German Word of the Day – “merken”

namen merkenHello 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 one hell of a word…. I don’t think that I would be taking much of a risk if I bet… 10 Cent that every German uses, hears or reads merken or one of its dairyta… diriv… devira… uh… its children at least 10 times a day. And yet, merken is often overlooked by many learners because whichever word it can translate to in English seems to have a better “default” translation in German… for example, merken is often a translation of to remember.But most of you know remember as erinnern… comprehensive dictionaries might list merken, too, but pshhhh… who cares for just some synonym.
However, merken is much more than that.  Merken is all over the place and is one of the most impote… important 200 verbs. I would even go as far as to say that it is more important than sein and haben combined… Hain which is the German word for grove … and if you don’t find that very convincing consider this: we even named our current chancellor after merken. And our chancellor is a pretty powerful and important person and I think she even has like really good connections to our government, too … so you see… merken is one hell of a word … hah, they have no idea yet that its grammar is an even bigger he… oh wait… did I write that last part out loud??? Oh crap, I will have to edit that out in post… get it ? … in POST.. like blog post.. What’s that? You want more plays on words? What? Oh you want to learn about merken and  NO plays on words anymore… oh… okay then, let’s start.

So… there are actually 2 merkens with totally different meanings and significantly different grammar… there is a “normal” merken and a reflexive or self-referential merken, a sich merken.

merken

Possible translations for the normal merken are to notice, to realize and to feel…  if I had to give a definition of it myself I’d say it is is the process of becoming or being aware of a fact with a focus on intuition and not so much logic or mere unimodal sensual perception… yap… let’s stick with the translations :).
Merken can mean all those words but the usage is a little tricky. Sometimes merken is really by far the best translation and in other seemingly similar situations it would sound pretty odd.
So let’s list some characteristics of merken  to really get a feeling for when to use it. First of, merken always takes some time. It is not an instant realization but a process.
Also, it tends to be a bit unclear in the modality of perception. If you notice something just with your eyes or your ears, merken is not a good choice.
With regards to the context we can say that merken is not often used for simple things like a table or heat and NEVER for persons. You cannot merken someone.
So what can you merken? Well… we could call it facts, maybe… so, things like

  • It is late.
  • Thomas is angry.

Grammatically speaking facts are information that needs to be phrased.. so you need a verb to state it. That means merken is probably a good translation for either of the above mentioned words (to realize, to feel, to notice, to sense) if a subordinate clause is involved. By the way… short word for Subordinate Claus is Elf … badumm tish…
Examples!

So…  in phrasing like these merken is by FAR the best choice. You should not use fühlen in any of the examples. Fühlen just is too connected to tactile perception on the one hand an to the soul on the other… merken is a little less involved… kind of like the 2 following sentences.

  • I feel your anger.    vs.     I sense your anger.  (please native speakers, let me know if I am mistaken here)

Now, would  merken be a good choice in these sentences? No,  because merken is used for facts, but here we just have a thing… the anger.

  • Ich merke deinen Ärger.

Technically, that is correct I guess but it sounds odd to me. Let’s rephrase it using and fact.

This is much much better.Let’s just look at a couple of more situation.

  • I noticed that you put on make up.

Is this something for merken? We do notice a fact here… you put on make up…. so based on that merken should be okay. Still it is not a good choice for 2 reasons. Firstly, I doesn’t take very long to notice that and secondly the noticing  is purely based on visuals. You might as well say „I see that you put on make up.“ There is nothing left to intuition here…

  • I sense that you put on make up today.

That would be weird. Like … a blind one could maybe say it to his friend because he hears the lipstick or he smells the fine perfume of the products or the grumpy waiter in the coffee shop they always  go to has been extra friendly… but I digress. So merken is not good here. Let’s try one more.

  • Marc didn’t notice Mary.

Is that a merken case? Super-No, clearly not because you cannot merken people, it is not a fact AND it is likely based on visual only AND  it was likely very quick. You can just check to insert a slowly in the examples. If it doesn’t work, then merken won’t either.

  • Marc slowly noticed Mary.

Now, let’s rephrase.

