Word of the Day – “wahr”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: July 19, 2023

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
And today we’ll answer the question of what is true.
Because today, we’ll look at the family of

wahr

Some of you probably already know it – wahr is the German word for true.
And even with Cirque-du-Soleil-levels of mind contortion, it’s hard to imagine that those two are related.
And yet, they are!!

The origins of “wahr” and “true”

Nah… I’m just kidding.
They’re NOT related.
But there are quite some surprises in the two families, so if you like to bor…. I mean entertain other people at parties with etymological trivia, this is a gold mine.

True is related to the family of trust and the German trauen and they all go back to the low-key ancient Indo-European root deru which was about the idea of hard, firm. That’s also where the word tree comes from, by the way. And also Druid, who is someone who gets wisdom and truth from trees… like… a  “tree-wit”, if you will ;).

Anyway, the German wahr of course also comes from good old Indo-European but the origin is the root *u̯ēr-, which was about the idea of trust, believe. This root is also the origin of the Slavic words for trusting and believing, like for example the Bulgarian words вярвам (“vjarvam” – to believe) and доверявам (“doverjavam” – to trust).
I find it interesting that the sense of truth grew out from the idea of believing. Kind of fits well in our current times and will even more so in the coming years with all the AI generated pictures and videos. The trend will be that wahr is based on what people BELIEVE to be wahr.
Language is a great example for how these dynamics can change society. Like… you can have the believe that Tisch is in reality das Tisch and calling it der Tisch is because of communism, or the deep state, or patriarchy or whatever you like. And everyone will tell you that it’s not true that it’s das Tisch, BUT if enough people join, then at some point das Tisch will be normalized and  maybe even become the norm.
But I digress.
The Latin branch of the family of *uer- with the word verus (true) at the core brought us words like verify or verdict, which is literally “true-speak”.
But the most surprising English relative of all of them is probably very.
Yup… very literally means “truly“.
And if you think about it… it actually kind of looks similar to wahr.

But anyway, enough with the origins  – let’s look at wahr in practice.

“wahr” and the crew in action

And we’ll start with examples for wahr itself.

  • Mit ZweiBier© wird dein Traum vom Deutschsprechen endlich wahr.
  • With TwoBeers© your dream of speaking German will finally come true.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Das war zu schön um wahr zu sein.
  • That was too good to be true.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Die Magierin der Eichhörnchen hat ihre wahre Macht noch nicht gezeigt.
  • The sorceress of the squirrels hasn’t shown her true power yet.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Nur Bares ist Wahres.
  • Cash is king.
    (lit.: “Only cash is real stuff.”)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Maria hat gesagt, dass ich zugenommen habe. So eine Frechheit!”
    “Naja, da ist was Wahres dran.”
  • “Maria said that I have gained weight. The brazenness/cheek!”
    “Well… there is a bit of truth in there.
    (lit.: “something true”)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

As you can see, that’s pretty straightforward.
But there are two differences we should note.
The first one is that wahr is NOT true in the sense of being true to someone or true to your word.
The German word for that is treu.
Wahr is purely about reality.
And the other difference is with regards to this common English phrasing

  • That’s true.

This CAN be translated with wahr

  • Das ist wahr.

… but by far the more common way to express this is using the verb stimmen.

  • That is true.
  • Das stimmt.

wahr is not wrong here, but it sounds maybe a bit fancy or “big” for mundane everyday contexts.

Anyway, all in all, wahr is pretty straight forward to use and the same goes for its noun die Wahrheit.
Which is the truth. Or also the reality sometimes.

  • “Du hast mein Bier getrunken, oder? Sag mir die Wahrheit!”
    “Viele Wahrheiten es gibt, junger Padawan.”
  • “You drank my beer, didn’t you? Tell me the truth!
    “Many truths there are, young Padawan.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Auch wenn sie niedlich aussehen – Einhörner sind in Wahrheit boshafte Fleischfresser und ein Fluch für jeden Wald.
  • Even though they look cute –  in reality, unicorns are vicious carnivores and a bane of any forest.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Der Präsident hat bewusst die Unwahrheit gesagt.
  • The president purposefully lied.
    Lit.: “The president consciously said the un-truth.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

 

And there are several other relatives that revolve around the meaning of true, and I think you could get all of them from context pretty much.

