Word of the Day – “schade”

Hello everyone,

and welcome  to our German Word of the Day. This time, we’ll take a  look at



A really really cool word which might actually be the key to intuitively knowing the gender of like ANY German noun right when you see it.
And it’s also a great word to express disappointment.
Hmmm… I feel like I know where this is going.
But let’s jump right in and find out…

Let’s start our little tour with the noun der Schaden. The origin is the “not as ancient as Indo-European roots but still pretty ancient” Germanic root *skath- which was about the idea of hurting, damaging and which also pretty reveals the English side of the family… to scathe. But while scathe is pretty rare nowadays and only seen as unscathed (unharmed) , the noun der Schaden is the German word for a damage or defect.
Here is is as a stand alone…

  • Der Sturm hat große Schäden verursacht.
  • The thunderstorm has caused major damage.
  • Wer kommt für den Schaden auf?
  • Who is paying/compensating for the damage?
  • Hast du’n Schaden oder was? (colloquial, quite serious sounding)
  • Do you have mental problems, or what?

And here are a couple of common compounds…

  • Nach dem Skandalinterview bemüht sich der Präsident um Schadensbegrenzung.
  • After the scandalous interview, the president is looking to do damage control (lit.: damage limiting).
  • Der Autohersteller muss den Kunden Schadenersatz zahlen.
  • The car manufacturer has to pay the customers “compensation for damages”.
    (help, what’s the proper English word here? The dictionary offers several option… danke)

And of course we have to mention the word that has made it into all  “Top X Non-translatable German Words English should import”-lists ever.
Literally, it means harm-joy, damage-joy and it is the joy you experience about someone else’s misery. Sounds really awful, but I think everyone is guilty of it. Even Jesus!!
Like… I remember that one time, when Mattheus fell off the mule right after calling Jesus a Hippie. Jesus kept snickering the whole day. Anyway, examples…

  • Hilfe, mein Chef hat sich im Meeting eingepullert und ich habe Schadenfreude empfunden. Bin ich ein schlechter Mensch?
  • Help, my boss wet his pants in the meeting and I felt joy for his misery. Am I a bad person?
  • Schadenfroh erzählt Maria ihrer Freundin von Thomas’ TedTalk -Disaster.
  • Gloating, Maria tells her friend about Thomas’ TedTalk disaster.

So this is the noun der Schaden. And that’s exactly what schade was in the beginning… this noun. Well, without the n.
One way people would use it back then was to express that something sucks. Just like in English we say

  • ( It’s a) pity that….

they would say

  • Es ist ein Schade, dass… (not idiomatic anymore)
  • Lit.: It’s a damage that…

And by the way, French does the exact same they. There you say

  • “C’est dommage que…. “

Now, I don’t want to say that Germans like to whine, but Germans like to whine. And they used the phrasing so frequently that it got shortened and eventually schade lost all its noun-ness and turned into the word it is today… a marker that you think something is a pity.

  • Das Wetter war nicht so gut, das war ein bisschen schade.
  • The weather wasn’t that great, that was a bit of downside.
  • “Die Party war lustig, aber es gab viel zu wenig zu essen.”
    “Ja, Thomas findet es schade, Essen wegzuschmeißen. Deshalb macht er immer voll wenig.”
  • “The party was fun but there was by far not enough to eat.”(lit: much too little)
    “Yeah, Thomas finds it a pity to throw food away. So he always makes really small amounts.”
  • “Krieg ich noch einen Espresso?”
    “Nee, sorry, die Kaffeemaschine ist schon aus.”
  • “Can I still get an espresso?”
    “No sorry, the coffee machine is already off.”
    “Too bad/what a pity.”
  • “Du, ich glaub ich schaff’s nicht, zu deiner Party kommen.”
    “Echt nich’?! Oh wie schade.”
  • “Hey, I think I won’t make it to your party.”
    “Really?! Aww man, that’s sad/too bad.”
  • “Nein.” sagte Anastasia.
    Christian blickte sie an.
    “Schade.” sagte er. “Schaaade. Schade schade schade. Wirklich echt schade. Schade schade schade. schade…..”

