Word of the Day – “der Spaß”

spass-german-fun-imageHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. And this time we’ll have a lot of fun because we’ll take a thorough look at

der Spaß


Now you’re probably like “Wait. Spaß means fun. That sounds like kind of a boring topic.”
Of course you’re right. Spaß means fun. What’s interesting is the use. The word fun is the core of a bunch of super common expressions. The word Spaß is also used in a bunch of super common expressions. The problem is… the expressions do not look the same. You cannot just take an English expression and use the direct translation. That would  sound really really clunky and sometimes it might even mean something different than the English version. For example, when you say

  • Das war Spaß.

it actually means

  • Caraway does wonders if you have an upset belly.

Okay… I’m being silly. Of course it’s not THAT different. But still, there are some notable differences so today we’ll take a look at how to use Spaß properly.
Sounds fun? Awesome.

Maybe a quick look at the history of the word first. Spaß.   Sounds like a typical German word to me. Shbuuuuus I would have never expected it to come from  melodic, elegant Italian.  But apparently it does. Spaß is the germanized and clunkyfied version of the Italian spasso. Spasso, which means fun, entertainment, comes from the Latin verb expassare which is a version of  expandere. So that means Spaß is related to to expand. I think the idea is that if you’re having fun, you kind of let go. You’re not as up tight and constraint as usual, if that makes sense. But at least in German absolutely no one is aware of that connection. Der Spaß is just a word.
All right.
Now, just as German and British and American humor are different (German doesn’t have any), so is the way the languages use the word for Spaß. That’s why we’ll now look at the most important phrasings one by one and see how to say it in German.
And the first one is also the biggest difference.

“to be fun”

This one is incredibly common in English.

  • Learning German is fun.

In German, doing something isn’t  fun… it makes fun.

  • Deutsch lernen macht Spaß.

And if you want to include a person who is having the fun you’d use mir or dir or ihm. Then, the best translation is actually to enjoy.

  • Deutsch lernen macht mir Spaß.
  • I enjoy learning German.
    To me learning German is fun. (lit)

Here are some more examples

  • Mir macht Kochen Spaß.
  • I enjoy cooking.
  • “Let’s build a snow man.”
    “Nah, too cold”
    “Come on, it’s fun.”
  • “Wollen wir einen Schneemann bauen?”
    “Nee, zu kalt.”
    “Komm schon. Das macht Spaß!
  • Es macht keinen Spaß, Vokabeln zu lernen.
  • It’s not fun/enjoyable to study vocabulary.
  • Thomas hat das Projekt keinen Spaß gemacht.
  • Thomas didn’t enjoy (working on) the project.
    The project was not fun for Thomas (lit)

Note that in the last example Thomas is NOT the subject. It’s the project that makes the fun. Thomas is just receiving it.
Now, Spaß machen actually doesn’t have as broad a use as to be fun. It only works if it is  some sort of activity you’re talking about. So it wouldn’t work for a real object like a movie or a book.

  • The book is fun.
  • Das Buch ist Spaß…. nope!!
  • Das Buch macht Spaß… hmm… I guess

The last example is something you can find here and there in reviews but I think people would rather say something like

  • Das Buch war cool/lustig/interessant.

It really depends on what the book was.
What really doesn’t work is Spaß machen for people.

  • I like Thomas. He‘s fun.
  • Ich mag Thomas. Er ist Spaßnope!!
  • Ich mag Thomas. Er macht Spaß… uhm… not really

If you want to express that a person is fun you’d say that he or she is cool or something like that. Whatever fits best.

  • Ich mag Thomas. Er ist cool/nett/lässig.
  • Ich mag Thomas. Es ist immer lustig mit ihm/mit ihm kann man gut Spaß haben.

Now, saying “Er macht Spaß” is actually not wrong.  But it means that he’s joking.

  • Das Spiel macht Spaß.
  • The game is fun.
  • Thomas macht Spaß.
  • Thomas is joking.

That’s probably a bit confusing. Generally, the German Spaß is much closer to an actual joke than the English fun.

  • “Hey Schatz, mir ist dein Laptop runtergefallen.”
    “Haha, (das) war nur (ein) Spaß.”
  • “Hey honey, I dropped your laptop.”
    “Haha, no, I’m just kidding.

In fact, it’s enough to just say “Spaß” if you want to tell people that you were joking.

  • “Ich habe gerade mit der von der Buchhaltung rumgemacht.”
    “Nee, Spaß. Wir waren nur zusammen im Kopierraum.”
  • “I just made out with the one from accounting.”
    “For real?”
    “Na, kidding. We were just in the copy room together.”

