Word of the Day – “sparen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time, we’ll take a look at something that Germans really love.
Which one of these three do you think it is:

a) Bier
b) making smartass comments and remarks noone asked for
c) sparen

The answer is of course,  that Germans love all these three things equally.
But today, we’ll look at the meaning of

sparen

Sparen is the German brother of English to spare and the two do share a core idea, which is pretty well captured by the phrase to not touch.
But the two verbs have different takes on it, and as a result, they’re not really translations. I mean, sometimes they are, but just as often they’re not.
So let’s take a look.

As per usual, I told my interns to do some research into the history of the word.
But instead of a nice, concise overview, I got an email back with this:

“Pay us!”

Like… what does that even mean?
Anyway, I did my own research of course, but the origin is pretty confusing and it’s not really that revealing anyway. So let’s focus on the meanings first and then maybe have origin as a nice, dry dessert :).

As I said in the intro, the core idea is to not touch. And German sparen has basically modified that into not using resources, not spending. Or in one word … to save.

  • “Kommst du mit ins Spa?”
    “Nee, ich muss sparen.”
  • “Do you want to come to the Spa?”
    “No, I have to save money.”
  • Spar dich reich – jetzt als Premiumkunde anmelden und bei jedem Einkauf bares Geld sparen.
  • Save yourself wealthy” – Sign up now as a premium customer now and save hard cash with every grocery shopping.
    (is the an idiomatic way to say “Spar dich reich”… the idea is that you make yourself rich through saving money”
    Oh and also… Is there a more slick way to say “grocery shopping”)?
  • “Warum wäschst du dir nicht die Hände, nachdem du auf Toilette warst?”
    “Ich will Wasser sparen.”
  • “Why are you not washing your hands after you’ve been to the toilet?
    “I want to save water.”

Saving money… that way of saying it is actually kind of cute, when you think about it. Like, your money is like “Oh no, please, I don’t want to go to Jeff Bezos.” and you are like:
“I’m sorry, money. I’m sorry I can’t save all of you. But I can save SOME of you!”
as you heroically click on “sort by price”.
But anyway, so sparen is THE word for saving resources like money, water or energy.
And there are lots of related words that revolve around that idea…

  • Maria hat ein bisschen was gespart. /… hat Ersparnisse.
  • Maria has some savings.
  • Mein Auto ist extrem sparsam.
  • My car is extremely fuel efficient.
  • Maria schenkt Thomas zum Geburtstag ein Sparschwein/eine Spardose.
  • Maria has a piggy bank/coin bank.
  • Die Deutschen sind  Sparweltmeister.
  • Germans are world champions in savings.

Not sure if the last one is absolutely true, but German households do sparen like crazy. So much so, that I think it’s fair to say it is part of the German culture. Germans don’t like debt, mistrust the stock market and tend to have cash hidden somewhere. We’re really really old school there.

Cool.
So I think the meaning of sparen is pretty clear. But there is also a version with a self refrence, sich sparen. And that has a slightly different focus.

sich sparen

Let’s look at an example. Thomas came home really late recently, which led to a heated argument with Maria. And just in case you’re wondering… I know that because I am wire-tapping their home, of course, and I do that because there are always great examples to be found.

  • “Ich… ich musste Überstunden machen, und dann kam die Bahn nicht. Deshalb bin ich so spät.”
    “Deine Ausreden kannst du dir sparen, Thomas.  Du riechst nach Frauenparfum.”
  • “I … I had to do long hours and then the train didn’t come. That’s why I am so late.”
    Save/keep your excuses (for yourself), Thomas.  You smell of women’s perfume.”

It looks very similar to what we’ve seen so far, but the focus is slightly different. Maria doesn’t want to help Thomas conserve his precious stack of excuses. She tells him not to bother.  And that’s the core idea of sich sparen. People use it in the sense of not “touching” some sort of hassle.
Let’s look at some examples. And just for the protocol… it is a Dative self reference :)

  • Spar dir den Weg in die Küche. Es gibt kein Bier mehr.
  • Save/spare yourself the way to the kitchen. There’s no more beer.
  • “Ich glaube, das Duschen spar ich mir heute.”
  • “I think I’ll spare myself the shower today.”
  • “Wie war der Millionär-Mind Event?”
    “Sinnlos… das hätte ich mir sparen können.
  • “How was the Millionaire Mind Event?”
    “Pointless… that was a waste of time.”
    Lit.: I could have spared myself that.

