Word of the Day – “schon”

schonYo yo yo, ladies and gentlemen,

welcome back to your favorite German learning blog.
And today, we’ll take a good look at the meaning of

schon 

 

Schon is one of the most frequently used words in both written and spoken German. But it’s not only one of the most useful but also most confusing words. Just like doch  or eben it seems to be everywhere but half of the time the dictionary translation doesn’t make any sense at all.

Today we’ll change that!
So let’s get right into it…

And we’ll start with a quick look at its origin.

There is another word that looks quite similar to schon. The only difference is that it is wearing make-up (check out the brand here). I’m of course talking about schön which many of you probably know as beautiful, nice.

Both words, schon and schön, go back to the repulsively ancient Indo-European root *skeu-. The core idea of this root was something like observing attentively, perceiving but the German schön slowly shifted toward one quality that tends to make people look… beauty.
By the way, this family is also the origin of the name Scone.
If you don’t know what that is – it’s a British bakery breakfast item and originally meant “fine bread”. I think, “Dryne” would have been the better name though. That stuff soaks up coffee like a sponge.

Anyway, the original idea of schon was also simply nice, beautiful(ly). From there, it first shifted toward satisfying(ly) and from there it took a turn toward the idea of completely. 
And from there, it’s but a small step to the meaning it has today.

“schon” and “erst” – only, already and beyond

Because schon is the German word for already. Now you might be like “Wait, already and completely don’t mean the same.” and you’re of course right. But take another look at the word already… it literally means “all is ready”.
And it makes perfect sense to use schon for that. I mean, just look at this dialogue

“420 is ready.”
“Oh, already?! Nice.”

In German, the word for nice basically became the word for already, but it’s not that much of a stretch.
Let’s look at some examples.

  • Ich habe schon gegessen.
  • I already ate.
  • Ich wollte gestern Abend noch einkaufen gehen, aber der Supermarkt war schon zu.
  • I wanted to do groceries last night, but the supermarket was already closed.
  • Marie’s son is only 10 months old and can already talk.
  • Maries Sohn ist erst 10 Monate alt und kann schon sprechen.
  • When the waitress came, I had been waiting already for almost an hour.
  • Als die Kellnerin kam, hatte ich schon fast eine Stunde gewartet.
  • “Are you already leaving?”
    “Yes, it is already midnight and I have to get up early tomorrow.”
  • “Gehst du schon?”
    “Ja, es ist schon Mitternacht und ich muss morgen früh raus.

Now, so far this is pretty straight forward so far, but there’s a couple of pretty important differences.
The first one is when there’s a negative involved. The most common way to say that in English is not yet, but on some occasions not already might work as well. In German, nicht schon NEVER works. The proper phrasings  is noch nicht.

  • If you haven’t already seen the movie, go see it!
  • Wenn ihr den Film noch nicht gesehen habt, dann guckt ihn euch an!

The second difference is that schon is a little bit more broad than already.
Here’s an example…

  • Ich habe vergessen, meinem Chef zu sagen, dass das Meeting morgen schon um 5 anfängt.
  • I forgot to tell my boss that the meaning will start already earlier than expected – at 5.

Schon works perfectly fine in this example, but already does not. A common mistake of Germans who speak English, by the way.
The thing is that already kind of needs something there that is actually (being) accomplished…. something that can be “all ready”.
Schon on the other hand (just like its counterparts in French or Polish for that matter) has a much broader, vague sense of accomplishment. Let’s take a short example:

  • Ich gehe morgen schon um 12 nach Hause.

Here, schon indicates that 12 is considered somewhat early either by me, the listener or the general public. Here are possible contexts for the sentence:

  • My plan was originally to come at 3 so 12 is kinda early compared to that.
  • My company thinks 5 is a good time to go home so 12 is kinda early.
  • There is a party tomorrow that starts at 11 so… 12 would be kind of early to leave by party attendance standards.