So whenever you say that something is fun, you’re running the risk that it sounds like it’s a joke.
All right. Quick recap… if you want to express that some kind of activity is fun (even if it’s hidden behind a noun), then you’d say

  • Lesen macht Spaß.
  • Reading is fun.

And if you want to make it sound more personal then you can include a Dative pronoun… like  mir or dir. Then, the phrase is pretty much to enjoy, just with a twisted grammar.

  • Lesen macht mir Spaß.
  • I enjoy reading.

If you’re talking about actual things like movies or books  or about persons you’d  say that they’re nice or cool or interesting- whatever fits best.
Cool. Let’s move on to the next one and after being fun comes…

“to have fun”

This phrasing is hard to fathom for a German because Germans usually don’t have fun. Just take a look at the official German smiley table:
:( at-work-face,   :[ Feierabend-face,    :|  after-intercourse-face,    :) plastic-surgery-gone-wrong-face,   :C someone-put-plastic-trash-into-the-bin-for-the-organic-wa… okay seriously, this phrasing does exist verbatim.

  • Hattest du gestern auf der Party Spaß?
  • Did you have fun at the party last night?
  • Das Buch war gut. Ich hatte beim Lesen viel Spaß.
  • The book was good. I had lots of fun reading it.

But still, in a lot of situations where the focus is on having a good time, people might go a for a different phrasing.

  • Es war schön.
  • Es hat mir gefallen.

I can’t really give you a rule though.
Anyway, there’s one phrasing that totally doesn’t work in German and that is

  • having fun

Why does it not work? Simply because German doesn’t have the form. Or better, German does have the form but it doesn’t use it that way. Now, having fun is a pretty handy phrase in the internet age but in German you’ll have to do without.

  • Having fun cleaning the house. #messyflat#party#hungover ( a tweet)
  • Gerade beim Wohnung aufräumen. Juchu (*seufz*) #dreckigewohnung#party#kater
  • I’m at the beach having fun.
  • Ich bin am Strand und amüsier mich/lasse es mir gut gehen.

All right.
Last but not least there’s maybe the most important expression with haben.

  • Have fun!

In German, the standard way to say this is

  • Viel Spaß!

which is short for

  • Ich wünsche dir/Ihnen viel Spaß.

With friends, you could say “Hab Spaß.” as well but at least to me, it sounds a little too caring. Like… “Have fun. And dress warmly!”.
Cool. Now let’s move on to the next common fun-phrasing … or should I say fun fun-phrasing

How to say “a fun thing”

English is really liberal about what kind of word a word is. Fun can be a noun, but it can also be an adjective.

  • That’s a fun movie

Now, would you say this is possible in German? Of course not. Sure, you could make  a compound

  • Das ist ein Spaßfilm.

but that sounds like the movie is a comedy. It does not mean that the movie gives you a good time.
So how would you say a fun something? Well, you’d just have to be a little more specific an pick an adjective.

  • Thomas is a fun guy.
  • Thomas ist ein cooler, lockerer Typ.
  • That’s a fun little book.
  • Das ist ein lustiges (funny, amusing) kleines Buch.
  • That was a fun vacation.
  • Das war eine interessante Reise.

It really depends on context. But Spaß itself never ever works.
All right. So these were the three big common expressions or phrasing that I could think of. But of course there are some smaller ones. So let’s look at those too real quick.

Some more fun-phrasings

We’ve already seen that fun can indeed be made in German, but to make fun of someone is actually not translated using Spaß. Instead, in German you say

  • sich über jemanden lustig machen

This had a score of impressive 81 out of 100 on the Random-o-meter, and for good reason, because the literal translation is

  • to make oneself funny over someone/something

Yeah right.. that makes a lot of sense. Not. I really don’t know how to explain that. But that’s how it’s said.

  • Thomas macht sich über Marias neue Diät lustig.
  • Thomas is making fun of Maria’s new diet.
  • Ich habe das Gefühl, dass meine Kollegen sich über mich lustig machen.
  • I have the feeling that my colleagues are making fun of me.

All right. Next up is the expression

  • Sounds like fun.

In German this would be

  • Klingt lustig. (Sounds funny.)

And if funny isn’t the right, well just pick whatever adjective fits best. But Spaß itself never works and Spaß might be understood as joke.
Last but not least there’s just for fun and this one is translated with Spaß.

