and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will have a look at the meaning of
Weiter is a really important and useful word as we’ll, see but it isn’t even really a word of its own. It is just the more-form of weit which is the brother of the English wide. But as close as those may seem, they have actually evolved into different directions. I mean, sure there is some common ground.
- Ich trage gerne weite Hosen.
- I like wearing wide pants.
- Das Fenster ist weit offen.
- The window is wide open.
But this is really limited to clothing and a few other niches and phrasings. English wide very much focuses on width and, for some random reason, German uses the word breit for that…. which is related to broad.
- Der Tisch ist 2 Meter breit.
- The table is 2 meters wide.
Weit on the other hand has two notions. One is a general size thing. That mainly shows in words that are based on weit.. like erweitern. We could use expand as a generic translation but it is used for all kind of things like businesses, houses, responsibilities, circles of friends, one’s horizon and so there are better,more idiomatic translation for all these different cases. English and its damn precision.
But anyway the word weit itself however mainly expresses distance. It is the prime translation for far… by it in a local or in an abstract sense.
- Wie weit ist es noch?
- How far is it still?
- Ich bin heute mit meiner Arbeit nicht sehr weit gekommen.
- I haven’t gotten very far with my work today.
- Ich werfe so weit ich kann.
- I throw as far as I can.
And oh my god,and speaking of so weit.
There is also soweit and many people, learners and German native speakers alike, don’t really know what the difference is.
There has been a reform of the German spelling rules a few years ago and since then, the rule is as follows: Only if soweit is used as a subordinating conjunction it is written as one word. In all other cases, it is writ… bah whatever. I don’t know what that subblahbla-thing is. But if it wasn’t for the jargon the rule would be pretty simple. The point is that the combination so weit has been used A LOT over the centuries and so finally it has become a functional word, an intro-word, just like dass or weil. A word that introduces a side sentence…
- Soweit ich weiß, weiß sie es.
- As far as I know, she knows.
And ONLY that is officially written as one word. All the other are supposed to be spelled as two words. The problem with this is that it defies “feeling”. So weit is often… super often used as ready
- “Kommst du Schatz?”
“Ich bin gleich so weit.”
Literally, that means that far or so far but it has taken on the meaning of ready.
- “Are you coming, honey?”
“I’ll be ready in a second./’m almost ready.”
And this feels very much like one word that has a meaning.
- Die Pizza ist gleich soweit.
- The pizza is about ready.
The rule tells us differently though
- “Ich bin gleich so weit.“
To me, this is odd. It makes me feel like asking “How far are you exactly?” because the so is extra here but it is not specified in any way. Like here…
- Ich bin gleich so weit, dass ich ein Pause machen kann.
Here, most people would agree to write it as two words because … well… because they are two words and the so is closer explained in the dass-sentence. But anyway, in practice, many people are like “Spelling, shmelling – I’ll do as I please.”So they write so weit when it should be soweit and they write soweit when it… you get the idea. Some don’t know the new rule, others simply don’t care because the old one made morerer sense. The rule is just a convention, anyway. It is not based one some meaning difference or something. Before the reform, we had a different rule and it worked just as poorly :). This one is very technical but it’s at least clear – only write it as one word if it is a functional word that introduces a side sentence – and by the way… that is also valid for other so-combinations like sofern and so fern, soviel and so viel, or so oft, sooft and sooooooooft… the last one is how they spelled it on my toilet paper…
But anyway…let’s get back to weiter now. The prime meaning of weit is far. Weiter is the more-form of that so it means farther… or further.
- Die Beispiele für weit stehen weiter oben.
- The examples for weit are further up on the page…. (is that correct English? Help please :))
- Berlin ist weiter weg von London als von Hamburg.
- Berlin is farther away from London than it is from Hamburg.
Be careful though… not every weiter is really this word. Sometimes it’s just weit with an ending.
- Von Berlin nach London ist es ein weiter Weg.
- From Berlin to London it is a long way.
Anyway… Weiter can also be used as a prefix with this further-meaning, mainly in combination with the word kommen.
- Ich bin nicht weitergekommen.
- I didn’t make progress.
I have not come further (lit.)
But the reason why we actually talk about this word is the other meaning it has… read weiter if you want to find out :)
weiter – continue
Now, weiter is probably one of the easiest prefixes of them all. Imagine some of our ancestors… some hunter gatherers. They’ve heard that somewhere, far beyond the mountains, there are new hunting grounds rife with deer and berries. They have been walking for weeks, but still they’re in stupid steppe …
“We gone far.”
