Word of the Day – “zwischen”

zwischendurch-pictureHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. And this time, we will have a look at the meaning of



Zwischen looks like the lovechild of wischen (to wipe) and zischen (to hiss) but it’s not. It is a preposition and it means between. The origin of both those words is the same … an old version of the word for 2… the German version is just… well, shhhh-er :). But we can do even shhhh-erer… just take the German imitation of birds noises… zwitschern. Imagine a German had invented Twitter… it would be called Zwitscher …”Hey follow me on Zwitscher“…
What? Where???
Zwitscher.. that’s German.. it is like ‘tsvittshair'”
“Oh… uh I.. I’ll check it out .” I doubt it would have been as successful. But back to our Word of the Day Zierfisch… uh I mean zwischen.
So zwischenmeans betweenand that works pretty much one to one…

So far so good. What makes zwischen interesting are the many words that are build with it. The most obvious one is certainly dazwischen. If you already have an idea of the da-words (check those out here) you probably know that it means between that. Since you usually need more items than one if you want to put stuff in between dazwischenalso means between those or in between

The next word is inzwischen and it looks like a direct translation of in between. However, it is not. Inzwischen is actually a time word… not super common but certainly one of the words that can really enrich your vocabulary. One translation is in the meantime or meanwhile.

However, German has other words to express the “parallel-ness” of events in time… derweil and währenddessenand those are the better choice for random things. Inzwischen sounds right in personal situations like the one in the example. But it has a second meaning and that is the more common one I would say. It is something like by now or since then.

So… it is still kind of in the meantime but in the meantime related to now and with a strong focus not on what happens but on the result… like… things happened in the meantime and so inzwischen(now) it is this or that way. It isn’t even really important what time span exactly… in the following example it is probably from the last meeting till now…

And here, we have no idea at all…

So.. sometimes inzwischen doesn’t really translate to a word but rather just transports the idea of change that has happened. That makes it quite handy in certain situations.

With inzwischen and a participle construction it is no problem to squeeze all that in front of the noun with the result that the German sentence is almost as short as the English one… what a success :).
All right.
The next word is also quite useful and it is also quite likely that you will see it if you spend time in Germany because marketing people love it… zwischendurch. What? Can a word that looks like your cat has walked across the keyboard really have any appeal? Like…

  • Ok… I need a claim… “Crunsh-crispies – Der Top Snack für zwisChenDur… hey damn cat… get off my computer…

But it does. You can find billion of ideas for Snacks für zwischendurch on Google( here...). So what is it with zwischendurch? Well, it is a word especially great for our multitasking society… zwischendurch means in between times or on the side. If you eat something zwischendurch, then it is not really a meal… it is the apple that makes you fat or the candy bar that keeps the doctor aw… hold on, something is wrong… meh anyway… if you do something zwischendurch you do it basically while you are actually doing something else or you make a quick break doing something else. Examples:

I hope that gives you an idea of zwischendurch. Now… there are 2 things I want to mention, firstly zwischendurch and inzwischen are NOT synonyms. Inzwischen focuses on a change of sorts and it is usually used to compare past to present. Zwischendurch on the other hand is more a description of how or when you do something… like “in between times” or on the side. I don’t really find a better way to put it so if I am not clear just ask me in a comment and I’ll try to explain it better. Anyway… the second thing we need to be clear about is that inzwischen, zwischendurch and dazwischen all have the same function in a sentence while the function of just zwischenis completely different. Zwischen is always completed by a thing or a person. The other words NEVER are… you cannot say

  • zwischendurch mein Arbeit
  • dazwischen dem Tisch

Zwischendurch and the others are full answers to the question when? or where? for dazwischen.

Okay… now let’s look at zwischen as a prefix. Okay… not really a prefix… more a part of a compound word. There is fair number of nouns that start with zwischen and it can add the idea of in between… a Zwischenruf is a shout in between… for instance during an opera (don’t do it) or a Zwischenraum is a very generic word for gap… it is space in between things. On a more abstract level zwischen can also add the idea of intermediate or not final... like… der Zwischenstop is not the final stop, das Zwischenergebnis is a result but not the final result, Zwischenmiete is a rental period but not a serious one and the … just a short term and so on.
Now… does this also work for verbs? Well, kind of … but the verb for Zwischenrufwould actually be dazwiscHenruFe… hey, hey will you get off here you damn feline or kiss your “tun(a)ight” good bye… … … … … … did I just do that pun?
Oh man, this is so bad… I think I have to stop for today… so… this was our Word of the Day zwischen. It is a really deformed version of zwei and it means between. Also it is part of quite a few nouns and the base for 2 quite handy time words… inzwischen and zwischendurch. And to give you one last example…

If you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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