Word of the Day – “merken”

namen merken

Hello everyone,

ad welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will have a look… actually a gaze at the meaning of:

merken

 

Merken is part of what I would call “The Everyday German Toolkit”.  And yet,  learners often overlook or ignore it because it doesn’t really have THE ONE word it translates to. It does have translations, of course, but each of them seems to have a better “default” translation in German.
For example, one of its translations is to remember, but most of you know to remember as erinnern.
Today, we’ll find out all about its meanings and when to use it and of course, we’ll also get to the difference between merken and bemerken (#inspiring).
Lots to talk about, so let’s jump right in.

For merken it makes sense to distinguish between the normal use and the reflexive use sich merken, because they each cover different ideas.
And we’ll start with the “normal” use.

merken

The core idea of the “bare” merken could be described as the process of becoming aware of something so it covers territory of to notice, to realize and to feel.
The devil is in the details, because merken has a specific vibe and doesn’t always work as a translation.
What’s important is that merken goes beyond pure sensory perception. There is a holistic or intuitive component to it and it usually takes some time. It’s not instant. Like… you feeling a stone in your shoe or noticing a chair in your room would NOT be merken.
As such, merken is not often used for simple things like a table or heat.  And it is NEVER for people. You cannot merken someone.
Instead, merken is for noticing a fact about reality. Like:

  • It is late.
  • Thomas is angry.
  • I need some rest.

All these are things you can merken. So from a grammatical angle we can say that merken works well, if the stuff we notice, realize or feel is a Subordinate Clause. By the way… do you know what the short word is for Subordinate Claus?
It’s Elf.
Get it? Get it? Santa Clause’s subordinates are elves.
“Please continue the explanation, Emanuel.”
Okay… I’m sorry.
Examples!

  • Ich merke, dass du schlechte Laune hast.
  • I sense/feel/notice that you are in a bad mood.
  • Ich habe nicht gemerkt, wie die Zeit vergangen ist.
  • I didn’t feel/notice the time passing.
  • Merkst du nicht, dass du mich gerade nervst?
  • Don’t you realize that you’re going on my nerves right now?

 

  • Am Anfang hat mir der Job Spaß gemacht, aber dann habe ich gemerkt, wie langweilig er ist.
  • In the beginning I enjoyed the job but then I realized how boring it was.

And of course, merken also works with pronouns that stand in for such a fact .

  • “Ich war bei meinem Vortrag super nervös.”
    “Echt. Das habe ich nicht gemerkt.”
  • “I was super nervous during my presentation.”
    “Really?! I didn’t notice that.”

Now, how about the following sentence?
Would that be a good translation for “I sensed your nervousness.” ?

  • Ich habe deine Nervosität gemerkt.

The answer is: not really. Yes, the message is pretty much the same as in the example with the presentation.
And some people might say it, but spüren or fühlen would be MUCH more idiomatic here, simply because we’re talking about a noun.
Here are the two versions back to back:

  • Ich habe deine Nervosität gemerkt.. nope
  • Ich habe gemerkt, dass du nervös bist.… yup

Merken sounds good with facts (things phrased with a verb). That’s a pretty good guideline.
But is it really enough?
Take this sentence:

  • I didn’t notice that you have a new hairdo.

We have a fact (“You have a new hair”), so we should be fine with merken, right?
Well, no… and the reason is that noticing a new hairdo is usually done purely by vision. There is no “intuitive” component. And ALSO, it is really quick. A new hairdo is nothing you gradually notice. You either see it, or you don’t. There’s isn’t really a process.
Using merken wouldn’t be outright wrong, but it’s not the best choice here.
We don’t have to stray far, though…

bemerken

Because such quick realizations are exactly what bemerken is for. It does work fine for things that we just suddenly see or hear and as such it does work for nouns and also for people.

  • Ich habe nicht bemerkt, dass der Kellner zu viel berechnet hat.
  • I didn’t notice that the waiter charged too much.
  • Als der Wanderer das Einhorn bemerkte, war es schon zu spät.
  • When the hiker noticed the unicorn, it was already too late.
  • “Hallo Maria.”
    “Oh… hi Thomas, ich hab dich gar nicht bemerkt.”
  • “Hi Maria.”
    “Oh… hi Thomas, I didn’t notice you.”

