The meaning of “nerven”

Hello everyone, this man is genervt

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.  This time we will look at the meaning of the word:



And I am very proud to introduce our first sponsor. The word nerven is or will eventually be brought to you by:

Sloooooooooooow Internet ™  – Wait online not in line!

Thanks to Slow Internet for the inspiration.

Nerven looks an awful lot like the English nerv and yes the words are of course related but …  they do not mean the same. The German translation of the nerv is der Nerv, the plural form is die Nerven… with a capital N. The nerven in the title however does not have a capital, and hence it is not a noun. So what could nerven be… the first guess is probably verb since nerven has 2 syllables and ends with the common -en ending…. the so called EN-ding hahahhahahahaaa…. sorry … I had a bit too much coffee.
So now that we know that nerven is a verb, all we need is the meaning. Thinking about nerves in general, nerven could mean various things, for example to excite or to feel, but it is a little more specific. Little kids do it to their mom when they want that certain candy bar. Moms do it to their kids when they tell them to do home work. A mosquito orbiting your head at 3 am does it. Any idea yet? Exactly!!! German has a verb for to get on someone’s nerves and this verb is nerven. Of course it can also be the translation of to annoy or to bug but especially when you want to translate to annoy there shouldn’t be too much anger involved. The core meaning of nerven is to get on someones nerves. Here are some examples.

  • Langsames Internet nervt.
  • Slow Internet sucks. (there goes my sponsor :( )
  • Es nervt mich, dass du nie abwäschst.
  • I annoys me a bit that you never do the dishes.
  • Meine kleine Schwester nervt mich.
  • My little sister gets on my nerves.

There is also the almost direct translation for getting on someones nerves.

  • Mein Computer nervt mich.
  • Mein Computer geht mir auf die Nerven.
  • My computer is getting on my nerves.

I’d prefer the second phrasing in this case but I think my choice is mostly based on sound and rhythm. Now if something has been getting on your nerves and is now all comfy on there, you are genervt. The best translations for this are irritated and annoyed but again, remember… if there is a fair bit of anger involved, genervt is not the best choice anymore and you should pick one of the following instead: ärgerlich, verärgert, sauer or angepisst.

  • Ich bin genervt.
  • I am a little irritated / pissed.

Another very useful word of the nerven-family is nervig. It is an adjective and it describes things or person that go on someones nerves… possible translations are irritating, mildly annoying or a pain in the ass.

  •  I finde die Stimme von Rhianna ist ziemlich nervig.**
  • I find Rhianna’s voice is a pain in the ass.

**The example does totally express the authors opinion.

So all that is missing now is the grammar of nerven.  Great opportunity to build your first sentence with the new word.
The spoken past of nerven is built with haben and the ge-form is completely regular so it is genervt.

  • Mein alter Handyklingelton hat mich genervt.
  • My old ring-tone got on my nerves.

The real past is also regular, so you take the stem and add -te but it is something I wouldn’t really use in spoken German.

  • Mein alter Handyklingelton nervte mich.

Those of you who are a bit more familiar might ask what about the participle 1 nervend. This means exactly the same as nervig, and I would prefer the latter, but that’s just me.
If you nerven someone this someone dresses up in case 4. That’s why it is mich and not mir in the example above.

And this was out Word of the Day for today nerven – the German word for to get on someones nerves. If you have questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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1 year ago

Great article, as per usual!

I’ve read in a lot of places ärgerlich is a good translation for annoying. Of course it’s also a translation for angry so I’m guessing there’s a lot more anger involved. Would ärgerlich be used more if someone’s doing something on purpose to annoy you? And can you please give me a couple of example of when to use both?

Danke schön!

1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

That makes sense thanks!

What things can work for the verb sich ärgern then? Can you use this with people or only situations/objects annoying you?

1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

That’s perfect thanks. One final question: what’s the difference between sich ärgern and nerven?

7 years ago

Oh, and I forgot to tell you this, I seriously think you should make an Youtube Channel! So instead of reading, people can actually hear you put your thoughts into words! I know it’s not an easy task to record and edit videos, but I bet you’ll be a great success! If not… least you’ll have 1 subscriber :)<—me.

Mary McCarvel
3 years ago
Reply to  Gloria

Das wird super, wenn du das machen kann!!

7 years ago

Atler(dude), you are funny! First time I clicked into your blog, I thought “uhhhhh, is it necessary to make people read through ALL your thoughts just to learn ONE new word?” But gradually, I found your trans of thoughts a daily delight! Thanks a lot!

9 years ago

No, I love your rambling easy style. It’s make it feel like am reading something really nice just for fun and as a byproduct learning German :)

9 years ago

Ironically, your description of the meaning of nerven was a tad more long and drawn out than it needed to be. To the point where “Sie nerven mich!” haha

7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Well…I actually love all the extra information. :]