  • Ich bin heute aus Spaß mal ohne Hose durch’s Büro gelaufen.
  • Today, just for fun, I walked across the office without pants on.
  • “Warum machst du einen Kuhflecken-Fotoblog? Verdienst du damit Geld?”
    “Nee. Nur zum Spaß, als Hobby.
  • “Why do you run a photo blog about cow stains? Do you make money with that?”
    “No, it’s just for fun. As a hobby.”

There’s also  spaßeshalber and to be frank I can’t really tell you when to use which. But I think for the most part they’re interchangeable.
All right.
Now let’s switch sides and look at a few common phrasings with Spaß and how those translate to English.

Some spaß-words and phrases

The first one is Spaß verstehen. This expression is  even the title of a famous TV show called “Verstehen Sie Spaß?”. It has been around for ages and it’s basically a hidden camera show. Like… you show up to work one day and everyone and everything is just gone. And then you call people and they’re like “What job? No that company was never here.” … they really do do quite elaborate set ups. Anyway, so Spaß verstehen is not about actually getting or understanding a joke, it’s about having a sense of humor.

  • Thomas versteht, wenn es um seine Kochambitionen geht, keinen Spaß.
  • Thomas has no sense of humor when it comes to his ambitions at cooking.
  • Es ist schade, dass mein Chef keinen Spaß versteht.
  • It’s a pity that my boss doesn’t have a sense of humor.

Now that I think of it, the expression is pretty much always used in the negative. If a person does have a sense of humor you wouldn’t say

  • Der versteht Spaß…. but rather
  • Der ist humorvoll.

So, Spaß verstehen is mostly used in contexts of not having a sense of humor. And in fact that’s also the  focus of the next expression. I think that’s a trend. But anyway, the expression is

  • mit jemandem/etwas ist nicht zu spaßen

There’s a verb spaßen in there but I don’t think it’s used anywhere else. It’s definitely very rare. The meaning of the expression is basically that you have to take whatever it is really seriously.

  • Mit einer Lungenentzündung ist nicht zu spaßen.
  • An inflammation of the lungs has to be taken seriously.
  • Wenn mein Chef schlecht geschlafen hat, ist mit ihm nicht zu spaßen.
  • Whenever my boss had a bad sleep, he’s one serious fellow.

The last expression is

  • bei XYZ/da hört der Spaß auf

and now it’s officially a trend because this very common phrasing is about drawing a line in the sand where something is not fun anymore.

  • When it comes to beer the fun stops.
  • Beim Bier hört der Spaß auf.

Now some might be like “Wait, doesn’t the fun actually start with the beer?”. Well, the phrase means that someone takes beer and possibly the production very seriously or there’s some other thing that ruins the fun. Like… you food companies can put your artificial aroma crap into all your stuff, we’ll eat it. But stay away from beer.
Here are some more examples:

  • Lästern im Büro ist okay aber bei übler Nachrede hört der Spaß auf.
  • A bit of tattling is fine but the fun stops with slander.
  • Ich hab’ ja nichts dagegen, wenn meine Nachbarn mal feiern, aber wenn direkt vor meine Tür gekotzt wird hört der Spaß auf.
  • I’m totally okay when my neighbors are having a party but the fun stops when someone vomits right in front of my door.

And… I think that’s it. Well, almost. I also want to share my favorite Spaß words with you. First, there is the verb bespaßen. Literally, it means to inflict fun on someone and it’s usually used in context where you want to express that you have an obligation to entertain someone. Like… when your family comes to visit in your new town, they do expect you to show them around and spend time with them.

  • “Was machst du morgen?”
    “Ach, da muss ich den ganzen Tag meine Familie bespaßen.”
  • “What are you up to tomorrow?”
    “Oh, I have to take care of my family all day, be their city guide and stuff.

Or a nursery school teacher could say something like this

  • Die Kinder heutzutage können überhaupt nicht mehr allein spielen. Die wollen die ganze Zeit bespaßt werden.
  • The kids today are absolutely unable to play just by themselves. They expect to be entertained all the time.

I don’t know why, but I really like the word bespaßen. But my favorite word is … drum roll…….

  • die Spaßbremse

A Bremse is a brake and  just like the brake slows down the bike a Spaßbremse slows down the fun. Such a great word.

  • Du bist voll die Spaßbremse.
  • You’re a real party pooper.

And that’s it. That was our look at fun and Spaß and the most common expressions with it and hopefully it was at least a little Spaß. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if there are some other phrasings you’d like to know in German just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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