Word of the Day – “sein”

The first German word of the day is the verb:



“Sein” , German for to be, is THE most irregular verb in the German language and yet it doesn’t come with as big a host of forms as its French equivalent.
The infinitive or, as I like to call it, “dictionary form” might be a bit confusing since it also means “his” but the context will make it clear most of the time.

The verb conjugates in present tense as follows:
(If you are unfamiliar with the pronouns yet… I will explain those soon and add a link here)

Ich                 bin       schön.
Du                  bist      schön.
Sie (er/es)   ist         schön.

Wir                sind       schön
Ihr                 seid       schön.
Sie                 sind      schön.

As it is irregular the past tense form seems to be rather random. Yet there are similarities to simple past form of “to be”

Ich                 war          in London.
Du                 warst      in London.
Sie (er/es)  war         in London.

Wir                waren     in London.
Ihr                 wart        in London.
Sie                 waren     in London.

The participle 2 of “sein” is gewesen and the spoken past is formed with sein itself.

The usage of “sein” is pretty much the same as for “to be”  in English. Luckily German doesn’t have two distinct verbs for two different qualities of “to be” as for instance Spanish.

You will use this verb, very, very frequently as you need it for the casual past of some important verbs and for the passive voice. So learn it well  :).

To wrap this up here is the famous Shakespeare-line in German:

Advanced learners might have noticed that the compound word Nichtsein  is capitalized and hence a noun. This appears to be the most widespread translation of “to be, or not to be…”. However, it is not the most logical choice and not the closest translation either.
The literal translation of Nichtsein would be nonexistence.
Whereas in the original version, Hamlet ponders two different actions (to be or not to be) , in German he has to decide between two “things”.
I don’t know why this obvious shift has come to be the most agreed upon translation to date but I honestly have to disagree. I have heard the phrase numerous times and I would have written it as follows:

  • Sein oder nicht sein,  das ist hier die Frage.

This is pronounced exactly the same as the former version but it is closer to the English original because the pending choice  is between two actions “sein” and “nicht sein”.
If you know the reason for the German translation you are welcome to leave a comment.

Anyway… I hope you enjoyed this very first word of the day and see you next time.

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