry man.”
Yeah, right. Just be quiet now.
So… where was I … uh yeah.. so noch has the idea of additional in it and the most prominent example is this

  • Ich möchte noch ein Bier.
  • I would like another beer.

If you’re asking for another item of something in a sense of one more… Now, how did that happen? I mean… how did noch take on that meaning? But actually it is not really that much of a stretch. We’ve learned that noch used to be a time word, meaning now as well…. now imagine you’re in a bar

  • “I’m gonna get a new round. What do you guys want.”
    Now also a beer.”

All the elements are there. You’re implying that you’ve had a beer before and that you’ll have one now. It might sound odd at first but it is THE way to say another in sense of one more.  NOT ein anderes. Ein anderes means a different item. What you need to say is noch eine/n/r…

  • Noch eine Stunde, dann ist mein Geburtstag. (countable)
  • Another/One more hour and it’s my birthday.
  • Nur noch eine Klausur und dann bin ich für dieses Semester fertig.
  • Only one more exam and then I’ll be done for the semester.
  • Sag das noch (ein)mal.
  • Say that another time (lit.)
  • Say that again.

And this is really only the tip of the ice berg. This idea of addition or more is used in all kinds of contexts…

  • Willst du noch Suppe? (uncountable)
  • Would you like some more soup?
  • “Ich hätte gern 3 Brötchen und ein Stück Mohnkuchen.”
    “Darf es noch (et)was sein?” (super common bakery question)
  • “I’d like 3 buns and a piece of poppy seed cake.”
    “Will the be anything else?
  • Was noch?
  • What else?
  • Ich muss das Projekt bis heute Abend fertig machen und jetzt sagt mir mein Chef ich soll auch noch eine Präsentation halten.
  • So…I have to finish the project by tonight, and now my boss tells me, that in addition to that I ALSO have to give a presentation…

In the last example the noch does little more but to underline that it is a lot of additional work. The auch (also) alone would sound much more neutral or indifferent. So.. obviously it is much more broad than another… but the idea is always “addition”. And that’s really just the tip of the ice berg. What? I already said that? Well… it’s the second tip then… it’s a female ice berg. Adrift in the crystal clear waters of the polar sea, a pale beauty with a cold heart … and two very very tight nipples. But seriously,  another very very important use of the additional idea are comparisons.

“noch” as even

And there,  noch is used as an intensifier.

  • “Maria ist echt groß”
    “So wie ich?”
    “Nein, noch größer.”
  • “Maria is really tall.”
    “As tall as I am?”
    Even taller.”

I am already tall, taller than many but the noch adds even more to that. And if that still isn’t enough… well, we can add an emphasis to noch.

  • “Das neue Handy ist noch besser als das alte.”
    NOCH besser? Unmöglich.”‘
    “Doch doch, noch besser.”
  • “Then new phone is even better than the old one.”
    “Better than THAT? Impossible.”
    “But it is, even better than that.”

Oh and by the way… this also works for another.

  • “Ich nehm’ noch einen Whiskey.”
    NOCH einen? Hast du nicht langsam genug?”
  • “I’ll have another Whiskey.”
    ANOTHER one? Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”

And that’s still not all you can do with this additional-idea. There is one use that many find especially confusing.

  • “Kommst du? Wir müssen los.”
    “Ja, komme gleich. Ich muss nur noch kurz auf Klo.”
  • “You coming? We need get going.”
    “Yeah, I’ll be right there. I just have to go to the toilet real quick.”

This noch is really hard to translate.  It is kind of just acknowledging that the next big item on your fictional to do list is “leaving”and you squeeze “toilet” in between. But it is not always about squeezing. Think of it as a very very soft “in addition” … a hint of in addition if you will.

  • Ich muss nochmal nach Hause, aber dann komm’ ich.
  • I have to go home first but then I’ll come.
  • DVD gucken? Hmmm… ich müsste eigentlich noch eine Mail schreiben aber ich habe keine Lust.
  • DVD gucken? Hmmm…. I’d actually have to write an e-mail but I don’t feel like it.
  • Willst du noch kurz reinkommen?
  • Do you want to come in for a minute?

The last sentence could be said by a guy or a woman after one of the first dates… the noch just adds the idea that they’ve already done stuff together. It connects the question to the date. But I wouldn’t know how to translate it … also, in addition… they’re just way too strong.
So… just take it as a coloring word maybe.
Now, sometimes noch  can be both… a real addition or this coloring,”hinted” one.