  • Marc noticed that Marie was there, too.

Here, merken would be okay because we have a fact, we can insert slowly and we’re not clear as to how he noticed it (see, hear, smell, clothes laying around,  clean kitchen… intuition).
So…. I really hope that helped you to get kind of grasp of how merken works. Here are some more examples that do work well with merken

One little note on grammar… merken ALWAYS needs an object or a sentence to explain what is being realized. In grammar jargon, we could say, merken is super-transitive… so it is not just sort-of-transitive like so many English verbs…

  • Yeah, I noticed.

There is no object here. It is just assumed that I noticed whatever has been said before. This doesn’t work in German. You can’t just say:

  • Ich habe gemerkt.

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

Alright, so to recap, merken is to somewhat slowly notice a fact (not a person or a thing) using senses and intuition.

sich merken

And now on to the second merken… the sich merken. Fortunately the meaning of that one a little easier grasp as it is basically to memorize. Now you may say „Pshhhh who needs that? I never use memorize so why should I remember that word in German?“
Well, you should remember that because that last sentence would actually be translated using sich merken. The thing is, English speakers use to remember a whole lot and it has a really broad meaning. Dictionaries suggest erinnern as a translation but that only covers one facet of remember… the actual recall.
There are about 5 different ways to remember is translated to German. I think I will do a post on that at some point but for now I’ll just say sich merken covers the memory part of to remember. When you say

  • Why should I remember that?

then you are not asking why you should recall that but why you should make an effort to keep it „recallable“ or simply to memorize it. This very question cannot be translated with erinnern… sich merken is what you need here.

Some more examples.

Now, I think most of you are not totally comfortable with the whole reflexivenonreflexivewhichpronounusedativeoraccusativecase-thing. So what’s up with the whole sich, mir, dir and how does a self reference make any sense with to memorize?
Well, a look at the etomylg..ngn..l.. the origin of merken will clarify a lot of things. Both merkens, this one and the one we already talked about, come from the Germanic mark, as in landmark or text marker. While the English to mark has a narrow meaning, the German merken has broadened incredibly but still… the relation is still visible sometimes.

This example also make sit understandable why there is a self reference in the German sentences… like I mark something for myself. I admit, it feels a bit redundant but this is how we say it in German… and because we have cases we don’t say for me but rather the case that expresses that idea… the dative.

Now, I can certainly mark something for someone else… like the typos for the student. So can I merken something for someone else? No, that does not work, because it is the combination between the self reference sich and merken that makes it to memorize.

  • Ich merke dir…WRONG

This is complete nonsense. There is no self-reference so it is NOT perceived as to memorize but as the first merken to sense or to notice… and you can not sense something to someone else…. like “Yo, I sense you some of my joy.”
So… to sum this one up… sich merken literally means to memorize but it is also a translation for to remember and we do use it as such a lot. No one would ever say

The crucial thing is the self reference in dative case. If that is missing, it does NOT mean to memorize anymore. People would understand the normal merken then and this can be incredibly confusing.

  • Ich merke deine Telefonnummer…. WRONG
  • I sense your phonenumber…    oh do you? So you’re psychic huh?

The best thing would be if you just learn it by sound. Don’t think too much about cases and reflexive… just say “Ich merke mir…” “Du merkst dir ... ” until it comes out automatically.

We are almost done for today but I wanted to give you 2 words that have merken in them. The first one is merklich is relating to the first meaning of merken so it shouldn’t be too surprising that a possible translation is noticable.  I am too laz.. have problems to come up with basic examples here so I would refer you to linguee (which is a great web site by the way). There you can see all kinds of translations but the core idea is always… stands out or can/has been marked.
Then there is the word merkwürdig, which  is an example for a word that comes from the memorize-merken. Würdig can mean either dignified or worthy. Here it means the latter so merkwürdig should logically be worth to remember or  remarkable… which again shows the origins of merken. Well, it certainly meant that once, but it has shifted and now it means strange. 

