Word of the Day – “paar”

Hello everyone,

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

paar

 

And there’s actually a pair of paar in German :). The cute little paar, and the massive das Paar with a big peepee. Yeah, we all know that if a post starts like that, it can only be good.
So let’s jump right in and learn a couple of things :).

Of course, the German paar is related to the English pair. origin is the Latin word par(is) which meant something like „equal“. Just think of en par, if you need a connection.
The old Germanic tribed adopted the word and started using it as a noun par in the sense of two f the same kind – a meaning that is still very much alive in pair and das Paar.

  • Ich habe ein Paar Schuhe.
  • I have one pair of shoes.
  • Marie hat 30 Paar Schuhe.
  • Marie has 30 pairs of shoes.

Since we mentioned shoes, I guess it’s worth noting that German DOESN’T use Paar for a couple of other clothing items where English does use pair. A pair of pants in German just die Hose and a pair of glasses is die Brille. So they’re actually singular and you need to use the verb accordingly.

  • Ich habe eine Hose.
  • I have a pair of pants.
  • Meine Hose sind ist dreckig.
  • My pants are dirty.

You’ll most likely make mistakes there, so don’t even try.
Wait… I mean… do try! Don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake, that’s what I meant.
Anyway, the more important use in daily life for das Paar is couple in the sense of… well.. two people being a couple.
So here, the original notion of two of a kind was modfied toward two.
Or two that deserve each other, like Thomas and Maria for example.

  • Thomas und Marie sind ein Paar.
  • Thomas and Marie are a couple.

There is also a “cutie-fied” version das Pärchen but this one ONLY works for human couples. You can’t have a Pärchen of Schuhe though.

  • Thomas und Marie sind ein süßes Pärchen.
  • Thomas and Marie are a cute couple.

And of course there are a bunch of compound nouns and words with the couple-Paar. Like for example das Ehepaar (married couple), paarweise (in pairs) or the very famous German Pärchenabend, which is where Germans break out the leather boots, the cuffs and the whips and get to work.
Yeah, I’m sure some of you believed it for a second, didn’t you :).
But nope, it’s not that kinky stereotype. A Pärchenabend as I know it is a double date. So couples meet and do stuff together, like cooking, drinking or playing a bored game… oh… I mean board game.
“And what if they’re swingers, Emanuel? I heard there are lots of swingers in Berlin.”
Gee, well, then they’ll probably, do the thing. Couple-ate, if you will.
And that’s not even a joke, actually. Copulate really does come from the word couple.
And while we’re at it, the German word for it is sich paaren. But that does sound rather biological.

  • Die beiden Affen paaren sich.
  • The two apes are mating.

Cool.
Now, before we get to paar with a small p, we need to mention the plural of das Paar. Or I should say plurals, because there are actually two.
For pairs of shoes or socks, the plural is die Paar. The plural for a couple is die Paare.

  • Ich habe 10 Paar Socken und alle haben ein Loch.
  • I have 10 pairs of socks and all of them have a hole.
  • Gestern waren 3 Paare auf meiner Paarty*. (*lamest pun ever)
  • There were 3 couples at my party yesterday.

And even though it’s just one letter difference, it sounds actually quite weird if mixed up.

  • Gestern waren 3 Paar auf meiner Party… is wrong

I would expect a clarification there… like … three pairs of what?
But you’ll definitely be understood if you get it wrong, so don’t stress out too much.
All right.
So now let’s get to the small paar.

paar

We’ve learned that das Paar is about exactly two. However, this notion of two wasn’t actually part of the original Latin root. And so it makes perfect sense that ein paar actually means a few.

  • Ich muss ein paar Sachen erledigen.
  • I have to get a few things done.
  • Thomas war schon ein paar mal in London.
  • Thomas has been to London already a few times.
  • Gib mir ein paar Minuten.
  • Give me a few minutes.
  • Wir waren gestern ein paar Bier trinken.
  • We had a few beers yesterday.
  • Ich hab’ letzte Nacht nur ein paar Stunden geschlafen.
  • I have slept only a few hours last night.

And it’s also the idiomatic translation for some and any, if those express the same idea as a few.