So schon basically expresses wow, that is kinda early and it totally depends on the context and personal opinions when this is applicable.
In fact, this is kind of the core of schon. It expresses Wow, that’s kinda [quite something].” in contexts where there’s a change over time. And as such it’s pretty much the exact opposite of erst, which exresses “wow, that’s not so much (yet).
Here are a few examples…

  • Ich hab’ schon/erst 4 mal angerufen
  • I have called 4 times already.
    I have called as little as/only 4 times.

  • Ich war um 2 schon/erst zuhause.
  • I was at home at 2 already.
    It was as late as 2/already 2 when I was home.

  • Ich bin schon/erst 10.
  • I am already 10 (years old).
    I am only 10.

  • Das Meeting is schon/erst um 11.
  • The meeting is as early as 11.
  • The meeting is not before/as late as 11.

What schon and erst do is basically look at the same statement from two different points of view. The put a fact into a certain perspective, if you want.

That said though…  I think for daily life it is safe to just think of schon as already and just keep in mind that schon is a little broader.

Cool.
Now, before we move on to schon as a the weird confusing hard to translate filler, I want to mention two kind of fixed expressions that are going to be really useful: schon mal and schon wieder.

“schon mal” and “schon wieder”

Shut up headline, I just said that!
So, schon wieder actually translates to again. But not just the normal again that talks about repetition. It’s again with an attitude… you know… the all caps AGAIN :)

  • Ich musste heute schon wieder Überstunden machen.
  • I had to work extra hours today… AGAIN!
  • “Papa, Ich muss mal.”
    Schon wieder???”
  • “Daddy, I need to pee.”
    AGAIN???”

Wieder by itself is the neutral again. Schon adds this notion of “wow, that’s kinda early”  that we mentioned earlier, while English does all with the voice.
Cool.
The other expression is schon mal and this expresses the idea of already in contexts of “once(or multiple time) before”. And it has a grander scope, it reaches back into the past more, if that makes sense.
Here they are back to back…

  • Das hab’ ich schon mal gehört.
  • I have heard that before.
  • Das hab’ ich schon gehört.
  • I’ve heard that already (so I know it and there is no need to hear it again).

Schon mal is actually also used in questions, and then the English translation changes a bit. The idea is the exact same though, so maybe that helps you get a better graps of schon mal.

  • “Warst du schon mal in Paris?”
    “Ja, war ich schon mal.”
  • “Have you ever been to Paris?”
    “Yes, I’ve been there before/once/already” (I don’t know which one is best).

 

  • “Hast du schon mal eine Diät gemacht?”
    “Ne noch nie.”
  • “Have you ever gone on a diet.”
    “No, never.”

Cool.
So now that we have the more standard schon covered, let’s get to the weird schons. The particle schons, the filler schons that Germans pepper their speech with.  And we can distinguish between two use cases: commands and statements.
Let’s start with the commands.

Schon – coloring orders

And there’s good news for all native speakers of American English: schon used in imperative sentences (commands) is not going to be a new concept for you. Schon expresses impatience in those sentences and already is used to the exact same effect.

  • Sag schon!
  • Say it, already!
  • Gib schon!
  • Gimme that already!

I am not sure as to how strong adding already is in this context but schon can have different intensities and it really comes down to how you say it. You can say either example in a really nice, encouraging way or you can flat out bark it at someone.
This use of schon is not the most common one but there is one expression that is used a lot…

  • Ach, komm schon…!
  • Oh, come on…!

Komm schon is mostly used in a context of encouraging someone to do something.

  • “Wollen wir ins Kino gehen?”
    “Nee, keinen Bock.”
    “Ach, komm schon!”
  • “Should we go see a movie?”
    “Don’t wanna ”
    “Oh, come on!

It doesn’t really work if you want to doubt someone’s statement. Just to give you an example

  • “This movie is great.”
    Oh come on, you know it’s not.”
  • “Dieser Film ist toll”
    Ach hör auf, du weisst, dass er Scheiße ist.”