     

Especially the last one… “Das hätte ich mir sparen können!” is SUPER common and I really recommend adding it as a phrase to your active vocabulary.
Now, you probably noticed that I used to spare as a translation here. This whole idea of  “not touching ” in the sense of not harming, avoiding trouble is actually the core idea of to spare, and that’s why it can occasionally work as a translation.
But the differences between German sparen and to spare are too big to really call them translations.

Translating “(to) spare”

First of, in English you can spare someone something, meaning you don’t “expose” them to it. That does NOT work with sparen.
If you want to do that, you need ersparen.
Let’s go back to the argument between Maria and Thomas again…

  • Spare me your excuses.
  • Spar mir deine Ausreden ….    same looks, but NOPE!
  • Spar dir deine Ausreden…        yes, same sense.
  • Erspar mir deine Ausreden…  yes, same sense and same grammar

So basically, if you spare yourself something, the verb is sich sparen, if you spare someone else something, then the verb is ersparen.

  • “Ich habe mir heute wieder die Dusche gespart.”
    “Gott sei Dank hast du Home- Office. Das erspart uns deinen Geruch.”
  • “Today, I again spared myself the shower.”
    “Thank God, you’re doing home office. That spares us your smell.”

There’s actually another option for sparing someone something: the verb verschonen mit.

  • Verschone mich mit deinen Ausreden.
  • Spare me  your excuses.

And the good thing about this one is that it’s also a translation for the “bare” to spare, in the sense of not touching, harming.

  • Das Einhorn verschont das Eichhörnchen.
  • The unicorn spares the squirrel.
  • Nur ein Haus wurde vom Tornado verschont.
  • Only one house was spared by the tornado.

These would absolutely NOT work with sparen or ersparen, and it would sound so confusing that I’m not even sure a native speaker would understand.
Cool.
Now, besides the verb to spare there’s also the adjective spare. Like… a spare pair of glasses or some spare time. The meaning ties in with the core theme of  not touched, not used, and the translation … really depends on context. It can be frei (free) or übrig (left) or extra (extra)… but it’s NOT gonna be anything with sparen.

  • Hey Festival-Leute, ich habe ein extra Zelt, falls einer eins braucht.
  • Hey festival people, I have a spare tent/tent spare, in case someone needs one.

Oh and now looking at this adjective, I realized there was another use for the verb to spare.

  • Does anyone have a beer to spare?

Again, the core theme of “not touch” fits perfectly, but focus here is on sharing the item, not keeping it.
And again… the translation is NOT going to be anything with sparen. Teilen (to share) is an option, or abgeben (give away) but at least in casual contexts, people would probably use zuviel. At least in this example.

  • Hat jemand ein Bier zuviel?

Now, this was quite a bit of information, and honestly… you don’t really have to remember all of that. What you should take with you is the meaning of sparen,  sich sparen and ersparen that it’s usually NOT a good translation for to spare, even though the verbs seem to have the same core idea.

And I think that’s it for t… what… oh… you want the origin?
Right, I completely forgot about that.
So yeah…. because my interns are feeling tough in home-office, I did some digging myself and it was kind of confusing.
On the one side, sources mention an unsettlingly ancient Indo-European root *sphē-, which expressed an idea of growth, fattening and success, all captured in another famous offspring of the root: the Latin based to prosper. That makes sense because if you “don’t touch/harm/use” something, it can prosper.
But then, they also mention the old Germanic root *spara- as the more direct ancestor and that meant something like scarce, frugal, sparingly. And that makes sense too. If resources are scarce, you need to sparen.  But I really couldn’t fathom how these two notions connect. The best I could find was that the notion of growth has shifted toward spreading and from there it went to spreading thin. Makes some kind of sense but it’s quite a bit of mind bending, no doubt.
But as I said, it’s not really that helpful. I really only mentioned the origin because I was kind of surprised that there was a connection to to prosper and I kind of wanted to share that little reveal.

Anyway, I think that’s it for today. This was our look at the meaning of sparen and its English brother to spare. As always, if you want to recap and check how much you remember, just take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And of course, if you have any questions or thoughts or additions about this, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

 

 

** vocab **

sparen – save, economize 

die Ersparnis – the amount saved (for resources)
die Ersparnisse – the savings (primarily money)
das Sparschwein – the piggy bank
sparsam – sparingly, frugal, resource-efficient

das Sparbuch – the savings account

sich etwas sparen – not bother doing something
ersparen – to spare someone something (jemandem etwas ersparen)
verschonen (mit) – to spare someone (something) , in sense of “not harm”

Das hätte ich mir sparen können. – That was a waste of time/effort. (really common phrase)

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willmh
willmh
1 year ago

Der Cartoon sagt fast alles, was wichtig ist xD

Aber… wenn ein Freund viele Bier von meinem Kühlschrank trinkt, könnte ich dann sagen: Hey Alter, spar einige für die Reste von uns!