  • Ich habe noch die Küche geputzt.
  • I also cleaned the kitchen (after cleaning the bathroom).
  • I cleaned the kitchen (and then I left)

So… this was the addition-idea of noch and as we’ve seen, it is used for quite a variety of things. No wonder the word is so common.
“Uhm…. “
What now noch?
“Can I ask a question?”
Go ahead.
“Well… I realized that I’ve been quite a pain in the ass today and I’m really really sorry.
You did a good job explaining me. I would be honored if I could do the recap for you. I know how much you hate it.”
Well, I guess why not… knock yourself out.
“So… I, the word noch, have two meanings. One is between yet and still and the other is “additional” and they have absolutely nothing to do with each other so the best would be to think of me as two words tha…”
Hold on a second… I just realized something…. you little trickster, you almost had me fooled.
“What? What’d I do? I’m innocent.”
Oh you know what I’m talking about… nothing to do with each other? You’re trying to keep up a complicated facade. They have EVERYTHING to do with each other.

“noch” – the one simple core

Your core-idea is additional and that’s it. That’s part of pretty much everything you do. Maybe a large addition, maybe a little one… but always an addition of sorts

  • Ich schlafe noch.
  • I’m still sleeping.
  • “I’m doing additional sleeping”

It covers the still-part as well as the “upcoming change”-part

  • Noch kann ich das Klavier halten.
  • I can hold the piano a little longer.

It is kind of the same. Even if on the surface the uses seem contradictory… like in this dialogue... Here’s the setting. There is soup on the table, your plate is almost empty and your friend has the scoop….

  • “Willst du noch?”
    “Ne, ich hab’ noch.”
  • “Do you want some more?
    “No, I still have some.”

Looks confusing but it really only is additional, seen from different perspectives.

  • “Do you want additional?”
    “No I have additional on my plate.”

Sometimes several interpretations are possible.

  • Das Wasser ist noch wärmer.
  • The water is still warmer.
  • The water is even warmer.

Here, if I want people to hear the temporal-noch I would use a really specific pronunciation … like… a pause after ist… then a noch with a strongly climbing pitch followed by another pause…. but that is nothing to learn from a text.
Anyway.. I’ll admit… this whole additional thing is maybe a little abstract.Just find your own way to remember it. The only thing you shouldn’t do is thinking in translations too much. You need to get a feel for it and then it’ll become natural and you’ll just know that it is yet in a certain case and not in another one.
Now, we’re almost done for today but there are noch a few uses of noch that shouldn’t be missing here.

noch – some other uses and idioms

Let’s start with something that many people are asking about. Stuff like

  • Schönen Tag/Abend noch.
  • Viel Spaß noch.

These things are common good bye phrases and the noch basically adds the idea that the day or evening or event has already started. It is kind of similar to this example

  • “Ich komme erst später.”
    “Kein Problem, ich bin noch eine Weile da.”
  • “I’ll come but only later.”
    “No problem, I’ll be here a while longer.

The noch adds the info that I have already been there. So I wouldn’t say that sentence if I had just arrived. And just like that you wouldn’t say “Schönen Tag noch” to your darling in the morning.

Then, there is the very nice noch und nöcher which pretends noch were a normal adjective. And … you know…. normal adjectives get umlaut :). And what does it mean? Well, it plays with the idea of addition and means something like  in abundance.

  • Löcher noch und nöcher – Deutsche Strassen kaputt wie nie.
  • Holes everywhere – German roads bad like never before.

An important construction is  weder … noch… which means neither …  nor… but we’ve already talked about that and the noch there actually has a different origin than the one of today.. so I’ll just give you one example

  • Ich habe weder Lust noch Zeit für Oper.
  • I have neither the desire nor the time for opera.

Lastly, there is the combination noch so...

  • Du kannst ihr noch so viele Komplimente machen… sie steht einfach nicht auf dich.
  • You can make her compliments all you want… she is just not into you.

This is kind of rare but I thought I’d mention it anyway.
And that’s it. That was our German word of the Day noch. It is the brother of now and used to mean now as well. But the temporal idea has faded and today I’d say the core is the idea of addition… be it a large addition, or a very short one.
Noch plays with this idea and offers different takes on it…. sometimes really twisted ones :). Which exactly it is depends a lot on context but also the emphasis makes a huge difference. A strongly emphasized noch can either strongly imply an upcoming change or it can sort of express that the addition made is… kind of a lot.
It is definitely tricky to grasp. Like… if you try to closely follow the flight path of a butterfly you’ll be confused. But if you let go of precision and just gaze at it you’ll see that it is circling around a certain flower… wait, do butterflies do that, actually?
Anyway, if you have any questions or suggestions or if I have forgotten an important noch-use just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Oh… as a little extra here’s a list with the most common combinations.

  • noch nie                          – never (so far, option of still doing it is implied)
  • immer noch                  – a very still still

  • noch nicht                     – not yet
  • noch mal                        – once again
  • noch eine/s/r/n/m   – another (as in one more)
  • nur noch                         – only left
  • noch (et)was                – something else
  • was noch                       – what else
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