In the first example, we could also use merken without the message being too different, but in the other two examples, merken would sound wrong. Because we’re not having a side sentence but a thing instead.
So basically, there are two ways for us to think of the difference between merken and bemerken.
One is to remember that merken is somewhat slow and has an element of intuition, while bemerken is quick and can be just based on one of our senses.
And the other way is the pure grammar…. merken only sounds fine with facts while bemerken works for things and people.

The two do overlap a little bit here and there, but generally, they’re not interchangeable.
They do have one thing in common though, and that’s the fact that they both MUST have an object.
In English, you can say this:

  • Yeah, I noticed/realized.

This does NOT work in German, neither with merken nor with bemerken.

  • Ich habe gemerkt.

There has to be at least a reference there, a direct object, if you’re into grammar lingo.

Das habe ich gemerkt/bemerkt.

Cool.
We’ll practice the use of merken and bemerken a little in the quizz (once I have prepared it), but now let’s move on to sich merken and the other big idea of the verb. And that’s actually kind of what comes after noticing someone.

sich merken

We notice and realize all kinds of things throughout the day. And most of them are boring. But some of them, we might want to remember. And that’s when sich merken comes in, because that is about the idea of putting something into your memory.

  • Das muss ich mir merken.
  • I have to remember that (put it into my memory).

And this is the perfect time to bring up the origin of merken. Because merken is actually part of the family of to mark and there is one English phrase that really shows the connections:

  • Mark my words!
  • Merk dir meine Worte!

We want the other person to “notice” our words, and we want the person to memorize them, to make a “mark” for themselves. We don’t only have both core ideas of merken in here, we also have a logical reason why the self reference is Dative.

  • Ich merke mir
  • Du merkst dir...
  • Er merkt sich

It’s because we make a “note to self“, so we’re the indirect object, the receiver. And that role is typically expressed through Dative.
Cool.
So sich merken is to remember but ONLY in the sense of storing a memory, not for the recall later.  
 Time for examples:

  • Warum sollte ich mir das merken?
  • Why should I remember that?
  • Thomas kann sich keine Namen merken.
  • Thomas can’t memorize/store names in his brain. (lit.)
  • Thomas is bad with names./Thomas can’t remember names.
  • Ich muss mir dringend merken, wie man das macht.
  • I absolutely have to remember how to do that.
  • Merk dir das!
  • Remember that!/Don’t forget that!

And here it is back to back with sich erinnern, which is the “main” German option for to remember.

  • Oh, ich muss mich daran erinnern.
  • Oh, ich muss mir das merken.

Both are basically saying that I have to remember that, but the first one has the focus on the recall. Maybe I am in front of an ATM and I’ve entered my pin wrong two times already. Now I REALLY have to remember the correct one.
The second version on the other hand says that I feel a need to store something in memory that I learned, because I assume that I’ll need to recall it at some point.

Cool.
Now, we’re almost done for the day, but there are a few really cool related words to merken so let’s take a look at those before we wrap up.

Related Words

And we’ll start with the noun das Merkmal, which is the German word for feature…. a characteristic that allows you to notice something.

  • Sauberes Arbeiten ist ein Merkmal für einen guten Koch.
  • Clean work is a feature/sign of a good cook.

Next up, there’s the adverb merklich, which means noticably in the sense of being over a sort of threshold.

  • Am Meer ist es merklich kälter als in der Stadt.
  • At the sea it is noticably colder than in the city.

And then we have the adjective merkwürdig. Which sure looks like it carries the idea of being worth noting, being remarkable. And it used to mean that, but it doesn’t any more. Because merkwürdig has shifted the idea idea of strange. I mean… something that is strange is definitely something you’d note, so there’s at least some connection there.

  • Du bist heute merkwürdig still.
  • You are strangely/ remarkably quiet today.
  • I have no credit on my phone. That is strange.
  • Ich habe kein Guthaben auf dem Handy. Das ist merkwürdig.

The new German word for the idea of noteworthy is bemerkenswert. Though that leans more toward remarkable in the sense of something being great.

  • Es ist bemerkenswert, wie gut Maria in der kurzen Zeit Deutsch gelernt hat.
  • It’s remarkable how well Maria learned German is this short a time.

And the word remarkable conveniently ties right in with the next word: the noun die Bemerkung.
Because that’s the German word for the remark. Like… a short statement or comment on something.  You verbally make “a mark”, if that makes sense.

  • Thomas’ ironische Bemerkungen gehen mir auf die Nerven.
  • Thomas’ ironic remarks get on my nerves.

