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:



There are actually 2 paars in the German language. There is the normal “paar” and there is one, which, just like Germany has Berlin, has a capital P  … (get it? get it? I just like made a play on words with capital)
So we have Paar or das Paar to be more precise and a small cutesy wootsy little paar.  

They both come from paris which is Latin and … hey wait… isn’t that from France? Like… the capit… ok, ok no more capital jokes… paris  or par is Latin and meant something like „equal“. Old Germanic adopted the word and used it as a noun par with the meaning „2 of the same kind“. Also the English pair has that origin and of course it is one possible translation for das Paar.

So this is the basic meaning and I’d say most of the uses of it in daily life have to do with clothes… not for pants (die Hose) or glasses (die Brille) though since those are singular things in German.

All right. Now, Das Paar has a second meaning which just as common: a couple.

Now you think back to your past relationships and you might be like “Hmmm… we were a couple but we didn’t have that much in common after all”. That kind of doesn’t match up with the whole equal-origin of Paar. But it makes sense, if you interpret Paar more as 2 things belonging together than it does make sense I guess.
Now , there is also a “cutie-fied” version of Paardas Pärchen but  it is not really reserved for cute couples. I’d say in context of relationships both words are pretty much interchangeable. Pärchen does not work for Schuhe though.

There are some nice words with Paar in them for example Ehepaar (married couple), Paartanz (which is a dance for 2), paarweise (in pairs) or the famous Pärchenabend.  A Pärchenabend as I know it is an evening where 2 couples meet and do stuff together… NO not that kind of stuff… normal stuff like cooking, drinking or playing a bored game… oh… I mean board game. A German newspaper most humbly called die WELT has compiled top 10 list of how to make your Pärchenabend a success. And here is a more dude-oriented approach.
Last but not least, there is also a verb based on the couple-Paar:  paaren, which can mean to team up but it is also the biological term for to have sex.

By the way… also in English there is a verb that means to have sex and that is based on coupleto couplelate …badum tish…. hehehe I’m so funny… but wait a second… can it be?? Just a second, I need to check something … hmmmm  what does it say here… ohhhhhhhh wow, it’s actually true… the words to copulate and couple are related. Makes sense.

All right. Although it is probably not that important in daily life, I feel like I should mention that there appear to be 2 plural forms of Paar… one for the couple-one and one for the pair-one.

I don’t really know why this is but whenever you use Paar in context with clothes just use the singular all the time. 3 Paare Schuhe would sound really really weird; as would be using just 2 Paar for 2 couples.

  • Gestern waren 3 Paar auf meiner Party… is wrong

I would expect a clarification there… like … 3 pairs of WHAT? Kind of like here:

  • Gestern waren 3 schöne auf meiner Party.
  • Yesterday there were 3 beautiful at my party…. 3 beautiful WHAT???

So, while officially a noun, this pair-Paar feels kind of like… an adjective and this brings us to the other paar.

So I don’t really know what happened because I wasn’t there but it might have played out like this. Back in the 19th century the governmental committee for “Obscuring the German language in order to make it scary and confusing for foreign people to learn”, the guys who brought you stuff like cases and prefix verbs, discussed what to do next.

Gentlemen, we have achieved a lot with the cases but never shall we rest for there is ever so much more room for confusion. So noble Sires, be so kind and share you musings”
“We should do something with numbers… that ought to confuse them good.”
“Any ideas?”
“What if we changed the meaning of paar from just 2 to a non defined number that may or may not be small depending on context…”
 “Great… we could even changed it such that it doesn’t actually mean 2 anymore at all…”
“Gentlemen, I am impressed. I shall now go to present this to the king…”

The king loved it. So it was done and here we are today…

Yes, that’s right. The word paar, or actually the combination ein paar, is THE best translation for a few. And it is NOT used to indicate precisely 2 anymore. Ein paar something means 3 or more something. That is the reason why Germans keep using the word a couple the wrong way in English.

  • I have seen the movie a couple of times… uttered by a native speaker of German is likely to mean
  • I have seen the movie a few times.

I have made this mistake a lot myself and I still have to concentrate to not use a couple because we use paar all the time in German…. waaaaaaaaay more often than einige or wenige or whatever other translation your dictionary might suggest. We use paar.

Now, all that begs the question of how to say a couple  if paar means 3 or more. The answer is: just use zwei…

Now, I don’t want to get into the whole „what is some and any in German“ thing because the answer is simply “it depends” but I need to mention that ein paar can mean either ne at times. Here are some examples for that.

So… bottom line… ein paar is used really a lot and you should include it into your active vocabulary as a few. But one question remains…

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

How do you distinguish between those 2 version when you speak? I mean, the context isn’t of much help here since both statements are quite similar. The answer is pronunciation. If you use ein paar usually only the following noun carries a stress.

Ein Paar on the contrary is stressed too….

Especially the ein gets a strong emphasis here, which shows that it is more than just an article… it is a number.
And since we’re at pronunciation here is another thing about the a few – ein paar.. in spoken German, the ein is often shortened to a simple n… so rhythmically it is still a syllable but that’s about all there is.

As a matter of fact all that really matters is that it is a nasal vowel… so if the word before end in b or p, so when your lips are closed already saying m instead of n saves you a lot of mouth movement… and since it doesn’t really matter people do it. As long as there is something humming there, as long as the rhythm is right it is fine.

So once again we can see… Rhythm is it.  Sounds kind of catchy. Would make for a good film title… anyway… this was our German Word of the Day. With a capital P it means pair or couple and with a small p (always in combination with ein) it is THE word for a few. If you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment and oh… One of the next words I’ll talk about will be schon. Yeahhhh. I think I finally got it. But there is a chance that I missed out on something and so… if you happen to have a weird sentence with schon where the word seems out of place or untranslatable, and you want to see your example used in the article as an example then go right ahead and share it here :).
I hope you liked it and see you next time.