Jetzt (als ob du schon nicht genug Empfehlungen hast..): I make a grocery run, run to the grocery store, etc.

Danke für den super Artikel!

willmh
willmh
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Aah, also “Lass einige für die Reste von uns!” Das kann ich mir merken.
Danke!
Auf english I think I’d say “Whoa. Bro, save some for the rest of us!”

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago

1) Hallo, Leute

Herzlich willkommen zur unsere Sendung ,, Einhörner Gesprach”. Bei uns gibt es die besten Gespräche, aber alle weißen das schon,also lass uns beginnen.

Unsere heutige Folge geht es um den Wort “Sparen”

E = Einhorn

E1 : Du bist schone züruck. wie war die Wohung ? Sollten wir sie meiten.

E2 : Ich wollte über sie nicht sprechen. Aber hör auf meinen Rat. erspare du dir den Besuch und verschone deine Augen davon,was ich gesehen habe. das hätte ich sparen können

E1 : Okay. ich vertraue dir.

Die Ende.

2)

Now a bit in english since i was abit confused about the difference between ersparen and sich sparen.

I looked up a bit. and i saw sth, “Erspar mir das” but is it not reserves for sparing others? i am legit confused since the examples support that

So i though a bit und this is my conculsiin

Spare yourself = Spare du dir

spare myself sth = Ich spare mir etwas

Spare me this = Erspar mir das

Spare sb sth = Erspar Jemand das

and Erspar du dir = …..

3) Empfehlung

Ich habe den Wort “trag” schone empfehlt aber ich wurde das nochmal machen

4) A word

Again in english

There is a word i saw here on an article before but i cannot remember it.

I can remember few proprites.

its a Trennbare Verb und it beings with “auf”

it has sth to do with allowance, Spending money.

there was another word like it. ans the difference between them was being stasfied with the amount or sth.

i know this is really vague so you dont have to reall try guessing. i am sure i will be able to find on my own one day

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

2) I though about them and I initially wrote a long split paragraph about the phrases but decide to keep it somewhere else lol.

4) Yea sorry, I am an idiot. I found it. it began with aus and not auf. the similar word begin with hin. Do you want the answer?

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

2)?

4) auskommen und hinkommen

stonekim@lawrence.edu
stonekim@lawrence.edu
2 years ago

Is there much difference between “sparen” and “speichern”?

stonekim@lawrence.edu
stonekim@lawrence.edu
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

cool! thanks!

jdentler89
jdentler89
2 years ago

I don’t think we have anything with *quite* the meaning of “Spar dich reich” (which is sooo great!) — but at least in the U.S. it is very common for commercials or advertisements to say “BUY AND SAVE!!”

SteveMcE
SteveMcE
2 years ago
Reply to  jdentler89

Down my local pub, during happy hour (when the beer is a little cheaper), we say “the more you drink, the more you save”. Would that be something like “Je man mehr trinkt,desto spart man” ?

SteveMcE
SteveMcE
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I have now read your article, so it is “Je man mehr trinkt, desto mehr spart man”

SteveMcE
SteveMcE
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I wanted to keep the adverb next to the verb, but yes I do see that the mehr should be after “je”

Art
Art
2 years ago

Hallo liebe Leute. I would just like to say “Tausend Dank” for the people who made it possible for me to be a member of the German is Easy family. I have just fallen in love with the German language, so this means so much to me that’s why ich möchte Ihnen sagen, wie Dankbar ich Ihnen bin. Mögen all Ihre Wünsche in Erfüllung gehen, Ich kann Ihnen gar nicht genug danken ❤

Dssb
Dssb
2 years ago

Awesome article!

Thank you so much German is Easy! Thanks Emanuel for let me inside your awesome blog and family! I’m extremely grateful for the sponsored scholarship and I’ll make great use of it! And thanks of course to all those members that have paid a little extra in order to help out people like me who can’t afford the membership.

