Word of the Day – ” die Stimme”

stimme-german-pictureHelloooo-hoho-hoooo-hoho-hooooooooo ev’ryone,

and wellllllcome… to our German      WORD ofthe
You’re now probably all like “Hey, who’s that talented tenor on the German show?”. Well, that’s me and the reason I am singing is that, today, we’ll look at the meaning of

die Stimme


Or actually, we’ll look at the whole Stimme-family… like… Stimmung, stimmig and stimmen. We’ll not look at any of the prefix version of stimmen though because that would be too interesting.
Okay, I’m kidding, of course we’ll look at verstimmen, anstimmen, bestimmen, zustimmen and all the others as well. Sounds good? Cool.

So, Stimme means voice and while voice comes from, big yawn, Latin, no one knows where the word Stimme comes from and , as far as I know, it has no relatives in English.
Now, just like we can do a lot with our own Stimme, we can do a lot with the word. For example singing … and so it is no wonder that Stimme is used in the world of music.

  • Maria hat keine Ahnung von Musik aber sie hat eine schöne Singstimme. Thomas hingegen ist sehr musikalisch, aber er hat stimmliche Defizite.
  • Maria has no clue of music but she has a nice singing voice. Thomas on the other hand is very musical but he has voice-related deficits.
  • Ich stimme ein Lied an und ihr stimmt ein. (anstimmen, einstimmen)
  • I intone/begin a song and you join in.(only for singing)
  • Das ist ein vierstimmiger Satz.
  • This is a four-part movement. (A part of a piece of classical music for four voices or instruments)

Now,let’s suppose you’re with friends, hanging around, drinking PBR. You’re all kinda bored, so one of you is like “Hey, let’s play a Mozart quartet.”, and, because you’re all incredible hipsters, you’re like “Sure, why not.” So you all get out your instruments and you start playing but…. it sounds like a soundtrack to a creepy scene in a movie. Of course it’s not your fault. You’re all accomplished virtuosi, that’s not the point. The problem is that your instruments are not in tune. And what you need to do then is stimmen.

  • Ich stimme meine Gitarre.
  • I tune up my guitar.

Sure, this use might not be the most important one. If I want to tune my guitar, I just put the it on top of my IPad and have the tune-app do it for me (you can  buy this amazing app here). But this whole idea of getting into a certain tune is very very very very very very very important. Why so? Well… let’s find out.

The tune idea

coming from this tuning idea, the verb stimmen took on the meaning of to be right. You could think of it as to resonate or to sound right, jut stronger. If someone wants to agree with something you said, a very common way is to just say… stimmt.

  • “Wir sollten auf jeden Fall so früh wie möglich losfahren, wenn wir nicht im Stau stehen wollen.”
  • “We should definitely leave as early as possible if we want to avoid hitting traffic.”

And that brings us to a very common mistake… stimmen ONLY works with statements. Only those can can stimmen. Never a person.

  • You’re right.

You could say

  • Du hast Recht… or
  • (Das) stimmt (as in: whatever you just said)

but not

  • Du stimmstWRONG

This means nothing and I’m not even sure people would get that you’re trying to say. So… with this stimmen it’ll either be stimmt or stimmt nicht… or of course variations of that.

  • Das stimmt so nicht ganz.
  • That is not entirely correct like that.

But don’t underestimate the phrase… the little you can do with it, you can do a lot. People say “Hmmm stimmt” all the time, and oh by the way… it is also part of standard phrasing to give tips. Suppose you have to pay 8,50, then you’d just hand over a 10 and just say…

  • Stimmt so.

And as we’re at it… is it custom to tip in Germany? Yes, it is. It doesn’t have to be as much as in the States. Anything between 5 and 10% will do. But you cannot pay 153,- if your tap is 153,-…. including food. That is almost an insult. This happens far too often though, and so some countries gain a reputation over time… I am looking at you France, Spain and Sweden ;). Don’t complain about rude waitstaff…  people have had their dreams crushed too often.
All right.
Now, stimmen is by far not the only word that has this tuning-idea in it.
There is for instance the word die Unstimmigkeit, which means discrepancy or dissonance

  • Beim Meeting gab es einige Unstimmigkeiten wegen der Unstimmigkeiten im Jahresbericht.
  • At the meeting, there has been disagreement/friction as a result of the discrepancies in the annual report.

Oh, I got incredibly bored just now… phew… come back interest, come baaaaaaa… oh there you are. Good. At the core of Unstimmigkeit, there is stimmig, which we’ve seen earlier already as a voice counter of sorts.

  • Vielstimmig ist der Chor der “aber”-Sager.
  • Many-voiced is the choir of “but”-lers. (does that work for native speakers? :)

But stimmig can also mean harmonious, for instance for your furniture, or a fashion. Things go well together. They resonate with each other.

