Word of the Day – “werden”

werden-pictureHello everyone,

and welcome to our German word of the Day. Summer is over. Finally!
It is autumn. Or as I liked to call it Awesotumn.
Days are getting short and it is getting cold and rainy. Which is something we all like.
But there’s another great aspect of autumn
This poem by Goehte captures it perfectly**:

Colds will be caught,
Jackets will be worn,
Sheep will be shorn.
German will be taught.

(**might not actually be by Goethe)

Fall is awesome and it is the season in which we tackle the BIG things. No more humpdy dumpty like in summer.
Fall is the time to step up the game. It’s simple math:   fall + game = stepped up.
And for my enginneeer out there:   f ( fall ) = stepped up (game).
And for my computer science people out there:
if (season==fall)
{while (game<stepped_up)
{game++;}
}  

Yeah… if you’re new here on this site, you’re probably pretty confused now. But the exanations are usually pretty good.
And today, we’ll talk about something that really could use a good exanation. We’ll take a look at the meanings and functions of 

werden


And there’s actually three of them.  First of, werden is the German word for to become.
But it’s also used as a helper to build the future tense. And as if that wasn’t enough, it’s also used to build the passive voice.
In this article, we’ll of course look at the grammar a bit. But our main focus will be exploring WHY German uses werden for those three things.
Like… why does it mean to become and what happened to the German bekommen?  Why does German use werden for future? And why do we use it for passive when so many other languages use to be? 
So… are you ready to dive in? Coooooool.

“werden” and “bekommen”

So, we already mentioned, that werden is the German word for to become.
And for many learners, that raises the question, what about bekommen? So let’s talk about that first.
Obviously, become and bekommen are brothers. But the translation of bekommen is to receive. Something clearly went wrong there. I mean, the translations clearly have nothing to do with one another.
Or do they?
When we look a little closer, we’ll find that the idea of receiving and the one of becoming are actually that crazy a pair. In fact, English has a word that expresses both: to get.

  • I got an e-mail…. you receive something
  • I got tired…. you become tired.

What those two share is an underlying notion of reaching. The only difference is the direction. The email reaches you.. you receive it. You reach the state of tired.. then you become. But in both instances, you and something move “toward” each other until you “meet”.
Back in the old Indo-European language, this phenomenon of bidirectional verbs was quite common. And there are still some verbs like this around. We already mentioned to get, which can mean to obtain, but also to become and even to reach places (get home). But there’s also to make. You can make a salad or you can make a bus. Same sentence structure, just a different object. And boom, the meanings are completely different. When you make a salad, you “bring” the salad toward you. When you make the bus, you move toward the bus.
Now, the ancestor of to become/bekommen is the Germanic *bikweman, and that used to be bidirectional verbs, too. But then, this happened…

“Fellow English men, we have this word bikweman
and it means two things… that is confusing. Let’s pick one.”

“Yay!”
“Which one should we pick then.”
“We have to get for to receive..”
To get kicks ASS… best word ever.”
“But we also have weorðan for the other mea…”
“Whatever. weorðan sucks anyway. Let’s use bikweman instead.”
“Okay…so from now on bikweman shall be our new word
for
 weorðan.”
“I have a question… can we use to get for that too? Pleeeaase???”
“Uhg… fine.”

Shortly after that, in Germany…

“Fellow Germans. We have this bikweman and it means two
things. Brits just picked one. Let’s pick one, too.”

“Jaaaa.”
Brits picked to become. Should we do the same?”
“No way! We’ll look like weak copycats!!
“And we have werden and werden is awesome… best word ever. WE can NOT replace that.”
“So, the from now on we shall use bekommen only for to receive.”

“Hooray!

Well… not really sure if that’s how it went down. I wasn’t there at the time because I was on vacation.
Anyway, so both languages used their version of to become for different things, and to us now they seem completely different.
And while English git rid of its version of werden, German kept it and uses it as to become to this day.
Time for example…

Now, English actually has a whole bunch of words for the idea of development. But they are all translated with werden.

So, whenever the core is self development or changing from one state to another state…  werden is probably the word you need because the concept is the very core of that verb. But where did it actually get that idea? Where does the verb actually come from?
Well, let’s find out. Because that’ll be the key to the other uses of the verb. 