But anyway… so schon used in giving orders can be anything from encouraging to really pushy.
Now, let’s see what it does in statements.

Schon – coloring statements

The Duden, a German reference for word meaning and spelling, lists up to eight possible meanings for the coloring-schon (check them out here). And eI commend them for it. I think Duden and all the other sources did a pretty good jo… okay of course I am kidding!! Eight SUCKS!!
I think we can capture the essence of schon does to a statement with just two words :

dispersing doubt

Now, we’ll go over various uses and see if we can find this core notion in there.
Sounds good? Then let’s start with the first examples.

  • “Oh Gott, morgen ist Klausur. Ich bin sooooo nervös.”
    “Du schaffst das schon.”
  • “Oh god, tomorrow is the quiz. I am soooo nervous.”
    Don’t worry, you’ll make it.”

  • “Wo ist denn Marie? Die wollte doch eigentlich um 7 da sein.”
    “Ach die kommt schon noch.”
  • “Where is Marie? She wanted to be here at 7, I think.”
    “Oh she is going to come, don’t worry.”

  • Du machst das schon.
  • You’ll do fine/beautifully.

    (nice tie in with the original sense of schon, by the way)

Here, schon adds kind of the same reassuring effect – it is essentially used to disperse doubt that the person might have. So far, the theory seems to work.
Let’s keep testing…

  • “Das sieht komisch aus… schreibt man das so?
    “Ja ja, das ist schon richtig so.”
  • “That looks odd… is it spelled like that?”
    Don’t worry it is fine that way.”

  • “Soll ich dir beim Tragen helfen?”
    “Ne ne, geht schon.”
  • “Do you want me to help you carry that?”
    “No no, don’t worry, it’s ok.

  • (Someone just fell with his bike)
    “Hey alles ok, bist du verletzt?”
    “Nee, geht schon.”
  • “Hey everything all right, are you hurt?”
    “No, I’m ok.”

 

Again, in all these examples, schon tries to actively disperse a doubt the other person has. We’ve seen “Don’t worry” a lot in the translations but there’s also a vibe of “Let it go.” or “It’s fine.”

  • “Und wie is’ die Suppe”
    “Naja, geht schon, is’ schon ganz lecker.”
  • “So, how’s the soup?”
    “Meh, it‘s fine, it is tasty, all right.”

Here, schon disperses the doubt that the soup has passed the okay-threshhold. Nothing more. It doesn’t imply greatness, just asserts “okayness” and leaves room for follow up nit pick.
So far, there seems to indeed by a common theme.
But what about examples like this, where the Duden for example says that the schon sounds skeptical and sets up a but.

  • “Ich suche einen neuen Job.”
    “Oh, hat dir der alte keinen Spaß gemacht?”
    “Das schon, aber das Geld war zu wenig.”
  • “I am looking for a new job.”
    “Oh, did you not like the other one.”
    “No no I did like it ok, but the money wasn’t enough.”

But if you look at it really closely, it doesn’t “set up” the but, it just leaves room for it. The schon reaffirms the first bit, the bit about the fun. Like… “oh, don’t worry it wasn’t the lack of fun that made me quit.
Here’s a similar example…

  • “Wollen wir was essen?”
    “Auf keinen Fall.”
    “Hast du etwa keinen Hunger?”
    Doch, schon, aber ich mache grade Diät.”
  • “Should we eat something?”
    “No way.”
    “But aren’t you hungry?”
    I am. But I am on a diet right now.”

And again, schon disperses the doubt about one thing, while leaving room for a but.
Cool.
Now, there’s a couple more uses that I want to address real quick.
The first one is schon in rhetorical questions.

  • Thomas? Was will der schon machen?
  • Thomas? What is HE gonna do?  as in: (Thomas? He can’t do anything.)
  • Ich könnte sie ja anrufen, aber was bringt das schon?
  • I could call her, but what would THAT accomplish? (as in: Nothing.)
  • Wen interessiert das schon?
  • Who cares?
  • Wer hat schon so viel Zeit?
  • Who on earth has time for that?

