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

 

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.

for members :)

28
Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
Anonymous
Anonymous

Super article!

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

Thank you!

Robert
Robert

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.

sjuniperj

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

conanon

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

maplebee
maplebee

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.

Anonymous
Anonymous

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

Papageno
Papageno

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.

G. B.
G. B.

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”.

Patrick
Patrick

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

Cole
Cole

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

Fin Famos

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.

HaitianSensation
HaitianSensation

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

PeterB58
PeterB58

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

Anonymous
Anonymous

Grouch