So it has narrowed down basically… strange things are sure worth remembering but not all things that ar wroth rembeergin aer sra.. uh you know what, I think it’s enough for today. I just can’t concentrate anymore :).
So… this was our German Word of the Day merken. It comes from the word to mark, it means to slowly notice a fact, and adding a self reference like myself changes the meaning to to memorize or to remember.
If you have any questions or suggestions, leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

for members :)

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Allison
Allison

Is there a difference between merken and bemerken? Is there a pattern between all of the non-separable prefixes that can help one decide what the word means (for example be-, ver- (verkaufen, verlieren, verleihen), er- (ertrunken), ent- (enkommen), emp- (empfangen), etc)?

Filipe
Filipe

Hey, dude. How are you?

Another good post, as always :)

I have a question, though: Can the first usage of merken be a synonym for feststellen?

Thanks!

maplebee
maplebee

For your first usage of merken, in your example “Marc slowly noticed Mary”, but “gradually” might be the more appropriate English word. “Slowly” isn’t totally incorrect here, but it gives more the impression of physical movement (I’m imagining this super slo-mo scene where Marc’s head turns around to notice Mary); whereas “gradually” would have more to do with his perception of his surroundings.

Does your advice “You can just check to insert a slowly in the examples” still work properly if it’s “You can just check to insert a gradually in the examples”?

robert
robert

Thanks! I think I’m getting the hang of the word now. What do you think of the following example? 1. When you merken something you “get the sense of something” in english. 2. Every person possesses their own invisible marker that they use to merken (don’t worry I will try to explain..). I like “to get the sense of something” over “to notice” or “to feel” or simply “to sense” because I think it might sum up the feeling of the word a bit better (or at least from what I understand to be the feeling of the word based on your WOTD). I’m also reasonably sure “to get the sense of something” stays true to all of your rules: 1. You cannot merken people. “Marc didn’t get the sense Mary” (doesn’t work) 2. Facts versus things. “I’m getting the sense of your anger” (still sounds wrong) versus “I’m getting the sense that you’re angry” (sounds better) 3. Merken doesn’t work when based purely on visuals aka something that you immediately notice. “I’m getting the sense that you put on make up today” (you wouldn’t say this in that kind of scenario either) 4. Merken always needs a reference. Now yes, using your example: „I just dropped by at Marias…“ „Oh god, she is like sooo stressed today…“ „Yeah, I noticed .“ the first person in the exchange could technically still reply “Yeah, I got the sense” instead of “yeah, I noticed” and still be understood. But it just doesn’t sound 100% correct (for me at least) unless you reply in full: “Yeah, I got the sense that she was”. I feel that just by default “to get the sense of something” already has the added effect or feeling of process to it, so therefore isn’t as immediate or simple sounding as to just notice or feel something. Also I think that you might be able to notice something slowly. I may be wrong about this and it might just be and example of bad english but the passage: “I was eating lunch when I slowly noticed Gemma. She had been standing there the whole time.” sounds okay to me. Now what about that invisible memory marker? You’ll need it when it comes to memorising things aka sich merken. You’re not “getting the sense of something” here, instead you’re actually marking yourself with your own invisible memory marker (hence the reflexive mich, sich etc) kind of in the same vein as writing a telephone number on your own hand so as not to forget it. So you’re marking yourself with your marker aka taking note. And by the way you DO NOT write on other people because frankly it’s just rude and everyone already has their own memory marker for when it comes to self writing. I think this marker example covers all of your points and rules about sich merken in a roundabout way (at least it is helping me to get my head around it), although I still… Read more »

Bash
Bash

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).

Kraneh
Kraneh

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”?

Oliver Neukum

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”

Tobias
Tobias

How about this situation, minute 6:30:

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.

Big Ern
Big Ern

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?

Alex
Alex

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?

Nathan
Nathan

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!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Merken is a family name Also spelled Merkin.

Christian
Christian

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

berlingrabers

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?

Manu
Manu

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!

siddhartha90

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

Kreg
Kreg

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

Stephen Pickahrdt
Stephen Pickahrdt

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?

u1034bl@gmail.com
u1034bl@gmail.com

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!

Aly
Aly

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)..

MichaelVG
MichaelVG

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

MichaelVG
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).