In questions like these, schon implies that the answer to the question is: nothing or no one. And so once again we have the dispersing doubt notion at work.  In the first example it evaporates doubts that Thomas could do anything of consequence for me. In the second one it leaves no doubt that nothing will be achieved and so on.

The other “specific” type of statement are affirmative questions, so sentences that are statements by shape, but they’re actually meant as a question.
And schon can be used in these, as well.

  • Du kommst SCHON morgen, oder? (schon gets emphasized here)
  • You WILL come tomorrow, right?
  • Du hast SCHON einen Führerschein, oder?
  • You DO have a license, right?

As you can see, schon actually gets an emphasis here, and it’s basically a signal that you’re pretty sure of your statement. Like… it’s a bit like double checking, and would be really surprised if the answer was no. I just want affirmation of what I already consider to be a fact.
Now, some of you might be like “Wait, wasn’t affirmatin seeking the core of doch?”
And you’re totally right about that. In these kinds of sentences the two words are really close.
But there is a difference in tone.

  • Du hast doch einen Führerschein, oder?
  • Du hast SCHON einen Führerschein, oder?

Schon sounds waaaaaay more convinced here. It almost affirms itself (because it has doubt dispersing powers) while doch is yearning for affirmation because it is just not sure.  Let me try to capture that in English.

  • You have a license, don’t you?
  • Come on, don’t tell me don’t have a license.

That’s not the real translation, it’s just the vibe.
The schon version could be said by a police officer after upon your saying that you have no license to show. The cop assumes that you don’t have it WITH you.
So… schon is way more sure of itself than doch is in affirmative questions.

And thus we get to the last situation… but wait… didn’t I promise there would be only a couple of situations earlier and not three?
I did, so this is a bonus. Bonusses are awesome… hooray :).
So… the last situation in which schon is very common looks like this:

  • Wenn du schon zu spät kommst, dann ruf wenigstens an.
  • If you are going to be late, then at the very least call me.
  • Wenn ich schon eine Liebeskomödie sehen muss, dann bitte eine richtig schmalzige.
  • If, by all means, I really have to watch a romantic comedy, then please make it a really schmaltzy one.

What exactly does the schon do here? It accepts or concedes that there is no way around what is said before and at the same time it sets up a condition of yours.

  • Wenn ich das schon machen muss, dann will ich aber auf jeden Fall das und das.
  • If I really have to do it, and there seems no way around, then I definitely want this and that.

So … does that tie in with the dispersing doubt idea? Well, kind of.
Schon verbally admits that all your hope of dodging the romantic comedy is lost. You have to watch one, there is NO doubt about that anymore.
And if that doesn’t make sense to you, you can also look at this kind of schon as an already. Like… not literally, but the idea. If it is settled/comlete that have to watch the comedy, then at least I want to drink beer.

That actually kind of ties the whole idea of dispersing doubt in with the “normal” meaning of schon.… a sense of “it is settled”.
And that’s also where we’ll wrap this up, because… we’re done. Wohooo.
I really hope you got a better understanding of schon and saw that it’s not all that confusing, after all.
And don’t worry if you don’t remember everything … you’ll pick it up over time. The main takeaways are that it can mean already, it’s used to disperse doubt and it’s nothing to be scared of :).
If you want to test your understanding a bit and recap, you can take the little quiz I have prepared. And of course if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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Jose
Jose
3 months ago

Mein Opa war auch schon Bäcker.

What meaning would schon have here

Matt
Matt
8 months ago
  • “Warst du schon mal in Paris?”
  • “Ja, war ich schon mal.”
  • “Have you ever been to Paris?”
  • “Yes, I’ve been there before/once/already” (I don’t know which one is best).

“I’ve been there before” sounds the most idiomatic to me in this context.

“I’ve been there already” kinda gives off a vibe that you’ve already “checked it off the list” in some way and you don’t need to go again.