  • Deine Einrichtung ist zwar unkonventionell, aber irgendwie stimmig.
  • Your furniture is no doubt unconventional, yet it kind of makes sense together.

Next, let’s get to verbs with the tuning idea.

  • Meine Affaire will keine feste Beziehung. Kann ich sie irgendwie umstimmen?
  • My affair doesn’t want a fixed relationship. Is there a way to change her mind?
  • Wir stimmen unsere Aktivitäten aufeinander ab.
  • We coordinate our activities.
  • Ich stimme mich mit Wein auf meinen Frankreichurlaub ein.
  • I get myself in the right mood for my vacation to France with wine.

Those two are rather limited  in use. Especially umstimmen is NOT a general translation for change someones mindSo I’d recommend putting those on the passive pile . But there is one that is a little more useful… verstimmen. The ver-prefix adds the notion of wrong in this case so verstimmen would literally be to de-tune. A piano can be verstimmt (out of tune) but so can a person…

  • Nur verstimmt oder schon depressiv.
  • Just disgruntled or depressive. (would already make sense in that context or would it imply time? Native speakers, assemble….)

Oh… and my tummy

  • Ich habe eine Magenverstimmung.
  • I have a stomach upset.

And thus we have arrived at what is probably the most important word that is based on the whole tuning-idea: die Stimmung.

  • In der Bar ist immer gute Stimmung.
  • There is always a good vibe/atmosphere in the bar.
  • Nach der Niederlage ist die Stimmung in  der Mannschaft schlecht.
  • After the defeat, the spirit of the team is bad.
  • Ich bin nicht in der Stimmung für Kino.
  • I’m not in the mood for going to the movies.

Vibe probably best captures the whole resonance idea that is in it… but all the others are fine, too… it really depends on the sentence. It is kind of always about how well things fit together, how well they resonate. And there are always humans involved, either in creating or in feeling what is there. I mean, sure… there are uses like these:

  • Das ist ein sehr stimmungsvolles Bild.
  • That picture is full of atmosphere.

and there are millions of pictures of sunsets tagged with Abendstimmung. But a peaceful lake in a forest… that sure has a peaceful atmosphere but friedliche Stimmung? I don’t know. To me, that makes it  sound like there are people there.
As for mood, there is another German word which is more common for the basic good or bad mood that you can be in.

  • Ich habe gute/schlechte Laune.
  • I am in a good/ bad mood.

Saying Stimmung here would be rather unidiomatic but Laune is pretty much limited to just this phrasing. It wouldn’t work for bars or concerts or teams. And there are many compounds with Stimmung, like Stimmungsschwankung (mood swings), Stimmungsaufheller (mood elevator), Stimmungsbarometer (barometer of public opinion) or Stimmungskiller, which loosely translates to moaning the name of your ex at the wrong moment. Like… “ahhhhh Steph… oh…uhm…oops… I mean uhm… ”
Yeah… you’re in for some serious Unstimmigkeiten then.
By the way, know what else is a real Stimmungskiller in bed? Politics. And that’s what we’ll talk about next.

The vote idea

Besides our face and our body, our Stimme is the most important way … wait for it… voice our opinion. Even before democracy there have always been gathering of the eldest or of the tribal chiefs and people we speak up for or against something. And so it is no wonder that Stimme has taken of the meaning of vote.

  • “Ich werde alles besser machen.”
    “Klingt gut. Meine Stimme hast du.
  • “I’ll make everything better.”
    “Sounds good, you have my vote.”

And from that unfolds a whole family of words…

  • Meine besten Freunde und ich haben darüber abgestimmt, wohin wir in den Urlaub fahren. Ich habe für Schweden gestimmt, die anderen haben mich überstimmt und jetzt fahren wir an die Nordsee.
  • me and my best friends we voted on where to go on vacation. I voted for Sweden but they outvoted me and now we’re gonna go to the North Sea.

And there a many compounds with that idea… Stimmenmehrheit (majority of the vote), stimmberechtigt (entitled to vote),  Abstimmung (the vote) or one of my favorite German words… Stimmvieh. Stimmvieh (voting cattle) is used for people who do have the right to vote about something but they don’t really vote, they just follow directions and make it look like democracy. I believe, this term was used in English, too, but has kind of seen its best days. In German it is definitely used regularly in newspapers and it even gave birth to another word I really like… Klatschvieh … something both, dictatorships and TV depend on for a good show :).  (here’s an article about how badly TV stations treat their life audience)
Now, some of you are probably asking themselves “But what about wählen?”. Well, wählen is used in context of political elections but in parliament as well as daily life it means to chose and in the example above it wouldn’t work.