Actually, in books the verb bemerken is sometimes used in this sense of saying something. But that’s not a use for daily life.
And last but not least we have anmerken and die Anmerkung which are also about making remarks, but they are a little more constructive maybe. Like… an Anmerkung is trying to help, a Bemerkung is often a little… subversive.
I’m sure there are a few more flying around out there, but we’ve seen the important ones and I think we’ve done enough for today :).
So yeah, this was our look at the meaning of merken and sich merken and bemerken and I hope you got a bit of a sense of what they are and when to use which.
If you want to practice and recap you can take the little quiz I have prepared … well… once it’s finished… I’m working on it (October 2020).
And as usual, if you have any questions or remarks just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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Anonymous
Anonymous
3 months ago

Hi, love this article! It was a really fun and informative read. Dumb question , but in this sentence “du hörst ein rascheln und bemerkst dass sich hinter einem baum etwas bewegt”, we have an instance of bemerken + sich. But it doesn’t sound like the character who notices the rustling is storing the memory for later recall? Can anyone help with what is happening here?

Last edited 3 months ago by Anonymous
Sophie
Sophie
3 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Oooooohhhhh, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

tompegrum
tompegrum
2 years ago

Hey guys,
Love the website, you explain the language so well! You mentioned in this article that there are 5 ways to translate the verb to remember in German. What are the options besides errinern and merken?
Cheers,
Tom

tompegrum
tompegrum
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks for the quick and detailed reply! Can you use any of the other verbs for the imperative except vergessen nicht?

John
John
9 months ago
Reply to  tompegrum

You can certainly say “Denk an deinen Termin morgen!”. I can’t think of any way to use “noch wissen” in the imperative. (You can’t really do an imperative with “still” in English either.)

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

Hi Emanuel –

Großartiger Artikel! Ich habe den folgenden Satz gelesen:

Und auch das Brandenburger Tor haben sich die Besucher gemerkt.

Sie benutzen “sich merken” in der Vergangenheitsform. Ohne Kontext ist er vielleicht schwer zu übersetzen, aber so, wie er steht, würdest du ihn so übersetzen: Sie haben das Brandenburger Tor in Erinnerung behalten?

G man
G man
3 years ago

Great site but the forced humor is extremely cringy.

MichaelVG
MichaelVG
4 years ago

Amidst merken/bemerken/feststellen in the “realize” constellation, where would you put “sich klar werden”? E.g., “Mir wurde gerade klar, dass…”

MichaelVG
MichaelVG
4 years ago
Reply to  MichaelVG

I should add: I’ve heard that on TV, but I hear “ich hab gerade festgestellt” fairly often in person. Is the other one literally like saying “it became clear to me” in English? (IE, a big deal, kind of dramatic-sounding).

Aly
Aly
4 years ago

Hallöchen

A quick question.

Ich merke, dass du schlechte Laune hast.
I sense that you are in a bad mood.

is ok, but

Ich merke deinen Ärger.
I sense your anger

Is not?

I don’t understand,, are they not essentially saying the same thing? Also is a bad mood not subjective, is that really stating a fact….Maybe thats a bit philosophical but I have definitely had people ask me why I was in a bad mood, when I wasn’t at all (concentrating, tired etc)..

u1034bl@gmail.com
u1034bl@gmail.com
5 years ago

Hello! Thank you for writing a very helpful post!
I would like to ask the difference between ‘bemerken’ vs ‘anmerken’? I read about ‘anmerken’ means ‘to notice or to see something in someone’. It sounds similar to ‘bemerken’ to me because it seems like ‘anmerken’ is also ‘noticing something in a short time’?

Thank you again!

Stephen Pickahrdt
Stephen Pickahrdt
5 years ago

I think what is confusing for me regarding the first use of “merken” is that it’s range seems to have a different range than both “to notice” or “to realize” in English. Take this situation as an example.

You “notice” that a strange man walks into a bar, and as he gets closer, you “realize” that he is your father.

In this case, you wouldn’t say, you noticed that he is your father. It seems to me that realize in English can have a sense of change, an enlightenment or a surprise, but merken can have both (Am I correct?). I feel as though “to realize” in English most closely resembles “merken” in this sentence that you provided:

Am Anfang hat mir der Job Spaß gemacht, aber dann habe ich gemerkt, wie langweilig er ist.

There is a twist, maybe a surprise.