  • In der Bar waren so ein paar betrunkene Idioten, deshalb sind wir gegangen.
  • There were some drunk idiots at the bar, that’s why we left.
  • Ich weiß nicht, was ich meiner Freundin zum Geburtstag schenken könnte. Hast du vielleicht ein paar Ideen?
  • I don’t know what birthday present I could get my girlfriend. Do you have any ideas?

As you can see, ein paar is suuuper common. Way more so than the other translations for few that you might see in a dictionary: wenige, which stresses the “few-ness” and einige which is more like some.
And if you hear a German use a couple of X in English, I can guarantee you that they mean more than straight up two.
I’m not actually sure as to how much of a consensus there is in English about a couple of. Some say it’s ONLY two, others say it can be a few. I’ve even once heard someone say it’s ONLY two and then use it in sense of a few herself.
But if a German says ein paar its NOT in sense of two.
If you want to talk about two specifically, you have to use the actual number zwei

  • Ich war schon 2 mal in Finnland.
  • I have been to Finland a couple of times /twice already.
  • Vor 2 Tagen war ich zum ersten mal seit langem wieder joggen.
  • A couple of days ago, I went running for the first time in a while.

Cool.
Now, we’re almost done, but there’s one question remaining…

How to tell them a-paar-t

We’ve learned that ein Paar means a pair or a couple, ein paar means a few.
Pretty clear if we see it on paper.

  • Ich habe ein paar/ein Paar Schuhe.
  • I have a bunch of shoes.
  • I have a pair of shoes.

But what happens when we speak?
How do we tell them apart, if we have an example like the one above where it could be either.
The answer is pronunciation.
If you use ein paar usually only the noun carries a stress.

  • Ich habe ein paar SCHUHE. (dit di-di di-di SCHUHE)

With Ein Paar however, the number also gets a stress…

  • Ich habe EIN Paar SCHUHE. (dit di-di EIN paar SCHUHE)

This might be a little too much, actually. But ein paar (a few) definitely doesn’t carry emphasis. And often the ein
is shortened to a simple n. Rhythmically, it is still there, it’s still a syllable. But it gets no effort beyond that :)

  • “Thomas wah’ n pah Tage in München.”
  • Thomas has been to Munich for a few days.

As a matter of fact, if the ein comes after a word that ends in b or p, so when your lips are closed already, it might become just an m

  • “Ich hab’ ‘m pah Bier mitgebracht.”
  • I have brought a few beers.
  • “Ich bin n pah Minuten zu spät gekommen.”
  • I came a few minutes late.

That’s a bit Berlin dialect though. I think in the South, it might sound a little different.
Anyway, I think that’s it for today.
This was our look at the meaning of das Paar and ein paar and how to say a few in German.
If you want to check if you got the most important points, go ahead and take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
I mean… once it’s done. It usually takes ein paar … ähm Jahre. Seriously, though… it’s in the works.
And of course, if you have any questions about today’s article or if you have a fun Pärchenabendstory, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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TheBestLanguageEver
TheBestLanguageEver
5 months ago

Ich hätte eine kurze Frage, lieber Emanuel

Wir waren gestern ein paar Bier trinken.
Hast du das Verb am Ende weggegeben? Waren…..( gegangen) ?

Ich verstehe nicht, wie die Grammatik hierbei geht

Robert Paar
Robert Paar
2 years ago

Thank you for the information on the word Paar. I’m American and found it interesting since my last name is Paar. My ancestors on my Father’s side emigrated to America in the 1890s.

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

Grouch

PeterB
PeterB
2 years ago

“And here is a more dude-oriented approach.” Did you mean to give a link here?

HaitianSensation
HaitianSensation
4 years ago

Ich finde deine Erklärungen ganz komplett und richtig nachgedacht. Danke sehr fur dieses Material.

Fin Famos
Fin Famos
6 years ago

Concerning the plural of “Paar” as a number of items like shoes and so on, I understand that particular “Paar” as a measuring unit. Like a weight unit: “5 Kilo” not “5 Kilos” etc.. or currency.. We say “5 Euro” and not “5 Euros” as they do in the English language.

Cole
Cole
7 years ago

A couple can mean a few in English. They’re used interchangeably.

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

Hi Emanuel,

Thanks for creating an amazing blog – I am learning a lot from here… You have a great way of making it interesting to learn this stuff, when normally it is not explained properly and is hard work.

