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.

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.

Here are some more examples

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

which is short for

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.

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.

All right. Next up is the expression

  • Sounds like fun.

In German this would be

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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:

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.

Or a nursery school teacher could say something like this

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

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

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.

for members :)

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Pedro
Pedro

Liebe Leute,
Das Blog gefällt mir sehr und es ist immer sehr interessant und lehrreich.
Kompliment!

Nur eine kleine Sache:
Wäre es nicht “Hattest du gestern auf DER Party Spaß?” ???

Danke sehr
Grüße aus Brasilien

berlingrabers

Vielen Dank für einen funnen Artikel. :D

Ich habe mehrmals “just for fun” als Anglizismus im Gespräch mit Deutschen gehört. Es ist manchmal echt frustrierend, dass es keinen wirklich gleichbedeutenden deutschen Adjektiv wie “fun” gibt. Vielleicht liegt es an meinem geringen Sprachgefühl aber irgendwie halte ich “cool,” “interessant,” “locker,” usw. für keine richtigen Treffer. Wenn ich jemanden als “fun” beschreibe, meine ich ganz einfach, dass es Spaß macht, mit dem abzuhängen. Genauso bei Büchern, Filmen usw. (mutatis mutandis).

Leo schlägt “can’t take a joke” als Übersetzung für “versteht keinen Spaß” – das ist schon ein bisschen anders als “have no sense of humor”, obwohl die zwei Phrasen sich etwas überschneiden.

Pedro
Pedro

Emanuel, wie ist deine E-Mail-Adresse?
=D

ellem910
ellem910

Was würde man sagen, um “Let’s do something fun; Let’s just have fun” auszudrücken? Lassen wir uns machen, etwas das uns Spass macht? (wahrscheinlich nicht, klingt mir ganz wortreich…??) Lassen wir uns etwas tun, das Spass bringt?

Tigger
Tigger

A question regarding “Sounds fun/Klingt []”:

Sounds fun is usually a shorter way of saying “Sounds like something that would be fun” (Klingt wie etwas, was Spaß machte/(machen würde?)) – in this context, “lustig” sounds out of place to me. Is there any German word other than “cool” that you might recommend here?

Thanks!

einfachmalsodurchgelesen
einfachmalsodurchgelesen

My go-to expressions there are “Klingt lustig”, “Klingt spaßig” and “Klingt witzig”. My Australian friend tells me that Germans very often say “Sounds funny”, when they should be saying “Sounds fun”, so I guess most people translate this verbatim from “Klingt lustig”. Another candidate for a conversation like “Hey, do you want to go see that new movie?” – “Yeah, sounds fun” would be plain and simple “Klingt gut”.

MacFeagel
MacFeagel

Wie immer vielen danke. Wir sagen oft in Britannien; mit einem deutschen Witz ist nicht zu spaßen. :)

i.e. a German joke is no laughing matter. Ho Ho!

Small correction: Bremse translates as Brake and not Break.

krysjez

super Post! danke!

Cutsie; die stolze Spaßvogel
Cutsie; die stolze Spaßvogel

Das ist wirklich ein verdammten interessanter Post! :D Das wirklich machte mir viel Spaß ;) , aber noch verstehe ich etwas nicht. Spaß hat viele Forme, klar; aber dann wo kann man das Wort ‘spaßig’ benützen? Als-:

‘Das ist sehr spaßig! Ich liebe euch Jungs!!! >o<!'

Hoffentlich würdest du mir es erklären. Vielen Dank! ^w^

Richard
Richard

Hi Emanuel

I have a general technical problem: sorry if this is the wrong forum.

I like to read your posts in hard copy but the printed version is marred by an “element” that reads “Follow German is Easy! Get every new post…Sign me up”. Usually it obscures one of your most important points.

Is there a way of avoiding this element in the print format? I’m using Google Chrome.

Herzliche Grüße

Corey
Corey

So…. What I’m getting from this is that if you would use the word ‘fun’ to say something in English, you probably wouldn’t use ‘der Spass’ in German to say the same thing. Correct?

Also, the examples of bespassen you’ve given seem to make it mean something like ‘to entertain’ but in the context of not ‘to sit down and watch t.v. with; tell jokes to; to play video games with.’ More like in a context that I’m going to do my best to describe the meaning. (I believe the term is called ‘circumlocution’). I am young, so I live with my parents. Sometimes, my mother sticks me in a situation with my grandparents, who are the simple minded, feeble, enjoy other’s youthness type. So my mother would say to me “you need to entertain the grandparents.” She doesn’t mean that I sit in front of them and put on a show of entertainment or to be an entertainer for them. She means more like ‘occupy them’ with my ‘charisma’ to keep them enjoyed. Does that make sense? Does that fit the meaning of bespassen?

Thanks for taking the time to type all these out. I love your in depth explanations with yet simple English so that I may understand easily. I would donate money, but I’m too young to own my own credit card, and my parents are too old to understand the concept of donating to people via the phenomenon, “internet.” Thanks a million.

Brightstar
Brightstar

How can I search in ‘word of the day’?
I don’t want to go one by one on years of content

Ta

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi Emanuel. Is there any difference between “das war nur ein Witz” and “das war nur ein Spaß”?

drachen34
drachen34

A couple corrections
Ich bin gestern aus Spaß mal ohne Hose durch’s Büro gelaufen.
Today, just for fun, I walked across the office without pants on.
I think you mean “Yesterday,” not “Today.”

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.
This is not necessarily wrong, but you totally could say “I have nothing against my neighbors celebrating” in English, which might be a closer translation.

Andy
Andy

Thomas! Meine Kollegin und ich, wir ziehen heute Abend durch die Kneipen und du bist ja voll willkommen, mitzukommen. Du bist nämlich mein Lieblingskollege, oder?

Ahhaaa, Vielen Dank, aber heute Abend geht das leider nicht. Meine Eltern haben sich entschieden, London zu besuchen… Denen habe ich nämlich versprochen, sie zu bespaßen, wenn sie bei mir übernachten wollten :(. Was für ein Glück. Hoffentlcih morgen kann ich mich endlich entspannen lassen.

Andy
Andy

yes, no, maybe so?

berlingrabers

Was reminded of this post recently at the eye doctor with our son. The doctor pulled out a toy for him to look at while she examined his eyes (she needed him not to look at her directly), which she referred to as a “Bespaßungsinstrument”. :)