Viele Grüße aus Brasilien,

David

KenWard
KenWard
2 years ago

Great Artikel Emanuel! 5 out of 5! If I rember at least one thing, the quiz at the end made sure to cement in my brain that “verschonen” and “Sparen” are to save (property) and save (money) respectively. The tornado analogy was graphic and stuck well.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
2 years ago

Doing the downloading was successful when done directly.
Here are a few notes about English: protocol has one l.
When “spare” in English is a bit awkward (early on) : I would say “don’t bother.”
Skip the shower
Spare me (deep-six the “with”) your excuses.

Wie stets gibt es in diesem Artikel viel zu lernen, und dabei etwas raffiniertes, etwas komisches, etwas daß mich lächeln macht. Danke.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago

Maybe not necessarily an active-vocabulary candidate, but I’ve heard/read einsparen now and then over the years. Just noticed an example in an email to our church about the budget being presented to outfit our new rental space:

Wir wissen, dass es sich hierbei um viel Geld handelt und haben bereits versucht, so weit wie möglich einzusparen.

Seems like it’s maybe a little more in the direction of “cut costs” or “keep expenditures low” in a specific situation, rather than sparen more generally?

Cljohnson
Cljohnson
2 years ago

“A penny saved is a penny earned!” = it’s better to save than spend and earn again.

I would say
…every time you go shopping
…every time you shop
…with every shop (more British)

Miguel
Miguel
2 years ago

You’d be surprised how far down the list Germany is for European countries on saving. It’s due to a lot of different factors, but lower home ownership (as a savings vehicle) and higher income inequality (vs. peers) are usually cited as the main culprits.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distribution_of_wealth_in_Europe

Jing
Jing
2 years ago

Hi Emanual, warum nicht “spare”, sonder “spar” beim Satz “Ich glaube, das Duschen spar ich mir heute.”? Danke.

aoind
aoind
2 years ago

“Save while you spend” is a fairly popular marketing slogan for customer reward schemes.

“Every time you shop” or “with every shopping trip” are also both idiomatic.

A related word to “scarce” but with more of a focus on “thinly distributed” (rather like my hair) is “sparse”, which I think may be a translation of “spärlich”.

Thord
Thord
2 years ago
Reply to  aoind

every shopping trip sounds good… Specially because Eikaufen does not mean shopping for groceries alone…

Erich
Erich
2 years ago

So would a homeless person say “Haben Sie extra Kleingeld, bitte?” if he was asking people on the street for some of their “spare change” – coins they were willing to give him?

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I think that’s precisely the implication with “spare change” – for us Amis, coins are generally considered a nuisance and we’re happy to get rid of them.

Vorlaufer
Vorlaufer
2 years ago

I went to a Sparkasse in Nürnburg last Fall to break a 100 euro bill that I got from an atm, but they would not do it. Is a Sparkasse not a bank?

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Vorlaufer

Sparkassen are banks…. I’ve never tried to break a bill here, though. People really do use €100 bills to pay for stuff.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Hmmm… That I haven’t tried. But I’ve definitely seen popcorn and drinks in a movie theater paid for with a 100 with no issue, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that would work. Maybe that’s a regional attitude thing, because I do remember getting hassled a bit about paying for stuff with a 50 in Berlin sometimes.

Either way, for an American, it’s pretty strange to use anything bigger than a 20, and lots of my countrymen don’t carry cash at all. I think in most places in the US, you might as well try to use DM to pay for something as a $100 bill.

berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Could be… although the friend I was with who used the 100 at the theater is a truck driver from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern XD

barratt
barratt
1 year ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Hmm. Wenn ich in Göttingen einen Kaffee bestelle, und versuche, mit einem Fünfziger zu bezahlen, verdreht die Kollegin die Augen ein Bisschen und fragt mir, ob ich _vielleicht_ etwas kleineres hätte. Ich habe gelernt, mich im Voraus zu entschuldigen: “Es tut mir leid, ich hab kein Kleingeld. Können Sie auf einen Fünfziger rausgeben?” Damit bekomme ich meistens keinen Ärger sondern ein Lächeln + 48,51 EUR zurück. (In den USA würde man mit höchstens einem $20-Schein bezahlen, weil die Bankautomaten in der Regel nichts größeres ausspucken.)

barratt
barratt
1 year ago
Reply to  barratt

fragt mich (den doppelten Akkusativ mit “fragen” vergesse ich ständig)

johnnybna
johnnybna
2 years ago

Hallo, Emmanuel!

