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
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
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 brush “mir 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.
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?
Cool. And now let’s also say what Maria is having.
Now, let’s say you’re at home in the kitchen and you tell your roommate that you’re taking a beer.
And let’s do that again and make it a cold beer :).
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.
And let’s bring in something new…
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.
And again a bit longer.
And again, in third person
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.
Hot damn… that was quite a long German sentence you just made!
And now let’s go right on with 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)
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.
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.
Let’s also do one in third person.
And let’s do a couple of side sentences.
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…
Another one (or is it ;))
And the same in past tense
And another round… this time, with the quirk ;)
- Did you take a cookie?
And a longer one…
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.
Your friend, much to your surprise is taking ein kleines Bier (a small beer). So let’s inquire…
And now, the same but in past tense…
And let’s do a couple more with “the quirk”
And one last one that might come in handy if you live in a shared apartment.
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.