Using “nehmen” – The ultimate speaking guide

Hello everyone

and welcome to a new episode of our practical guide series.
In this series, we take one important verb at a time and go through the IMPORTANT structures that you’ll need in daily life.
And not just in theory, but … by actually speaking.
Yes, it’s speech recognition AI time again, so warm up your jaw :)
The verb we’ll look at today is

nehmen

Which means to take, so it’s definitely an absolute must have.
But not only that. Because of a certain quirk of German, it’s also really  great practice for some Dative pronouns, especially mir, dir and sich.

So are you ready to jump in?
Then let’s go.

nehmen is one of those verbs that have a little stem change in present tense for the du-form and the third person singular (er/sie/es).
Go ahead, give it a try…

  • ich nehme
  • du nimmst
  • er/sie/nimmt

ich nehme, du nimmst, er nimmt
ich nehme, du nimmst, er nimmt

hint

My version:


If we want to use nehmen idiomatically, though, we need to talk about a little quirk of it.

A slightly quirky phrasing

Take this simple sentence:

  • I take a beer.

The most logical translation of this is of course

  • Ich nehme ein Bier.

This is technically correct, but it sounds more like you’re talking about taking in the sense of choosing or buying. Like… you’re at a bar contemplating what to drink and then you decide to go for a beer.

But if you want to talk about going to the kitchen and taking a beer from the fridge, then German really, and I mean R.E.A.L.L.Y , likes to add in a self reference in Dative.

  • Ich nehme mir ein Bier.

Literally, this translates to “I am taking this book to/for myself.” and in a way, this phrasing mirrors the structure of to give.

  • I am giving something (direct object) to someone (indirect object).
  • I am taking something (direct object) to myself (indirect object).

Of course, there’s no logical need for “to myself” to be there.
But German really likes it and it’s actually kind of part of a broader trend in German, where German uses mir/dir-phrasings for personal phrasings, where we’re kind of the “benefactor” of something, for better or worse.

Instead of “washing my hands”, in German I wash mir die Hände” (the hands to myself).
Instead of “brushing my teeth”, in German, I brushmir die Zähne” (myself the teeth)
Instead of “being cold”, in German it “ist mir kalt” (is cold to me).
And my personal favorite… instead of “dropping a glass”, in German the glass “fällt mir runter” (drops down to me.)

In daily life, you’ll see a lot of little self referential mirs and dirs that don’t really need to be there if you translate them to English.
And nehmen uses them as well, if you’re the “benefactor” of the taking.
That does NOT mean that you ALWAYS need to use this self reference.

  • Ich nehme Maria in den Arm.
  • I take Maria into the arms/in my arms.
  • Thomas nimmt den Kindersitz aus dem Auto.
  • Thomas takes the baby seat out of the car.
  • Ich nehme den Bus.
  • I take the bus.

Here, we DON’T use mir, because the focus is not on taking to directly using. Like… I don’t take Maria “for myself“, and I’m not taking the bus “for myself“.
Now, I’m sure many of you are a bit anxious right now about getting this distinction right, especially if you’re a beginner.
But please don’t worry too much about it. You’ll be understood either way and you’ll get a feeling for it over time.
Today, we’ll focus a little more on the uses that DO need this idiomatic self reference. I think it makes more sense this way around, because then you just have to drop it whenever you don’t need it, instead of putting something in that you’re not really used to.
So yeah… we’ll do a few without the mir-dir-stuff, but most examples will need it.
And with that, let’s get actually rolling and make some idiomatic sentences.

Present Tense

Let’s start really simple. You’re at a bar and you decide that you’ll go for a beer.
How do you tell that to the bartender?

I’ll take a beer”
Ich nehme ein Bier.

hint

My version:


Cool. And now let’s also say what Maria is having.

Maria takes a red wine.”
Maria nimmt einen Rotwein.

hint

My version:


Great.
Now, let’s say you’re at home in the kitchen and you tell your roommate that you’re taking a beer.

I’ll take a beer.
Ich nehme mir ein Bier.

hint

My version:


And let’s do that again and make it a cold beer :).

“I take a beer from the fridge.” (… aus dem Kühlschrank).
Ich nehme mir ein Bier aus dem Kühlschrank.

hint

My version:


Great.
Now, let’s do the same, but in third person.
And there, the self reference is always sich, no matter what the gender is or whether it is Accusative or Dative.

Thomas takes a beer out of the fridge.
Thomas nimmt sich ein Bier aus dem Kühlschrank.

hint

My version:

And let’s bring in something new…

Maria takes a day off. (einen Tag frei)”
Maria nimmt sich einen Tag frei.

hint

My version:


Perfect!

Now let’s do some with modal verbs.
Which means that the nehmen now goes to… any ideas… exactly, to the end :).
The self references stay in position, though.

You can take a beer.
Du kannst dir ein Bier nehmen.

hint

My version:


And again a bit longer.

You can take a beer from the balcony. (vom Balkon)”
Du kannst dir ein Bier vom Balkon nehmen.

hint

My version:


And again, in third person

Maria wants to take a day off.”
Maria will sich einen Tag frei nehmen.

hint

My version:


And now, the boss battle for present tense… a side sentence :).
So now the modal verb goes to the end as well, but the rest stays in place.

I know that Maria wants to take a day off.” (Ich weiß, dass… .)
Ich weiß, dass Maria sich einen Tag frei nehmen will.

hint

My version:

“Thomas says that I can take a beer from the fridge.”
Thomas sagt, dass ich mir ein Bier aus dem Kühlschrank nehmen kann.

hint

My version:

Hot damn… that was quite a long German sentence you just made!
Good job!
And now let’s go right on with past tense.