“Pay us!”
“Like… what does that even mean?”
Das klingt nach so vielen Chefs, für die ich gearbeitet habe!

Eine andere mögliche Übetsetzung…

jetzt als Premiumkunde anmelden und bei jedem Einkauf bares Geld sparen.

Sign up now as a premium customer and save cash every time you shop!

(In English, if cash is “hard”, it’s almost always “cold hard”, but here it sounds a bit extreme. Ich weiß nicht warum.)

Dein Freund im Süden der
USA mit einem durch und
durch deutschen Nachnamen,

john bauman
(wir haben ein “n” verloren)
(Glaubst du, meine Vorfahren haben
Dinge gebaut oder auf einer Farm
gearbeitet? Niemand in meiner Familie
kennt die Antwort.)

johnnybna
johnnybna
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Nach der Pandemie komm bitte nach Nashville, besonders wenn du Country-Musik magst. Du kannst in meinem Haus bleiben und ich bringe dich zu allen interessanten Orten. Wenn du Elvis magst, können wir vier Stunden nach Westen nach Memphis fahren, um Graceland, Elvis’ Haus, zu besuchen. Es ist interessant zu sehen, wie jemand dekoriert, der keinen guten Geschmack hat und plötzlich viel Geld bekommt

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago

Die dritte Staffel von Dark ist endlich da! Ich habe ein paar Folgen gesehen und……………das hätte ich mir sparen können…. …….würde ich nicht sagen. Ich finde es super :)

save hard cash with every grocery shopping.

The #1 most common thing I hear is with every purchase. Or just plain old save money every time you buy groceries! I thought I didn’t watch many commercials, but suddenly my brain is full of options.

P.S. Did the interns do this week’s graphic? It’s pretty effective :)

vasilyec
vasilyec
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I wouldn’t say that hard cash means coins. Hard cash means just that :cash. While soft cash (never heard of this phrase) means other types of payment: credit cards, PayPal, etc. Exactly as ‘hard copy” means a paper copy of a document, while soft copy means the same document sent by email.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ich bin normalerweise auch ein bisschen skeptisch :) Ob sie die beste Serie aller Zeiten ist, nein, aber mir gefällt sie sehr gut. Die Geschichte ist stimmig und zum größten Teil spannend (nur ab und zu ein bisschen langatmig). Ist mMn einen Blick wert, wenn man Fan von Fantasy oder Science-Fiction ist, z.B. wenn dir Stranger Things gefällt.

Michael
Michael
2 years ago

here is an explanation re the origin of the two meanings. If one spares the consumption, then one saves. Savings provide the ability to expand future output–to prosper in the future.

Elsa
Elsa
2 years ago

Hi, Emanuel

Typos:
“I told my interns do some research” (I told my interns to do some research)
“Germans are world champion in savings” (Germans are world champions in savings)
“in case you#re wondering” (you’re wondering)
“there’s always great examples” (there are always great examples – picky correction, I know!)
She tells him to not bother” (She tells him not to bother – finicky again, but your wording sounds “komisch”)
“in sense not harming” (in the sense of not harming)
“are to big to really call” (are too big to really call)
“notion of growth was shifted toward” (notion of growth has shifted toward)

That’s all I have time for now, I’m swamped with work and will have to come back and reread the article to actually get the info and do the quiz! I’ll ask you any questions I may have later…

Best of luck with your PC – Ich drücke dir die Daumen!

Bis bald!

Elsa
Elsa
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Emanuel, I feel in NO way exploited and I don’t feel I have an obligation, so don’t worry :)
But correcting takes little time and I do it willingly! If I’m not busy I read the article slowly and carefully, make notes and do the quiz; otherwise, I put it on my mental list and do those later!

As for your question, the answer is nope, that would sound really weird. “The Germans are the world champions” is the correct version. If you want to refer to the Germans as a whole and use a singular, you’d need to say “Germany is the world champion”!

notpeanut
notpeanut
2 years ago

Thanks for the cool article, Emmanuel.

I took the quiz and it said the correct answer for “what’s verschonen?” was “a fancy synonym for ‘sparen'” rather than “‘to spare’ in the sense of not destroying life or property”. Is that right?

In other news, I always remember “sparen” because during the Gulf War (one of ’em, anyway) in a German newspaper I saw a photo of a protest with the prominent sign “make love not war”, which was translated in the caption as “Energie sparen statt Krieg”, which made me laugh.