  • “Ich sehe Teller, viele Teller”, sagt die Wahrsagerin zu Thomas.
  • “I see plates, many plates.”, the fortune teller tells Thomas.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Das war wahrlich ein langweiliger Film.
  • That truly was a boring movie.
    (“wahrlichsounds a bit theatrical)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Mit Ihrer Unterschrift bestätigen Sie, dass Sie alle Fragen wahrheitsgemäß beantwortet haben.
  • By signing/with your signature you confirm that you’ve answered all questions truthfully.
    lit.: “according to truth”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

The only one that might not be that obvious is wahrscheinlich. Which is arguably also the most important one, because it’s the German word for probably.
Do you have an idea how the meaning makes sense :)?
Scheinen by itself (we’ve talked about it in a separate article) can mean to shine but also to seem.  So taken literally wahrscheinlich means “true-seem-ly“. Or “seems to be true”. Now, that totally could go in a direction of deceiving but in the case of wahrscheinlich, it’s really just about that something looks like it’s the case and that’s really not all that far from the idea of probably… both are “approximating” something.
Oh man, that last paragraph sounded really complicated :D. I hope you’re not too confused now.
If you are, just ignore it. I think if I come back to this in like a year, it’ll probably not make sense to me either.
But anyway, let’s  do a couple of examples for wahrscheinlich.

  • “Warum ist Thomas so sauer?”
    Wahrscheinlich weil Maria gesagt hat, dass er zugenommen hat.”
  • “Why is Thomas so angry?”
    Probably because Maria said that he gained weight.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Wie wahrscheinlich ist es, im Zauberwald von einem Einhorn beleidigt zu werden. ”
    “Sehr, du Opfer!”
  • “How likely is it /what is the probability to be insulted by a unicorn in the magical forest. ”
    “Very, you moron!”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And let’s also do a couple for its counterpart unwahrscheinlich. Which can mean improbable, but it’s also sometimes used as an intensifier.

  • “Wird deine Suppe lecker?”
    “Das ist unwahrscheinlich.
  • “Will your soup be tasty?”
    “That is unlikely/improbable.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Das war unwahrscheinlich teuer.
  • That is incredibly expensive.
    (this use is not super common, but does occur)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And then, there’s also the noun die Wahrscheinlichkeit (the probability). 

  • Die Wahrscheinlichkeit, solche Deutsch-Beispiele ohne zu spucken auszusprechen, ist nicht sehr hoch.
  • The probability of saying such examples of German without spitting is not very high.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

… and some some really long and fun compounds like die Wahrscheinlichkeitsrechnung or die Wahrscheinlichkeitsdichtefunktion (probability density function) which secured me an ABSOLUTELY EPIC win at Scrabble recently.
In case you’re wondering… German Scrabble has a six feet board and you’re using 42 letters at a time.

Nah… That was unwahr, of course :). German scrabble doesn’t look any differently.
What’s wahr though is that there are plenty more cool words with wahr in German, and the sad truth about those is… that we’ll look at them next time. And by next I mean some other time.

The thing is,  there are actually quite a few more related words, especially verbs in that family and they’re kind of all over the place, in terms of meaning. And while writing I felt like things were getting more and more disjointed. So I decided to give the words today the space they deserve because they’re really important.
So yeah, short but sweet for this week :).
As always, if you want to recap what we did, 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, have a great week and see you next time!

 

**  vocab **

wahr = true
unwahr = untrue
wahrlich = truly (rare)

die Wahrheit = the truth
die Halbwahrheit = the half truth
die Unwahrheit = the non-truth
wahrheitsgemäß = according to truth

wahrscheinlich = probably, probably
unwahrscheinlich = unlikely; incredibly (not too common)
die Wahrscheinlichkeit = the probability 

die Wahrscheinlichkeitsrechnung = probability calculus

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