One thing I noticed is that from what you say, ‘ein paar’ seems to be an exact translation for the English word ‘several’. In English ‘several’ means ‘a few’ but more than two (if I had to guess I would say 3 to 4 times). However sometimes people use it incorrectly for referring to ‘two’. I also agree with the poster above that in English ‘a couple’ can mean ‘a few’ – i.e. more than two – but the word is being used as slang in that context. In the Queen’s English it would strictly be two.

Would be great to see a post on ‘noch’ which seems to appear in every other sentence (I know you have done noch with weder already). And of course I look forward to the infamous ‘mal’…

Keep up the good work!

Patrick

G. B.
G. B.
9 years ago

I am a native English speaker, and grew up using “a couple” to mean “a few”. There seems to be some argument over this, so maybe it’s a regional thing? But to at least some English speakers, “a couple” can mean “2 or 3, maybe even 4”.

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I’m not an English native speaker. I’ve just learned that “a couple of” means “a few” and have been using it with that meaning for several years. No one has ever corrected me. Perhaps they don’t mind. Anyway, you could see it defined here (under Idioms): http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/couple?s=t

Papageno
Papageno
9 years ago

Great post. I love your blog and I recommend it to all the German-learners that I know (quite a few actually). I really liked the last bit about pronunciation and the way the article “ein” is sometimes reduced to a small nasal sound. These kinds of things cause a lot of confusion to beginners (like me) when starting to face common spoken language.

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago

Great post. Incidentally, a couple often means a few in English, purely through laziness while speaking.

maplebee
maplebee
9 years ago

Just an instance where your spelling caused me a moment’s pause: “governmental comity”. “Comity” is technically an English word (which actually I only discovered when I put it into Google to check, so I wouldn’t say it’s a commonly used one – more a particular term in law), but I think what you were going for here was “committee”. Without having known “comity” was infact a word, it ended up reading in my head as COM-ity (like “comedy” with a t), rather than com-MIT-tee.

Thanks for this post, though! I had deduced from listening to German radio a lot that Paar/paar meant the two common translations you explained, but I didn’t realize it was more often used like the English “a few” than literally “a pair”. In English “a couple of…” is technically exactly two, while “a few” is technically three (but is more often used to mean more than two but probably not more than say five), so it’s good to know that “paar” is so often like the latter.

conanon
9 years ago

Ooh! Vor zwei Tage fand ich die Übersetzung von “a few”. Dieser Beitrag kommt an den richtigen Zeitpunkt. Danke!

sjuniperj
9 years ago

Die Paerchenabend Artikeln fand ich voll luestig, danke! Perfekt :)

sjuniperj
9 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Das Ganze hab ich sicher nicht verstanden, aber die Meiste schon! Um die Witze zu verstehen muss mann sich gar nicht so anstrengend bemuehen :) Wann ich mehrere Zeit haben, werde ich sie gerne nochmals anschauen. Das Thema passt momentan besonders gut an, als die ganze Geschäfte verkaufen schon den Valentines Day Schmäh!

Robert
Robert
9 years ago

Hi Emanuel,

Another great Word of the Day. Thanks.

These are always nice to read to relax inbetween your other posts that tackle the bigger and more general topics like past tense for example. Even after re-reading them quite a few times, those ones can sometimes take me up to a week before they properly sink in.

I’m not sure if you’ve talked about it before but if you’re looking for some more ideas for your bigger posts/topics, I think that I might have one here for you.

Lately, I’ve been trying to get my head around decision making in German and I’ve been finding the whole subject pretty difficult. I mean, do I make a decision or do I meet a decision?

What is the difference between Entscheiden and Entschließen? And if we already have those two words, where does that leave all of the other things like:

“Sich überlegen” or “Bedenken” or “Seine Meinung ändern” ?

Even worse are sentences that involve the past like: “I knew that you would change your mind about that one” or “I knew that you would reconsider” “or “I knew that you would come around eventually” or “It was obvious that she was reconsidering her earlier decision”.

So anyway, I think decision making could be a great topic for your site sometime in the future. Cheers.

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago

Super article!

The detail you put into your explanations of the simple (yet vital) things is amazing.

Thank you!