“We not there.”
“What we do?”
“We go more far.”
“We go on .”
Continuing on your path… that is such an essential part of your life and it is no surprise that this phrasing is used for pretty much any form of continuation. You can go on reading or go on talking or go on Facebook… wait… I think the last one didn’t fit. Anyway… in English, if you continue verbing something you can say go on verbing it or verb it on. And in German you use the translation of further… you do it further… you verb weiter.
- Ich will weiterschlafen.
- I want to sleep on/keep on sleeping.
- Das Leben geht weiter.
- Life goes on.
- Lass mich weiterarbeiten!
- Let me continue working!
- Ich lese weiter.
- I read further.
- I continue/keep on/go on reading.
Now, there is one key difference between the way it is done in English and the German weiter. In English, if you want someone to continue you can just say
- Go on!
and leave out the actual verb if the context makes it clear. In German, you always have to add weiter to the specific verb. So if you want someone to continue telling a story, you’d say
- Erzähl weiter!
If you want him or her to continue doing the dishes you’d say
- Wasch weiter ab!
And if you want someone to continue marginalizing you’d say
- Marginalisier weiter!
And that brings us to a very interesting question… and again it has something to spelling. Because spelling is so interesting, you know.
Weiter can be used as a prefix and as a stand alone word, much like the English further, with the exact same effect.
- Ich will weiterschlafen.
- Ich will weiter schlafen.
The first sentence will have a strong emphasis on weiter… because it is a separable prefix and … you know… they stress you out, you stress them right back :).
In the second sentence the stronger emphasis is on schlafen. But apart from that, those two are the same.
- I want to continue sleeping.
I can not transfer the difference to English. I think it is really just the way it sounds.
Now, sometimes the version as a prefix doesn’t work.
First of, there are some verbs that do not work with the idea of continuing… for instance bleiben. It means to remain or to stay and that basically means to continue being. So weiterbleiben would be continue continue being. That’s nonsense.
Secondly, a verb that already has a separable prefix can’t take another.
- Ich will weiter zuhören.
- Ich will weiterzuhören… is wrong.
- I want to continue listening.
And similar to that, weiter doesn’t work as a prefix either if there is a strongly connected group of words.
- Ich will weiter Klavier spielen.
- I want to continue playing the piano.
The point is that you don’t want to continue just playing. The piano makes all the difference here.
- Ich will weiter Bücher lesen.
- I want to continue reading books.
This is the same. The activity is reading books. Not just reading. It changes when we get specific.
- Ich will weiter mein Buch lesen
- Ich will mein Buch weiterlesen.
This example is different because the fact that it is my book is not as defining for the activity. You want to continue reading and the book is just additional info. Maybe the person you say that to can even see you with your book. But anyway, the difference between those two sentences is extremely subtle. The second puts more focus on lesen while the first has a little emphasis on the book. But those are really nuances you need not worry about.
Now, you’re probably all a bit confused now. Don’t worry. Take as a general rule that the prefix version works if you’re talking specifics.. like… one specific point in time, one deed. The stand alone weiter on the other hand is for more general statements. And in some situations the only difference is spelling (and sometimes emphasis, but not always).
All right. So we’ve talked about when you cannot use the prefix version… but there are also cases where you cannot use the stand alone version. Or…you could but the prefix version is the safer bet because the stand alone version has a clash of meanings. Which meanings clash? The local one (farther) and the continuing one. And that happens with verbs that express that some distance is covered…
- Ich springe weiter.
This can mean two things… “I continue jumping”, that is the meaning we have been talking about the whole time. But springen also has something to do with distance… and weiter is just the more-form of weit. So the sentence can also mean “I jump farther”… maybe farther than John who jumps 3 meters. Now with that in mind… do you know the difference between the following sentences?
- Ich will weiterspringen.
- Ich will weiter springen.
I think you got it :). So…if there is a strictly local meaning possible, like… a meaning in sense of “covering a distance”, it matters. Weiter verben and weiterverben will not be the same then. For activities like philosophizing it doesn’t really matter and weiter, be it a prefix or not, always implies continuation. And since we’re philosophizing… what’s happens in the following case.
- Ich will weiterfahren
- Ich will weiter fahren.
The first one means to continue driving, the second one means to drive farther… one implies the other. They don’t mean the same but they mean the same. Hmmm… languages can be so fascinating.
They can also break our balls.
