Word of the Day – “die Zukunft”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will have a quick look at the meaning of:

die Zukunft (pron.: dee  tsoo-konft)

But actually… the meaning is not that interesting. Die Zukunft is the German word for the future and it is worth talking about it because there’s been quite a buzz about it. Here a quote I found in an article of Vanity Fair:

… and while Present is still around and accepted Past is totally last season.  Today, designers (who buy the really awesome Maybeline Products) all around the world agree that Future is up and coming and will be the next big thing.

Uhm… what an incredibly lame pun…. For shame Vanity Fair, for shame.
Anyway, so for when a German learner hears the word Zukunft he or she usually thinks “Yeah, whatever, I’ll never remember that… another really weird word for a time… just like those other 2… ”
Those other 2 are of course Vergangenheit and Gegenwart and they really look weird. At least when your language uses the Latin based system with present, past and future. And you ask yourself why… why did the Germans come up with these random words that seem to make no sense? But they actually do. And today we will find out why Zukunft does.

But before I want to do a little detour and explain where the word future comes from… you see, in Latin there are all kinds of tenses or modes. English does too. Watch.

  • I go, I went, I am going, I would have been going, I will have gone,  I had gone….

but in Latin, each of these had its own form of the verb. So in Latin it was more like this :

  • I go, I went, I gone, I gotilus, I golem, I gotiluminariumanus* ….
*Disclaimer: endings have been dramatized, may differ
 from actual endings

So… the Latin word futurus is actually one of those forms (here is the name: suppletive future participle) of the verb esse which is …. to be… and esse and to be are actually related (holla,  if you dig etymology and then click here).
So… the word was just a future form of the verb Latin verb for to be.

But what about the German word Zukunft? Where does that come from? Well, there is one information that will not only help you understand this word but also never forget it and others too… and that information is:

The word Kunft comes from kommen, which is to come. And the word zu can be translated as to so in a way Zukunft means nothing other than: to come.
Hehe.. so obvious and yet so hidden :).
The word kunft has been around for centuries as a stand alone noun for the verb kommen. There were many different ways to spell it (komst, kumst, kumft,…) and don’t ask me why it ended up being with an f… maybe to make it different from Kunst which comes from können (to be able to/to be capable of/ to can) and means art. Anyway, today Kunft is not used as a standalone word anymore… in sense of not at all. People wouldn’t even understand. However, it is part of a number of compound nouns which might be really familiar to you if you have ever been on a train station or an airport in Germany you have certainly seen Ankunft. So, based on what we’ve learned Ankunft must be related to ankommen. Ankommen means to arrive and Ankunft means… arrival… hey wow. Awesome.
Another word like this is die Auskunft…. this means basically Information but it used to mean the result or the yield and this is really not that far from to come out.
Then there is the word Herkunft… it means origin and it makes perfect sense. I’ll just say one sentence:

  • Wo kommst du her?
  • Where do you come from?

And there is the word Unterkunft which is basically a place to stay … like a hostel or a hut or a friends couch. And it comes from unterkommen as in “come under (some roof maybe)”
I’ll just list the others here with translations and leave it up to you to draw the connection…some are obvious, some are really not making much sense:

  • Einkünfte (plural) – income/earnings
  • Zusammenkunft – get together/meeting (somewhat dated)
  • Übereinkunft – agreement
  • Niederkunft – birth/accouchement

All right. So.. what was the German word for future, again? Right… the “to come”die Zukunft.
And now let’s look at some use cases. First, let’s compare in der Zukunft and in Zukunft. Both could be translated as in the future but they have slightly different meanings. In Zukunft basically starts now while in der Zukunft really means in the future as in “when cars can fly”.

  • In Zukunft passe ich besser auf.
  • From now on, I’ll pay more attention.
  • In der Zukunft leben vielleicht Menschen auf dem Mond.
  • There maybe people living on the moon in the future.

A third similar looking expression is in Zugluft….

  • In Zugluft kriegt man leicht eine Erkältung.
  • In draft/draught you can easily catch a cold.

but this has NOTHING to do with Zukunft and uh…. I….I don’t even know why I menti… just forget it. All right.
There is also an adjective for future … no I don’t mean futuristic. That would be just futuristisch. What I mean is zukünftig and it is translated to.. future.

  • Maries zukünftiger Ehemann heißt Thomas.
  • Marie’s future husband is called Thomas.

This can be also used as a word for time… then it is just another way to say in the future.

  • Wir bitte die Mieter, zukünftig darauf zu achten, die Tür zum Hof geschlossen zu halten.
  • We ask the tenants to pay attention from now on/in the future that the door to the courtyard is closed.

But zukünftig sounds rather formal and I’d say, don’t use it in spoken German. A shortened form of it is künftig, but also this one … well… leave it for the newspapers.
Oh…. speaking of newspapers….there is also a verb … zukunften.

  • In dem neuen Film von Ridley Scott zukunftet es sehr.
  • It “futures” /is very futury/is a lot of future in the new Ridley Scott movie.

Ok…. this is actually not a real word. But maybe some movie critic or theater critic or book critic has used it in a review in a newspaper somewhere… they do these things a lot in the so called “Feuilleton”. People will definitely understand what you mean by “Es zukunftet“. How can I be so sure? Well, there is a famous Christmas carol in which it says:

  • Es weihnachtet sehr.
  • I is christmassing a lot (lit.)

And everyone knows this so they know the pattern if you will ….so…. if someone comes up to you with a new phone that has all kinds of cool functions you could just say

  • “ohhhhh… mann mann mann, das zukunftet aber ganz schön…”

They will be sooooo impressed :).

All right. So we’re done here. This was our German word of the Day die Zukunft. It looks weird but it is actually just the old school translation of to come. If you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

… oh…. you’re still here… What?… Oh… ohhhh, you want to know how to use and build the German future tense?… Well…. don’t bother. We really honestly almost never use it. No future… we’re all punks.