German 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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 :)

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

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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