Word of the Day – “ungefähr”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time with a quick look at the meaning of

ungefähr

 

And if you’ve been learning German for a while a part of you might have immediately sounded the prefix alert and been like
“Hmmm… that looks a LOT like gefähr with an un-prefix. So ungefähr just gotta be the opposite of gefähr.
But is that really what’s going on?
Let’s take a look :).

So, the word gefähr by itself doesn’t exist, but it is awfully similar to noun die Gefahr.  Which is the German word for danger.
Which by itself is also awfully similar to gefahren, which is the ge-form of the verb fahren, the German word for to drive.
Intuitively, that connection kind of makes sense. Driving can be dangerous and travelling, the older meaning of fahren, used to be fairly dangerous as well back in the day. And indeed, the two words fahren and Gefahr come from one origin – the super hyper mega unrealistically ancient Indo-European root *per. Those of you who have read my article on the ver-prefix might know it – the core idea of that root was a sense of venturing out, going forth and it might be one of the craziest roots out there. There are sooo many words based on that core idea in some way.
Anyway, fahren and English fare capture on the aspect of travelling. Gefahr on the other hand came from a branch that was about taking risk. That’s also where fear is from by the way. Gefahr and fear are pretty much brothers. Like… you could think of Gefahr as “gives fear” if you need a trick to remember it.

Anyway, so die Gefahr means danger …

  • Schnell, ich brauche meinen Morgenkaffee… meine gute Laune ist in Gefahr.
  • Quick,I need my morning coffee… my good mood is in danger.
  • Einhörner sind nur eine der vielen Gefahren im Zauberwald.
  • Unicorns are just one of the many dangers/threats in the magical forest.

… and the related words do get an umlaut…

  • Rauchen gefährdet ihre Gesundheit.
  • Smoking endangers your health.
  • Der Stunt sieht gefährlich aus, ist aber total ungefährlich.
  • The stunt looks dangerous, but it is completely safe.

And now we get back to ungefähr and I mean…. come on… that just has to be related. Ungefährlich is “non-dangerous”, so maybe ungefähr is variation of that. Yeah, a variation. Like… it carries an idea of non-threatening and in this example…

  • Die Fahrt dauert ungefähr eine Stunde.

… it basically expresses that one hour is not that big a problem. That’s got to be it right? RIGHT?
Well…

NO!

The actual meaning of ungefähr is (round) about, roughly or more generally, a sense of estimate.

  • Die Fahrt dauert ungefähr eine Stunde.
  • The journey takes about/roughly an hour.

But the idea of non-threatening is actually in there somewhere. Back a few centuries, ungefähr indeed was two words “ohne Gefahr” so it meant without danger. But then merchants and scholars and lawyers started adding that as a sort of disclaimer to statements that were estimates or approxomations and the idea was to kind of make it clear that a possible error was not with evil intent. Like… it was to avoid misunderstandings.

  • Das ist 1 Kilo Äpfel, ohn’ Gefahr.
  • That is one kilogram of apples – possible deviations are not meant to rip you off, I just made a mistake.

Basically, it was a way to avoid misunderstandings. Parallel to saying “No offense meant.” or even better… waving at someone. That most likely came from people showing each other that they’re holding no weapons.
Anyway, so  at first ungefähr was a disclaimer that you might have made a mistake and didn’t mean no harm, but soon it was very popular and took on the general sense of approximation and the connection to Gefahr got lost completely. I’m pretty sure 80% or even 90% of Germans have never even noticed the similarities. Like… if you have German friends and you want to make their brain hurt a little just ask them what ungefähr and ungefährlich have to do with each other.
You’re in for a serious round of “Äh… ähm… ähhhhh.”.
Anyway, here are some more examples.

