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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2 years ago

Was ist der Unterschied zwischen “Viel Spaß” und “Viel Vergnügen”? Ich hatte mir eine Podcastserie angehört, und die Sprekerin fast immer die Einleitung der Sendung mit “Viel Vergnügen” beendet hatte.

2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Die Podcasts waren aus eine Spracheschule, deshalb war die Verwendung berechtigt. Zumindest meiner Meinung nach. Vielen Dnk für die Erklärung.

2 years ago

Dankeschön, ein sehr interessanter Artikel!
Eine Frage, die mir in letzter Zeit immer wieder durch den Kopf geht: Heißt es richtig
“Mein Beruf gefällt mir. Es macht mir Spaß”, oder
“Mein Beruf gefällt mir. Er macht mir Spaß”?
Danke und viele Grüße aus Großbritannien!

2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Super, ganz herzlichen Dank!

6 years ago

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”. :)

7 years ago

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.

7 years ago
Reply to  Andy

yes, no, maybe so?

7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

no worries, thought u missed it. you’re usually LIGHTNING man. LIGHTNING.

and allow myself to relax. How would you say that??

7 years ago
Reply to  Andy

I don’t really know its just something i’d say.

Man, I have so much work to do, every day I go to the office and it’s just non stop. I think I’m just going to take tomorrow off and just let myself chill out.

It sounds weird when I write it, but aloud it sounds normal to me. Maybe it’s just me.

7 years ago

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.

7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

celebrate does sound odd to me in English. I would say “partying”. “I have no problem with the neighbors partying all night, but the fun stops when it’s happening right in front of my door”.

7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

I suppose the difference between celebrating and partying is that a celebration implies some sort of occasion; celebrating a birthday or other event; whereas a party could be any fun gathering.

If the football team just won a big game on campus, then a celebration would be appropriate; whereas if the frat guys are just getting together to drink and make noise like every weekend, then it’s a party.

I don’t know how that distinction translates to German though.

7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

I actually think the noun-verb distinction is a little like that in English, too… a “celebration” definitely sounds more formal than just “celebrating.” But definitely, in either case, you have to celebrate something – even if your celebrating isn’t actually any different from generic partying.

7 years ago

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

7 years ago

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


7 years ago

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.

7 years ago

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

Cutsie; die stolze Spaßvogel
Cutsie; die stolze Spaßvogel
7 years ago

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^

7 years ago

super Post! danke!

7 years ago

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.

7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Wie viele Deutsche braucht man, um eine Glühbirne zu wechseln?

Eins. Deutsche sind effizient und verstehen keinen Spaß.

7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

“Die Pointe ist grammatisch und faktisch ungenau” might be the most German sentence I’ve ever read. :D

7 years ago

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?


7 years ago
Reply to  Tigger

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”.

7 years ago

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?

7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ach so, danke für die Erklärung! Gestern habe ich den ganzen Tag über “Spass” nachgedacht, und ich hab noch eine Frage… auf Englisch sagt man manchmal “Just have fun with it”, zB “Die Präsentation ist gar nicht wichtig, mach dir keine Sorgen! {Just have fun with it.}” Was sagt man heir auf Deutsch, etwas mit “Spass”?

Na ja… “lassen/let’s”. Einen ironischen Fehler zu machen, denn ich gerade vorgestern die “Lassen” Blog-Einträge gelesen habe, lol. Lassen macht mir keinen Spass. :)

7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Danke sehr! Alles klar. “Entspannen” passt dem Kontext “Just have fun with it” sehr gut, glaube ich.

7 years ago

Emanuel, wie ist deine E-Mail-Adresse?

7 years ago

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.

7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Also wie gesagt überschneiden sich die Redewendungen. Die Bedeutung von “no sense of humor” ist breiter: das könnte jemanden beschreiben, der keinen Witz versteht und auch keinen selbst macht. Öfter heißt es, dass er keine Witze mag, weil er besonders seriös/ernsthaft ist.

“Can’t take a joke” hat eher damit zu tun, dass man es nicht ertragen kann, die Zielscheibe des Spottes zu sein, kann keinen Scherz ertragen, oder ähnliches. Also man hört das oft als Selbstrechtfertigung von jemandem, der einen bösen Streich gespielt hat und dessen Opfer jetzt sauer auf ihn ist – “Eh, he just can’t take a joke, I guess.” So könnte man auch aber jemanden beschreiben, der sich wirklich zu ernst nimmt.

Hoffentlich macht das Sinn… Ich wollte zuerst einfach auf Englisch schreiben aber ich merke, dass ich hier viel zu wenig auf Deutsch kommentiere.

7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Danke für die Korrekture… Im Satz mit “also”, fändest du auch z.B. “daher” zu stark?

– (Von) daher hört man das oft…

Ich wollte zwar eine kausale Verbindung herstellen, aber vielleicht ist sie vom Zusammenhang schon klar.

Was “no sense of humor” angeht… Ja, “he has no sense of humor about…” finde ich für dein Beispiel ziemlich gut.

– My boss is really laid-back, but he’s got no sense of humor about cleanliness (or “when it comes to cleanliness” or “where cleanliness is concerned”).

Wobei es mir als Englischsprachler ein bisschen schwer fällt, mir vorzustellen, was für einen “Sauberkeitsspaß” es geben könnte. Vielleicht ist das der wichtigste Unterschied zwischen den deutschen und englischen Redewendungen: “to have a sense of humor about something” hat wirklich mit Humor zu tun. Ich würde den Satz anders formulieren, wenn es darum geht, dass der Chef bei (nur) einem Thema besonders streng ist:

– My boss is really laid-back, but when it comes to cleanliness, he doesn’t mess/play around.
– …he’s not to be trifled with.
– …he’s a stickler.
– …he doesn’t let anything slide.

7 years ago

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

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

Danke sehr
Grüße aus Brasilien