The origin of “werden”

Werden comes from the implausably ancient Indo-European a root that meant to turn, to wind. Looks like a rather specific activity… but man oh man… there are a LOT of words coming from that root.
Here are some examples from English…

  • vortex, work,to wind, vertical, warp, versus,
    worth, 
    ergonomic or worm

and in German we can find even more

  • Wert (worth, value), wirken(have an effect, seem), werfen (throw),
    werden
    Wand (wall), wenden (turn), winden (to wind)

    Windel (diaper), Werft (shipyard) and many many more…

When I first read that in the draft that my interns gave me… uhm … I mean during my research of course, I was really really surprised. Like… how? What does work have to do with turning or bending, for example?
But they all make sense, once you bend your mind a bit. The connection between Wand (wall) for instance is related to winding because back in the days you’d “weave” your walls and fences from bast fibers or straw. And that is also how work ties in there. Originally, working referred to the act construct stuff by weaving. Or take the German werfen (to throw). That makes sense as soon as you realize that is is simply a description of your arm movement… you turn your arm in a way.

And what about werden? Well, it is actually not that big of a distance either. If you want to become something you kind of have to turn/bend your life in that direction. In fact, the verb to turn is actually often used in a sense of evolving. 

  • In fall the leaves turn red and yellow.

We could also use to become here. To turn is used with that exact meaning.  And that is exactly what happened with werden. The only difference is that werden lost all connection to bending and turning while to turn still has it.

Cool.
So now that we know what werden means and where it comes from, let’s look at its other two function and see if those uses actually make sense.

werden – the future

In English, there are a couple of ways to express that something is in the future. But the main one is using the verb will. German, especially in spoken, doesn’t always bother with the future, but when it does, then it uses werden.

Now, that’s kind of weird. German and English are really close when it comes to helper verbs usually. So why would they use different words to build the future, to begin with? The answer to that is that …oh wait… Steve, my producer, wants something… … … what?… I….. I don’t understand, what do you mean “out of time?!”…  … but… but… I can’t just stop here. We just started intensive-season man! How intensive is it to just stop right when we got going… ….. oh… … … oh yeah? well tell the network executives to go hang themselves off a cliff if that is so cool… … … … fine.

So guys… as it seems we have to stop here, because the network thinks the show is “too long”. I know it sucks but so does Kanye West.
That didn’t even make sense.
So… if you have any questions about werden so far or you want to complain about the sudden stop, just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

0%
186

Test yourself on werden!

1 / 5

What three functions does the word “werden” have? (multiple answers)

2 / 5

Which of the following statements is true?

3 / 5

How would  you translate “Maria is going crazy.”

 

4 / 5

The sentence “Thomas becomes/turns 20 in December. “ in German is:

5 / 5

The sentence “Maria is getting tired.” translates to:

 

Your score is

0%

If you’re curious you continue with part two right away here:

  .

for members :)

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yz
yz

Thanks very much for the efforts you exert to make us understand the Deutschesprache which sometime in the past ( es hat gesheint vollig unlogisch zu sein) appears as if it is completely unlogical language
thanks again
and may I ask you to recommend to me some resources about the german lanaguage in order to understand its prefixes and the nuances of meaning between many verbs that means one verb in the english language

looking forward to seeing part 2 of the verb werden
thanks again and in advance
your sincerely

From Casinos to Castles

So glad I found your blog! I think you will give me some of the missing puzzle pieces I have to learning German!

Andrew
Andrew

Hi Emanuel,

I was just wondering if you knew why the conjugation of werden changed from the more regular “werden wirst ward geworfen”, like the verbs helfen and werfen, to changing the simple past to “wurde” which is irregular? I thought it was interesting cos people seem to like to form verbs by analogy to other verbs (like when people use bring brang and brung in English). :)

iyz
iyz

hi
stimme means voice or sound
and the be- prefix with a verb means to inflict something on another something
so bestimmen means to inflict sound on something as I understood from your be- article
how on earth could bestimmen means to accertain or to be right as in ( Das bestimmt= That’s right)
please explain
and thanks in advance

Adriano Marcato
Adriano Marcato

I don’t know if the exposed chronology is right, but if “werden” came to be used for future, what would they use before? something like “will” or maybe the portuguese future conjugation?