  • Emanuels Praktikanten machen während ihres Pratikums ungefähr 300 Kaffee.
  • Emanuel’s interns make around/roughly 300 coffees over the course of their internship.
  • Weißt du ungefähr, wann du kommst?
  • Do you have an idea when you’ll come?
  • “Du hast also Marias Geburtstag vergessen, über ihre neuen Haare gelacht und mit ihrer besten Freundin geflirtet… und jetzt hat sie dich rausgeworfen?”
    So ungefähr, ja.”
  • “So you forgot Maria’s birthday, laughed at her new hair and flirted with her best friend… and now she kicked you out?”
    Sounds about right, yeah./Yeah, pretty much./More or less, yup.”
  • Ich habe eine ungefähre Vorstellung von dem Projekt
  • I have a vague idea of the project.
  • An apple a day – der Spruch kommt nicht von ungefähr. Äpfel sind supergesund. (fixed expression)
  • An apple a day – there’s a reason this saying exists. Apples are super healthy.

As you can see, it’s pretty broadly used and doesn’t always directly translate to round about or roughly. And that’s kind of also the main difference to the other possible translations circa and rund. Both pretty much only work in front of numbers, and rund doesn’t even work for times.

  • Ich habe circa um 3 Feierabend.
  • I’ll finish work at around 3.
    (rund wouldn’t work here)
  • Ein Bier in einer Bar in Norwegen kostet circa/rund 15 Dollar.
  • A beer in a bar in Norway costs around $15.

Oh and I almost forgot… there’s also in etwa which is somewhere between circa and ungefähr.

  • Ein Einhorn frisst pro Woche in etwa 10 Kilogramm Fleisch.
  • A unicorn eats around 10 Kilograms meat per week.
    (you can use both, circa and ungefähr here, as well)
  • Kannst du mir in etwa sagen, wann du kommst?
  • Can you give me an estimate, when you’ll be here?
    (you can’t really use circa here)

But overall, unbedingt is definitely the most common word and you sooo have t… oh wait… I… I mean ungefähr of course. Unbedingt is for another time.
So that’s it for today :). This was our little look at the meaning and the origin of ungefähr. Yes, it does relate to Gefahr, but the connection is really obscure and you need mind yoga level 10 to get it. Which means, if you understood the article, you have just unlocked mind yoga level 10 :). Hooray.
As usual, if you want to check how much you remember, you can take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
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.

** vocab **

ungefähr = roughly, approximately, around; vague (as an adjective, not very common)
circa = roughly, approximately, round about (only for numbers)
rund = round about, approximately (only numbers, and NOT time)
in etwa = roughly, round about, approximately (can express a more general sense of “vague”)

Das kommt nicht von ungefähr. = There’s a reason for it. (idiom)

die Gefahr = the danger, the threat
gefährlich = dangerous
ungefährlich = not dangerous, safe
die Gefährlichkeit = the level of danger
gefährden = to endanger

 

further reading:

German Prefixes Explained – “ver-“
Word of the Day – “etwa”

 

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Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago

1) Irgendwo.

In einem Haus.

Ein man sieht fern.

Die Sendung ,, Einhörner Gespräch.

Und das Thema des heutigen Folge(n?) ist ,,ungefahr”

Das Gespräch

E1 : Peter : Peter. Weißt du, dass ungefähr 70 Von Schulen nutzlos sind

E2 (peter) : Wann ungefahr wirst du aufhören, Quatsch zu sagen?

E1: Das kommt nicht von ungefähr. Leis den Aufsatz. Du kannst ihn auf die Website ,,Wahrheitzwiefellosha.de.net”

E2 : Die Website kann ,,Zweifellos” nicht buchstabieren. Wie kannst du ihr vetrauen?ich Schätze, es gibt kein Grenze für deine Dummheit. Ich muss dich töten.

E1: Eh…. Warum?

E2 : Du bist eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft. Dein Bestand(oder Deine Existenz) ist gefährlich.

E1 : Wie…Ich bin erst 12. …

E2 : Eine Kette ist nur so stark wie das schwächste Glied.

E1 : Dann du solltest auch sterben. Die Gefährlichkeit deines Verhaltens ist 10/10.

Wer weiß, wann du eine andere Person gefährden wirst. ( oder in Gefahr bringen anstatt ,,gefährden”)

E2 : Stimmit. Dann streben wir zusammen.

Die Ende.

2) Beitrag

Es gibt ,,Knapp” und ,,gut” auch.

ich denke, die Unterschiede sind

Ungefähr 30% = 28, 29, 30 30.3, 31, 32, etc

Knapp 30%= 28, 29, 29.8 30, etx

gut 30% = 31, 32, 32.2, etc

ich hoffe,dass du das verstehen kannst. Ansonsten muss ich auf english erklären.