„Ich war gerade kurz bei Maria…“
„Oh Gott, die ist heute richtig gestresst…“ #
„Ja das habe ich gemerkt.“

To me, the English translation would be “to notice”. If you used “realize”, I would understand it as though they were counting on Maria to finish the project by to day, but it’s “dawning on them” that she is no state to complete the work on time.

Is my understanding that merken straddles both to notice and to realize in English?

Kreg
Kreg
5 years ago

Sie schreiben so gut und interessant, dass es toll waere, Ihr Schreiben auf Deutsch zu lessen.

siddhartha90
6 years ago

This is incredibly useful as always Mark. Keep up the good work!

Manu
Manu
7 years ago

WAW! Danke danke! I was a bit lost with merken but now I found myself ;)

So far I was using the verb “mich einprägen” for memorize and it worked but perhaps I should move to “mich merken”. Are both synonyms?

Thx!

berlingrabers
7 years ago

Muss mir alles hier merken, denn ich habe “merken” bestimmt sehr oft total falsch benutzt…

Kannst du “wahrnehmen” im Sinne von “notice” ein bisschen erklären? Handelt es sich eher um die Tatsache von “noticing” als um das Ereignis davon? Kann man etwas/jemanden langsam/plötzlich wahrnehmen oder ist es einfach so, dass man etw./jmdn. entweder wahrnimmt oder nicht? Ist “wahrnehmen” eher wissenschaftlich wie “feststellen” oder intuitiv wie “merken” oder keines von beiden?

Christian
Christian
7 years ago

Thanks, I was struggling to understand “merken and sich merken” and you’ve really helped.

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

Merken is a family name Also spelled Merkin.

Nathan
Nathan
8 years ago

Hallo! Danke für alles! Deine Blog ist sehr hilfreich!
I can’t get enough of these! I’m trying to learn German right now in College, but I get more out of 1 of your articles than I do 5 of my classes! lol
I think you have the “feeling-anger” and “sensing-anger” for English correct. Feel is more tangible, sensing is more intuitive. However, I would like to mention that both of those sentences sound weird in spoken English if only because of their implied context. I mean, if you realistically told someone “I feel/sense your anger” they’d probably respond with something like, “No shit Sherlock!”…. :D Also there’s a sort of creepy undertone in telling someone you sense their anger that is reserved mainly for Sith Lords. I’m sure you knew this already and were just using them as grammatical examples, I just couldn’t resist.

Again, thanks for the wonderful blogs, please keep them coming, they help so much!

Alex
Alex
8 years ago

Hi, I love your blogs, they really help me learn and distinguish words :) I just have one question: You say merken sich is the memorize type of remember, so if I wanted to say “Do you remember bla bla..” I should use erinnern? Also, what’s the difference between merken sich, erinnern and entsinnen?

Big Ern
Big Ern
9 years ago

So, is it even possible to say in German what is meant in English by “I just noticed you (there).”? Since merken is inapplicable, here are some candidates:

“Ich habe dich gerade bemerkt.”
“Mir fällt gerade auf, dass du da bist.”
“Mir fällt dich gerade auf.”

Any of these work?

Tobias
Tobias
9 years ago

How about this situation, minute 6:30:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOQ2PkMefnM

I’m pretty sure “Lily”, the girl coming out of the elevator, says “gemerkt” and not “bemerkt”. Wouldn’t “noticing/realizing” someone’s absence be done most likely visually and in a short time, in fact instantly? (either you are at work or you aren’t). Thank you.

Kraneh
Kraneh
9 years ago

Thanks a lot for this very helpful post! Could you please explain to us what the difference is between “erkennen” and “merken”/”bemerken”? “erkennen” is translated as “to realize” in English.

For instance, if you wanted to translate “I realized that I had left my wallet at home” could you in some cases use “erstellen” instead of “bemerken”? Or for “I realized that I was wasting my time”, could you use “erstellen” instead of “merken”?

Kraneh
Kraneh
9 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Got it :) Thank you for the explanation!

Oliver Neukum
6 years ago
Reply to  Kraneh

realize in English has two meanings

1. recognise the reality of X
2. make X real

erstellen can only translate the second meaning and then only rarely. For the second meaning you usually use “verwirklichen” or “umsetzen”

Bash
Bash
9 years ago

once again, a great interesting post! This blog really makes my day :D

Please keep it up! It’s because of people like you that I don’t give up on learning German!

Oh, and your English is excellent (better than most “Native” English speakers). Of course, anyone can poke around and find flaws in peoples’ English (so don’t let that discourage you).