  • Wir haben gewählt, wohin wir in den Urlaub fahren.

This only tells us that you’ve made a choice between alternatives. But there is no actual voting implied.
Now, there are two quite important verbs that are not as closely related to voting but they do come from the same background of raising your voice for a cause. The first one is zustimmen (+ Dative) which means…. to agree.

  • Ich stimme dir zu.
  • I agree with you.
  • Mein Chef  hat meiner Gehaltserhöhung zugestimmt.
  • My boss has agreed to my raise.

As you can see, the grammar of both words is quite different, and the use is as well… at least to a degree.  Zustimmen is not as common in daily conversation as to agree is and often you’d either just say Stimmt! or you’d use a different phrasing.

  • “The weather sucks.”
    “I agree.
  • “Das Wetter ist zum Kotzen.”
  • Maria asked me to help her move into her new apartment and I agreed.
  • Maria hat mich gebeten ihr beim Umzug in ihre neue Wohnung zu helfen und ich hab’ ja gesagt.

But zustimmen (Zustimmung, zustimmend) is definitely a word you’ll come across regularly. Oh, by the way… a similar word is übereinstimmen. Yes, this is a word. It is also kind of to agree. But while in ZUstimmen I raise my for FOR a certain cause, in übereinstimmen, two voices are just in tune.

  • Ich stimme mit dir darin überein, dass wir unser Bad sauber machen sollten.
  • I am in agreement with you that we should clean our bathroom.
  • Die Frau stimmt mit der Beschreibung überein.
  • The woman fits the description.

Anyway, übereinstimmen isn’t that important so I’d say… passive pile.
And thus we get to the last word for today… bestimmen. It is the be-prefix at its best, meaning “to inflict voicing on something” and in essence it is just a stronger zustimmen, a bossy zustimmen. If a chief zustimmen to something he’s just like “Yeah, sound good.”. If he bestimmen it, then he’s like “THIS is how it’s done and the discussion is over”. Over time though, the word has softened a bit and today a good match is to determine… ranging from finding something out to making a decision.

  • Es ist meine Idee, also bestimme ich, wie wir es machen und wie nicht.
  • It is my idea, so I get to say how we do it and how we don’t do it.
  • Das GPS bestimmt meinen Standort.
  • The GPS determines my location.

And that brings us to bestimmt. In the last example, it was a verb but it can also be used as an  atchecktive or advurp.  Dictionaries translate it as certain(ly), definite(ly) and particular… but only part of that is correct. It does work in examples like this.

  • Gewürzexpertin Ginger-Marie erklärt, warum bestimmte Gewürze besonders gesund sind.
  • Spice expert Ginger-Marie explains, why certain spices are especially healthy.

But it doesn’t make sense as an adverb.

  • He’ll definitely come.
  • Er kommt bestimmtWRONG

If used to determine how likely something is, bestimmt is NOT certain. Sure, bestimmt is more than vielleicht ( maybe) but it leaves doubt. I would say that if I believe that someone is coming, not if I know that the person is on the way that very moment.

  • Er kommt bestimmt noch.
  • I’m sure, he’ll come (with doubt).
  • He’ll definitely come.
  • Er kommt auf jeden Fall. (no doubt)

All right. Do you have room for one more? Good.
The last word is die Bestimmung. Based on what we know about bestimmen it would make sense if it were determination… and it at some-boring-times, but it has a second meaning… a much more deeper, meaningfullerer meaning. Some people have found it, others are looking for it, some try to ignore it and others don’t care… that’s right.. Bestimmung also means
Candy Crush Saga… okay no, it means destiny or purpose

  • Ein Strandhaus ist eine Ziel, aber keine Bestimmung.
  • A beach house is a destination, not a destiny.

That was me trying to be deep. I think it’s not my destiny :D. Anyway, in a way destiny is like any other decision… only that it is divine. Like… when you were born, God, Allah, Gaia, Life or Gene or however you want to call it were just like “You shall be Batman.
You can grapple with that all you want, the higher being is just gonna be like
“I’ve made my decision. Now go reboot.”
Hey, wait! Not you,  computer… I  need to write an outro still. So… this is it for today. This was our German Word of the Day  die Stimme and the whole family. It means voice and our voice is  so important to us that it is no wonder that you ca… blah blah blah… recap shmecap. This is always puts me to sleep. Recaps just suck. I remember, in that bar, they would serve me a recapped beer once and that wasn’t pleasant. Like… no bubbles at all. Can’t say the same about the financial market… I mean 19 shitzillion dollars WhatsApp? That seems kind of too much for a flipping instant messeng… What? Oh… you scrolled down all the way to just read the recap? There will bestimmt be one next time ;).
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions about today’s words, or if you want to try out some example, go ahead and leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.


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