“I’ve been there once” fits but obviously doesn’t work if you’ve been to Paris more than once.

Jessy
Jessy
1 year ago

Hallo – well written – vielen Dank

Could you replace schon mal hier

“Warst du schon mal in Paris?”

With “je”

Warst du je in Paris?

Thank you

cruthers
cruthers
1 year ago

Really outstanding site, enjoying it/learning a lot so far. You can’t get a straight answer on a lot of this stuff elsewhere! But I’m still confused by the example where you translate “Naja, geht schon, is’ schon ganz lecker” to mean: “Meh, it’s fine, it is tasty, all right.” It sounds like the person is changing his mind in the middle of the sentence. “Meh, it’s fine” is totally unimpressed and probably disappointed. “It is tasty, all right,” on the other hand, sounds quite pleased. Can you further explain?

cruthers
cruthers
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks much. Perhaps you’ll humor me again on this topic. You have two examples above – ”

1-“Oh, hat dir der alte [Job] keinen Spaß gemacht?” Answer: “Das schon…”

2-“Hast du etwa keinen Hunger?” Answer: “Doch, schon…”

Is there any difference in meaning between the two answers, other than maybe the slightly more explicit reversal when you use “doch”?

I used to listen to Evans obsessively. My favorite track of his:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSFSmy_msk

jamesbdamon
jamesbdamon
1 year ago

Hey Emanuel, just wanted to drop a personal anecdote in here. I’m a current gap year student who showed up in Bavaria about two months ago speaking not a single word of German. I started with the Duolingo circuit and the like, but I quickly realized there was only one true source I could trust: German is Easy. For the last two months, whenever I came across a word that escaped an easy translation, I knew exactly where I could turn to. Seriously, I’d end up cutting out the middle man—stuff like “treiben german explained german is easy” or “gleich german is easy” or just today, “wenigstens difference zumindest mindestens german easy” have filled up my search history. There is absolutely no greater internet resource for Deutsch learning that matches this level of clarity.

The existence of this blog has completely transformed my experience here—ich hab zumindest eine Chance. Thanks for everything you do, man. The blog is much appreciated!

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago

The idea of dispersing doubt was really helpful for me. One of the struggles I’ve had with schon is how it seems to be used in a lot of different ways. It helps a lot to have a common thread to tie it together. Also interesting to see the difference between the affirmative schon and doch.

Peace Piece definitely lives up to the name, was a good listen. Hope you feel better soon :)

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Oh man, that sounds stressful. I’m not even that old, but I’ve definitely started appreciating good health more as time goes on. Glad you’re starting to feel better :)

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

its not really related to the post ,which i found very useful regardless, but i was wondering in the example:
 
“Ich suche einen neuen Job.”
“Oh, hat dir der alte keinen Spaß gemacht?”
 
why do we use nominative in the second instance ? I was asking the question ”what” doesnt give you Spas – the old job ,thus i would have used Acc. Where is my mistake here?

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

oh ok thats a bit more clear now , thanks alot !

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

theres enough jokes in this explenations for a 10 min comedy bit on german studying :D

Marisa
Marisa
2 years ago

As a German native speaker it made many things much clearer for me.
Sth what I want to add: You can use “nicht schon” especially if you want to emphasise the meaning of “schon” a “bereits” in the negative sentence.
For example “Hast du nicht schon/bereits genug ferngesehen?”. “Haven’t you watched enaugh TV?”
It suggerate that someone has watched already. For sure enaugh.
By using “noch nicht” like “Hast du noch nicht ferngesehen?” people would just be asked for having watched TV in general.

Paul Ed
Paul Ed
3 years ago

Hallo Emmanuel
I always use ‘schon’ but sometimes Duolingo makes me use ‘bereits’. What’s the difference?
Thanks

Paul Ed
Paul Ed
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

HAHA Ok thanks. I’ll never us it either.