 

Past Tense

The past tense for nehmen is pretty simple. You pretty much only need the spoken past, it goes with haben, and the ge-form is genommen.

  • Maria hat heute den Bus genommen.
  • Maria took the bus today.

And now it’s your turn… don’t forget the self reference ;).

  • I took a beer. (at home)

I took a beer.
Ich habe mir ein Bier genommen.

hint

My version:


Perfect.
Let’s do that again, but now, let’s also add in some time information.

There’s a couple of options to place it, so let do both of them.
First, let’s add it in front of the beer.

I took a beer from the fridge yesterday.
Ich habe mir gestern ein Bier aus dem Kühlschrank genommen.

hint

My version:


And now, let’s put the time in front.
Which of course means that we have to move the ich BEHIND the verb, because the verb stays where it is.

“Yesterday, I took a beer from the fridge.”
Gestern habe ich mir ein Bier aus dem Kühlschrank genommen.

hint

My version:


Let’s also do one in third person.

Maria has taken a week off.”
Maria hat sich eine Woche frei genommen.

hint

My version:


And let’s do a couple of side sentences.

Thomas is sad because I took a day off.” (Thomas ist traurig, weil…)
Thomas ist traurig, weil ich mir einen Tag frei genommen habe.

hint

My version:

I know that you took a beer from the fridge.” (Ich weiß, dass… )”
Ich weiß, dass du dir ein Bier aus dem Kühlschrank genommen hast.

hint

My version:


All right.
As far as statements go, we’ve covered the basics, but of course there is one important type of phrasing missing… the questions.

Yes or no – Questions

Let’s start with the yes-or-no questions.
And here, German is much more consistent …

  • Ich nehme den Bus?
    Nehme ich den Bus?
  • Du hast den Bus genommen.
    Hast du den Bus genommen?
  • Maria kann die U-Bahn nehmen.
    Kann Maria die U-Bahn nehmen?

Whatever the verb in position two in the statement, it’ll just go to position one and boom… question achieved :).
And also, German doesn’t really use a future tense in daily life, so multiple English variants of a question will essentially be the same thing in German.

Are you going to take a day off?
Will you take a day off?
Do you take a day off?

All these translate to the same sentence.

  • Nimmst du dir einen Tag frei?

So it’s actually better to NOT translate from English, and make the sentence up from scratch in German instead.
Are you ready?
Then let’s give it a try…

Is Thomas taking the bus?
Nimmt Thomas den Bus?

hint

My version:


Another one  (or is it ;))

Will Maria also take the bus?” (auch)
Nimmt Maria auch den Bus?

hint

My version:


And the same in past tense

Did Thomas take the metro?” (die U-Bahn)
Hat Thomas die U-Bahn genommen?

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My version:

Did you also take the metro?
Hast du auch die U-Bahn genommen?

hint

My version:


Cool.
And another round… this time, with the quirk ;)

  • Did you take a cookie?

Did you take a cookie?” (einen Cookie)
Hast du dir einen Cookie genommen?

hint

My version:


And a longer one…

Did you take one of my beers yesterday?” (eins von meinen Bieren)
Hast du dir gestern eins von meinen Bieren genommen?

hint

My version:


Perfect.
And, to wrap it up, let’s do a few questions with question words.

Questions with Question Words

And all we have to do here is add the question word to the beginning of the yes-or-no question.

  • Nimmst du den Zug?
    (Do you take the train?)
    (Are you taking the train?)
    (Are you going to take the train?)

    (Will go take the train?)
  • Warum nimmst du den Zug?
    (Why do you take the train?)
    (Why are you taking the train?)
    (…)

 

So let’s give it a try, first with asking our friend at the bar what they’ll take/have.

What are you taking/having?”
Was nimmst du?

hint

My version:

Your friend, much to your surprise is taking ein kleines Bier (a small beer). So let’s inquire…

Why are you taking a small beer?” (warum)
Warum nimmst du ein kleines Bier?

hint

My version:

And now, the same but in past tense…

“Why did you take a small beer?”
Warum hast du ein kleines Bier genommen?

hint

My version:

And let’s do a couple more with “the quirk”

How many cookies did you take?” (wie viele)
Wie viele Cookies hast du dir genommen?

hint

My version:

And one last one that might come in handy if you live in a shared apartment.

Why did you take a beer from the fridge without asking?” (… ohne zu fragen ein Bier…)
Warum hast du dir ohne zu fragen ein Bier aus dem Kühlschrank genommen?

hint

My version:

All right!
Now, of course there’s more we could practice but we definitely covered all the basics you’ll need.
And remember… the idea of this exercise is that you come back to it a few times, until you can make all the sentences without thinking.
Oh, one quick note before we wrap up.

Watch out for this!

There are a few uses of English to take that are NOT shared by German nehmen.
The most important one of them is to take in the sense of needing/requiring.

  • This takes a lot of effort.
  • It takes a lot of time.
  • The waiter takes half an hour to bring the bill.

Nehmen does NOT work in sentences like these and it would actually sound fairly confusing. The proper translation depends on the context. The most common ones are dauern and brauchen but that’s beyond the scope of this exercise. Just know that nehmen does NOT work for this kind of taking.

And we should also mention  that “taking a course” is also NOT translated with nehmen but instead with machen.

Ich mache einen Deutschkurs.

And that’s it for today.
As always, if you have any questions about any of this, just let me know in the comments, and I’ll try to clear it up.
And don’t forget to come back to the exercise and do it again after a few days, because…

Repetition is the mother of skill.

Have a great week and I’ll see you next time.

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