Adriano Marcato
Adriano Marcato

ok, it was already answered in part 2, sorry

André Rhine-Davis
André Rhine-Davis

“Sarah wird diesen November 24.”
Is “diesen November” in the accusative case? That’s the only way I can see it fitting with “diesen”, but I don’t see how that makes any sense :S

Also, as a noun and adjective, Old English “weorþ” does still exist, as English “worth” (c.f. German Wert/wert). The verb “weorðan” survived into Middle English as “to worth”, and although it is effectively dead and gone now, there are still some archaic frozen phrases that apparently still exist (although I’ve never personally heard anyone say them) such as “Woe worth the day” (with “worth” in the present subjunctive and “the day” in the dative) i.e. “may woe happen to the day”.

“For, adds our erudite Friend, the Saxon weorthan equivalent to the German werden, means to grow, to become; traces of which old vocable are still found in the North-country dialects, as, ‘What is word of him?’ meaning ‘What is become of him?’ and the like. Nay we in modern English still say, ‘Woe worth the hour.’ {Woe befall the hour}”
– Thomas Carlyle, “Past and Present” (1843)

berlingrabers

There’s also English “worship,” which didn’t originally mean “anbeten/Anbetung” but was a noun meaning “honor/dignity/renown.” That’s why some officials still have “worshipful” or “Your Worship” as titles; classically it just meant “honorable.” I guess the “wer-/were-” in “werewolf” comes from that “turn” root too? And “weird.” Would make sense.

Apparently “went” as past tense for “go” actually came from “wenden”/”wend”; somehow “go” poached the past tense from “wend,” which still exists, usually to describe a river (“The Mississippi wends its way through the heart of the North American continent…”) but now, I’m fairly sure, has “wended” as its past form.

Also, yet another fun use for “get” can be found in Genesis (1. Mose) 4:1 in the good ol’ King James translation. (Hope my HTML works right…)

“Get” really is the best verb of all the verbs.

berlingrabers

Yeah, I think “go/went” and “be/was” are the only examples in English. I learned about “went” in Greek class – there are a few more of those in Greek (at least New Testament Koine Greek). The verb for “carry” is “phero” but its past (aorist, if that means anything to you) form is “ēnengka,” obviously from another older verb.

I guess that “get” in Genesis probably is basically “receive/acquire,” though as I recall the verb it translates (“qanah,” presented as the etymology for the son’s name, Cain or in Hebrew “Qayin”) can either mean “get” in that normal sense, usually applied to livestock or slaves, or “create” (some more contemporary translations reflect the latter meaning). Luther translated it with “gewinnen.” But then there’s also “beget” with the reproductive meaning…

Anonymous
Anonymous

Can you please simplify this, without all the stories at the beginning? Just present the structures, and let’s get on with it!

hybrid00eyes

Great explanation. Loved the imaginary dialog!

Nabil
Nabil

Hello there, just asking if there is a meaning for the structure ,, werde gesollt,, and the structure ,, werde sollen,,

Soooooo thankful to you.

erina
erina

Hello, i have below two sentences and want to know the difference between the two. Which one is correct when and when its used ?

Ich wurde Arztin. und Ich bin arztin geworden.

Pax
Pax

Hallo, Emmanuel.
Meine Frage betrifft nicht das Hauptthema, sondern einen Beispielsatz und zwar: “Maria erklärt, warum sie Vegetarierin wurde.”
Nach meinem Verständniss (oder nach dem, was jeder Deutschlehrer sagt) braucht man vor “Vegetarierin” einen Artikel. Neulich habe ich jedoch einen ähnlichen Satz gehört (“Er ist Gast hier”), also auch ohne Artikel. Deshalb meine Frage: Was mit der eisernen Regel, dass man vor zälbaren Nomen einen Artikel braucht? Gibt es mindestens eine Daumenregel, die lässt beim Sprechen auf den Artikel verzichten?