That last one is an excerpt from a short story I’m working on, by the way.
It’s called 5000 Schades of Grey.
Hmmm…. no one is laughing…. schade!
Anyways, as you can see, it’s really useful and the exact translation varies depending on context. And that’s not all. There are also a couple of fixed phrasings. The first one is schade um (etwas sein)  and it means that something is lost in some way and that that loss is a pity.

  • Mein Kuchen ist total verbrannt. Schade um die ganze Arbeit.
  • My cake totally burned. What a pity for all the work.
  • “Ich glaub, ich schaff mein Bier nicht. Willst du?”
    “Klar, wär schade drum.”
  • “I think I can’t finish my beer. You want?”
    “Sure, it would be a waste.

And then there is zu schade sein, which expresses that something is too good to be lost or wasted.

  • Ich zieh das Kleid nie an, aber es ist zu schade zum Wegschmeißen.
  • I never wear this dress but it’s too good to be thrown away.
  • Um die Waldlichtung aufzuräumen, ist sich das Einhorn zu schade.
  • The unicorn values itself too highly to clean the forest glade.

Ugh… unicorns. It’s really schade that they’re so stuck up.
Anyway, so this is the word schade and even if you’re still a fledgling and you can barely make sentences, you can at least use schade as a one word exclamation. It’ll make you sound much more native speaker like.
Now of course there are a few other useful related words, so let’s take a look at those real quick before we wrap up.
They’re all pretty easy to guess though, I think. The idea of damage is super clear and you don’t need much mind yoga.

  • Die letzten 10 Minuten haben für den ganzen langweiligen Film entschädigt.
  • The last 10 minutes made up/compensated for the entire boring movie.
  • Zuviel Schlaf kann schädlich für die Gesundheit sein.
  • Too much sleep can be detrimental, harmful for the health.
  • Im Gartenbau unterscheidet man zwischen Nützlingen und Schädlingen.
  • In gardening you make a distinction between “useful creatures” and vermin.
    (is there a better term than useful creature or is that really what is used? As silly as it might sound,  Nützling is the proper gardening term)

And then there are the two verbs  schaden and beschädigen. They’re both about doing damage but they’re not synonyms.
Beschädigen is more momentary, if that makes sense.  It’s about doing damage to an object at a point in time. It’s not limited to tangible things, but it doesn’t work for living beings. Oh, and it only talks about a partial damage. For damaging completely, the word is kaputtmachen.
Schaden on the other hand is more long term and a bit vague. And it works for in context of living beings.

  • Der Monitor ist leicht beschädigt, funktioniert aber noch.
  • The screen is slightly damaged but still working.
  • Wie kann ich eine Kachel entfernen, ohne den Rest zu beschädigen?
  • How can I remove one tile without doing damage/damaging to the others?
  • Graffiti ist rechtlich gesehen Sachbeschädigung.
  • From a legal point of view, graffiti is property damage.
  • Rauchen schadet der Gesundheit.
  • Smoking damages/hurts/does damage the health.
  • Die Kälte schadet dem Akku.
  • The cold harms the battery.
  • Ab und zu früh aufstehen hat noch niemandem geschadet.
  • Getting up early every once in a while hasn’t hurt anyone yet.

Actually, there’s a third version, the verb schädigen, which is somewhere in the middle between the two but we’ll just do what the unicorn does with the forest cleaning schedule… ignore it :).
And that’s it for today. This was our look at schade and… what?… I forgot something? …. oohhhhh, the trick for guessing the noun gender. Oh well, that was of course nonsense. There is no such trick. But at least you now know what to say in a moment like this …
“You’re an idiot, Emanuel.”
Uh, that’s not what I meant.
As usual, if you have any questions or suggestions about schade or any of the other words, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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