3) Emfehlung

Vellicheht eine Folge Über Tiere

4) Ich habe es vergesst zu sagen, aber Die neue Gestaltung ist umwerfend

Flavia
Flavia
2 years ago

Super! Danke sehr für dieser toller Erklärung!

Dr.Rami
Dr.Rami
2 years ago

an amaizing article .. thanks and keep going

Burak Tilev
Burak Tilev
2 years ago

Sher Emmanuel, I möchte danken Ihnen für sher gute informationen als Kursus

pal7mentor
pal7mentor
2 years ago

you explained it much better

Madalena
Madalena
2 years ago

Vielen Dank für die Erklärung, es hat mir sehr geholfen. Ich lerne sehr gerne Deutsch und die Tatsache, dass ich die Aussprache hören kann, hilft auch sehr.

Bora
Bora
2 years ago

Hi guys, I have been living in Germany for the past 2 years and am finally getting more confident with the language, especially after discovering this site. Thank you guys for helping me out with the subscription and I am excited to get through as much material as I can :)

KenWard
KenWard
2 years ago

Hallo Emanuel. Ich mag dein intuitives Schreiben sehr. Könnten Sie bitte den Satz klarstellen: “…make their brain hurt a little just ask them what ungefähr and ungefährlich” Ich denke du hast ein paar Worte vergessen? Also, ist meine Grammatick ok?

Alison
Alison
2 years ago

I found this article very helpful. Many thanks Emmanuel

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago

Fascinating. And today I learned the two wavy lines are called an Ungefähr-Zeichen :)

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Oh, danke. Ich hab gegooglet und drei oder vier Worte gefunden. Ungefähr-Zeichen, Ungefähr-gleich-Zeichen, Gerundet-Zeichen, Rundungszeichen, und auch Doppel-Tilde. Eigentlich sind das fünf. Also ich war mir gar nicht sicher, welches man am meisten benutzt :)

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

“Kreidefelsen” should be “Kreidebergen”?? Or are you meaning chalk fields instead of “chalk mountains”

Jjj
Jjj
2 years ago

Gefahren is also the plural of gefahr

Mohd Shaeq
Mohd Shaeq
2 years ago

Zunächst dachte ich daran, auf diesen Artikel zu verzichten, da mir das Wort “ungefähr” bereits vertraut war. Aber nachdem ich die letzte Zeile von Herrn Schucharts E-Mail gelesen hatte, dachte ich, dass ich den Artikel lesen müsse, um die historischen und etymologischen Aspekte des Wortes zu erforschen. Nun, meine Entscheidung stellte sich als absolut richtig heraus!

MfG

Tomek
Tomek
2 years ago
Reply to  Mohd Shaeq

That’s a very cool lesson. I was actually wondering about the origin of the word. I enjoy other lessons a lot too.

Berke
Berke
2 years ago

Hallo Leute! Ich bin Berke und Ich versuche deutsch zu lernen.Danke für euch zu hilf mir

Elsa
Elsa
2 years ago

Hi, Emanuel, me again :)

I forgot I wanted to ask you something.
I find your glossary super-mega-useful :)
However, there’s no way to easily access it from the site (at least none that I’ve found)… The only way I manage to do it is to use the search facility, find the article and then follow the link. Maybe I’m doing this wrong and haven’t managed to find a direct link. What’s the best way to access the glossary?

Bis bald!

Elsa
Elsa
2 years ago
Reply to  Elsa

Duh!
I’ve just seen the link on the bar at the top!
Plz do ignore my silly question (I think I’m stressed….)

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  Elsa

I think it’s pretty new. I had the same question last week or so and ended up using the search bar. Just noticed the link now when you mentioned it.

dbayly
dbayly
2 years ago

You wrote in an example that unicorns eat meat.
<quote>
Ein Einhorn frisst pro Woche in etwa 10 Kilogramm Fleisch.
</unquote>

That seemed wrong to me, so I consulted my Internet oracle and found a definitive answer , which backs me up

https://unicornyard.com/what-do-unicorns-eat-and-drink/

I think it is very important not to promote fake news stories about mythical creatures! I will have to review the rest of the unicorn lore I have read on your blog I hope it isn’t as seriously flawed.