The other meaning of “weiter”
I said, that weiter, be it as a stand alone or as a prefix, adds the idea of continuation to pretty much any verb. That wasn’t the full truth. Because for some verbs, the idea of continuing the activity doesn’t make all that much sense. You see, if you want to continue doing something that activity needs to either either take a while OR be something you can do it repeatedly. Now what about
- I give you the book.
I wouldn’t really do that over and over. I give it once and we’re done. And it doesn’t take all that long either… unless we’re in slo-mo land of course.
“I will give the book to you, now.”
“I’m ready, go ahead.”
“I am currently giving it.”
“I’m getting it. Go on.”
“Continuing giving it to you, making good progress.”
“You’re doing great. Keep going.”
“Phew… can I take a break?”
“No breaks, you’re almost there. Come on, final sprint now.”
So… for many verbs that talk about transfer like geben or schicken or even sagen, the idea of continuation doesn’t really make sense.
But those can take weiter as a prefix too, only that it then shape-shifts into a prefix that expresses the passing on… I mean.. going on and passing on… they’re not that far after all :).
- Ich gebe den Wein weiter.
- I pass on the wine.
- Ich sage dir ein Geheimnis aber du darfst es nicht weitererzählen.
- I’ll tell you a secret but you mustn’t tell anyone. (“tell it on” – lit.)
But wait… wasn’t there an example earlier, that weitererzählen means to continue telling? There was. Oh.. what a relief. So both meanings of weiter actually do overlap. No day is complete without overlapping meanings…
- Ich will die Geschichte weitererzählen.
This can mean two things
- I want to continue telling the story.
- I want to tell the story to others.
And only the context tells the full story… forgive the pun.
So… sometimes, for some verbs, in some situations when continuation doesn’t make all that much sense, weiter as a prefix can switch and talk about the passing on aspect – from one person to the next. That’s why weitergeben translates to to pass on in the dictionary.
And if you start to find all this a little confusing… well… you might want to stop reading right here because all the neatly positioned pieces in your mind are about to be… blown around the room.
Of course we can also add continuation aspect onto verbs like geben or sagen if we want to. If we’re talking general…
- I want to continue giving.
So… how could we do that in German? We’d use weiter of course.But not the prefix one… the stand alone one.
- I want to continue saying the truth.
- Ich will weiter die Wahrheit sagen.
With sagen being one of those transfer verbs, that don’t really take all that long, the prefix version means the passing on.
- Ich will die Wahrheit weitersagen.
- I want to tell the truth to others.
So let me recap.
Weiter expresses the idea of continuing an action. We use it as a prefix or as a stand alone and if both is possible the prefix is for the specific situations while the stand alone is for the general statements UNLESS we’re dealing with verb like geben, then it’s the other way around and the prefix version is for specifics and then expresses the idea of passing on. And then we also have to factor in that there is a local meaning to weiter, but that c… und so weiter und so fort….
you know what… this isn’t really helping and I don’t want to weiter confuse you.
Have some useful bits of info instead.
common phrases with “weiter”
That last German sentence meant “and so on and so on” and the short version of und so weiter is usw.
A very common expression in German is
- Weiter so!
- Good job. Go on like that!
- Ein “Weiter so” kann es nicht geben.
- We can’t continue like that.
And there are a few other words with weiter in them that all carry the idea of more or continuation.
- Alles weitere erfahren Sie morgen.
- You will learn everything else/the rest tomorrow.
- Bis auf Weiteres bleibt diese Bar geschlossen.
- This bar will remain closed until further notice.
So that was our German Word pf the Day weiter. It literally means further and it can express continuation or the passing on of something … depending on verb and context. I’m sure it will be clear most of the time. The continuing idea is the most important one and whenever you want to say that you continue doing something… use it!!
- Ich verbe weiter.
- I continue verbing.
This is how we say it. Again… this is how we say it. You cannot say it differently without being super clunky.
And as far as the question prefix or stand alone is concerned… well, that isn’t something you should worry about too much. You know… the whole question of writing things as one word or separate… well… that is definitely the Achilles-Heel of German spelling. People do not know the rules, not because they’re stupid but simply because it is impossible to come up with concise and logical guidelines that feel right for all situations. Together, separate, words with benefits. The line is often blurry and it comes down to how you feel. And especially when you’re a beginner on the field of relationship, that might change on a day to day basi… I mean German language.
I’m out for today now. If you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment. Have a wonderful week all of you and I’ll see you next time.