Jaylen
Jaylen
3 years ago

Ich muss dir mal eine Frage herausgeben, Wähend ich eine alte Vorlesunge redete, habe ich den Sätz gesehen” Schon der Umstanmd, dass in den (völlig Scheiße) gehaltenen Vorlesungen der Stoff in der beabsichtigen Ausdrehnung sich nicht erschöpfen liess”, in welschem Bereich wird dir die Beudutng stellen, Glaube ich doch, dass es die eine ist, die gib der Bedeutung mehr Eindringlichkeit.

Auch ist mein deutsch hie und da

2222222222222
2222222222222
3 years ago

gibt’s Unterschied zwischen schon gut und schon okay und passt schon?
Vielenk Dank im Voraus

2222222222222
2222222222222
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

könntest du ein paar Beispiele nennen für Situationen nennen wo diese Wörter nicht austauschbar bzw schlecht austauschbar sind?
Diese 3 Wörter bekomme ich fast jeden Tag in deutschland zu hören aber wenn ich sie selbst verwenden will bin ich eher unsicher

Emin Babaev
Emin Babaev
3 years ago

I think you missed smth. You first write an example: Und wie is’ die Suppe”
“Naja, geht schon, is’ schon ganz lecker.”

and then:

Here, schon disperses the doubt that the film has passed the okay-threshhold. Nothing more. It doesn’t imply greatness, just asserts “okayness” and leaves room for follow up nit pick.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

My name is schöning. I find deep meaning in my name and can get beautiful plasent lovely already always king. I added a k like I do for d for gospel evolving it to godspell. Words are magic spells. I also use words that ryhme with schon and respelled tion sion and tian words with schon such as createschon or location or ressurrectschon and plenty more

Sebastian
Sebastian
4 years ago

Emanuel! This post together with ‘noch’ have been lifesavers. I seriously owe you a beer someday when I visit Berlin. Thanks again to everyone in the community for donating a little more so people like me can benefit from this blog :)!

afelipemeza
afelipemeza
4 years ago

Hi buddy, I really like your blogs and publications; they are very useful, though I think it would be better if you cut wrap them up or cut ’em down a little, so people could read them in their every day situations or just in any moment, not only when we have enough time for it… just my opinion, thanks

Kateryna
Kateryna
4 years ago

Thank you for the post.

I am still struggling though with translation of the last sentence in the following conversation:
“Ich fahre nie ohne mein Handy in den Urlaub. Und du?
Ich schon.”

“I already” ?? hmmm

J
J
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Hello. I encountered a similar situation from my textbook.

“Kannst du gut Salza tanzen?”
‘Nein, leader nicht. Und du?’
“Ich schon.”

Wait, what? I already?
I roughly translated it as “Me too don’t worry.”
Is schon used to disperse doubt here?

BTW Thank you for your blog! Bookmarked it. I’ll share it to my classmates.

aoind
aoind
4 years ago

I’ve come back to this article many times and it’s slowly going in. It’s so easy to confuse schon with noch, doch and various other stubby little German nightmare words. I’ve even made handwritten notes on the very long Pons page and I’ll keep referring to those.

I may have come up with a better translation for some of those problematic time and place uses of schon to denote the broader sense of “already”. I think the simple word “by” can be the simplest translation of schon in these cases with the counterpart translation of erst being “not until”.

The meeting starts by / doesn’t start until 9.
I was home by / wasn’t home until 9.

Happy Black Friday!

dbayly
dbayly
5 years ago

Isn’t that just the most glorious music. Best jazz pianist ever !

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

I might be overthinking it. Two practice questions are:

Q: Seit wann lebt Karin zu Hause?

A1: Sie lebt schon seit vier Jahren in Hamburg.
A2: Sie lebt seit vier Jahren in Hamburg.

Q: Wie lange ist Christina schon zu Hause?

A1: Christina ist schon drei Jahren zu Hause.
A2: Christina ist schon drei Jahren lang zu Hause.

In both cases, I’m not sure of the proper answer to each questions. Probably more importantly, I’m not sure of the differences in meaning between each answer.