:-)

Zuckerbaby
Zuckerbaby
2 years ago
Reply to  dbayly

In Thurber’s short piece, the unicorn in the garden is eating a rose: gravely.

Elsa
Elsa
2 years ago

Hallo, hope you enjoyed your holiday, is life back to normal in Germany by now? I hope so, I want to go on holiday after the summer (whether to Germany or somewhere else), so I’m trying to figure out which countries are “normal” at the moment…

Typos, as usual:
“There are sooo many word based…” (There are sooo many words based…)
“indeedwas” (you forgot the space)
“just ask them what ungefähr and ungefährlich You’re in…” (just ask them what ungefähr and ungefährlich are/mean and you’re in…)
“Both pretty much only works…” (Both pretty much only work…)

Oh, and you used “didn’t mean no harm”, instead of the grammatically correct “didn’t mean any harm”. However, the expression you used is so colloquial and sounds so natural to a native speaker that it would be mean to correct it (I’m only doing it because probably other readers will point it out). To be honest, I’d leave it as it is!

Yay, I got all 6 questions right! Thanks for explaining the differences between ungefähr, circa, rund and in etwa. I’ve always had doubts about this. But what about “etwa” without the “in”? When do we use that in German?

Bis bald!

Vee
Vee
2 years ago
Reply to  Elsa

Probably one says “didn’t mean no harm” if your brain doesn’t work or you live in a hick state or you have little education but it is so very very very and I mean very wrong. Double negatives in an English sentence are just wrong and it sounds like someone scratching fingernails on a blackboard. Please don’t do that again, please please! That said, I love your blog.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

It sounds pretty ironic just thrown in – definitely like dialect. I think it feels a bit odd coming from a non-native speaker, a little bit like if I as an American did the thing where some Germans always turn past tense into pluperfect (“ich war gestern im Kino gewesen” etc.).

It’s improper grammatically, for sure; you wouldn’t want to use it in a job interview or whatever. But Vee’s reaction is really over-the-top. I thought it was just funny.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I thought it fit and sounded….comfortably native. What fun are words if you can’t play with them a little? :)

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Emanuel: The double negative “ain’t got no” and similar things are generally considered a sign of a poorer education. In America it is more common in rural and poorer areas. It does seem to be in more common usage among African-Americans but is not limited to this group. I agree with Vee that it is just plain wrong, sounds wrong, and we were taught in school that it is not ever used. Larry

BillLever
BillLever
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

In English, use of the double negative is excitingly dangerous.

Avoiding the double negative is a mark of education.

Book-smart people avoid it unless they are 1) lowering their speech to the level of people who do use double negatives or 2) making fun of them.

“Ain’t” is exactly the same level of 1) humor or 2) “own goal”.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) was the original smart American able to get away with this as humor.

YouTube is a lot of fun, but sometimes the inmates are running the assylum….

Rachelevans3@hotmail.co.uk
Rachelevans3@hotmail.co.uk
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

It’s your blog – if you like to be colloquial, fine with me! Makes everything entertaining and engaging. I think you’ve got a great handle on both British and American vernacular….would that it were the same for me with German. Your etymological approach helps me to remember stuff….if I can make a connection, I can remember. Da iawn a diolch yn fawr (Welsh).

Marissa
Marissa
2 years ago

Ups! Du hast den Artikel über etwa verlinkt… ich habe ihn gerade gesehen und gelesen. Meine Frage ist jetzt, ist es in Ordnung, wenn ich ‘in etwa’ hier durch ‘etwa’ ersetzen? Danke. :)

Marissa
Marissa
2 years ago

Danke für die tolle Geschichte. Ich habe noch nie von “in etwa” gehört, aber doch von “etwa”. Haben sie eine ähnliche Bedeutung?

Giselle
Giselle
2 years ago

Lately I was feeling less motivated when I was taking Deutschunterrichte because I was feeling it so difficult, but this article made it so easy. Thank u :)