Word of the Day – “versprechen”

versprechenHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will have a look at the meaning of



And I am glad that we already have a call here because that gives me the chance to sprechen to someone right away… Charles from Edinburgh, how are you today?
„Hello Emanuel, I’m fine thank you…“
What can I do for you Charles?
„Don’t get me wrong, this show is really great and I do enjoy it most of the time… but I have to admit that I’d be lying if I said that today’s word sounds particularly intriguing.“
Uh… what do you mean exactly?
Well… the thing is… I think most of us know what it means.“
Ooooohhhhhhhh… do you?
„Yes, I think we do…“ 
Oh, very well then, if you know so much it certainly ain’t nooooooo problem for you to translate THIS:

„As a matter of fact, it ”ain’t” no problem indeed. I said it a lot when I was in Hamburg. I means: I don’t speak German very well.“
… (muffled) I bet you don’t…
„Hey I heard that, no reason to be mean.“
I know I apologize… it’s just… what am I going to do now? Just pick a different word? All my research and preparation would be for nothing
„You could just slap a prefix at it, maybe…“
Hey, that is actually not a bad idea… let me think… how about ver?
“Sounds good….”
Cool….so… err… ladies and gentlemen, our Word of the Day



We’ve already established that sprechen means to speak. It can also mean to talk at times but it is not worth it to look at the differences there. As always there are all kinds of words that come from the verb like for example die Sprache (the language), das Sprichwort (the idiom) or der Spruch (the saying).

But now let’s get to versprechen. Which has the following two meaningsto promise and to make a slip of the tongue or to misspeak. Hmmm…  that’s quite some irony in that :).
Now, if you’ve read my article on the prefix ver- you might remember that ver- actually carries four different ideas, and versprechen is a good example for a word where two meanings coexist.
So let’s look at them one by one.

versprechen – to promise

This is really a straight forward translation. The overlap in meaning is as large as can be and the grammatical structure for both words identical, too.

Now, of course you can also make a promise to yourself.

And what’s interesting about this phrasing is can have a second meaning. Not entirely different, I mean. But erm… noteworthily  different… gee, is that even a word?!
Anyway, when you make a promise you’re essentially raising hope or expectations. This view helps to understand the second notion of self-promises.

The structure for this versprechen… the expecting-one if you will… is always involving a mir, dir or sich and a von.
Now, as for related words we have das Versprechen which is the promise.

As you can see, promises are given rather than made in German. But I’d say we prefer to use the verb most of the time anyway.

Another word worth knowing in German is promising. But just promising is not enough. Germans are apparently hard to impress so something promising has to be promising a lot in German to be promising… wait, without my mind-map this doesn’t make much sense… anyways, the example shall clarify.

If you just said versprechend in such a context people wouldn’t even understand what you mean.
Alright … oh and just for completion here is an example with promised.

Now, how does ver change to speak into to promise?
Well, that makes perfect sense as soon as you know that one of the ideas ver- carries is… for. Which is an essential part of a promise… it’s my “speaking” for you. And ver- also carries a notion of finishing, completing which gives the whole thing a slight notion of contract.
Not sure, if that makes sense.
Anyway, let’s move on to the other versprechen I promised.

verspra.. verpres… versprechen

And here, we see yet another idea of verin action. And this one is rather clear cut… it basically adds the notion of wrong. Sprechen is to speak so versprechen is to speak wrong. And that is very close to the actual meaning to make a slip of the tongue.

You might have noticed in the examples, that this versprechen is self referential. I can’t really tell you why it is that way but without the self reference it will sound like the other versprechen. Or just plain wrong, like in this example.

  • Ich verspreche 4 mal in einem Satz…. wrong because the promise itself is missing

So the self reference is crucial.

Now, you might remember the abstract meaning of the first versprechen… the one that was kind of like to expect. This was self referential, too but there, we the self reference is an indirect object... to myself. The tongue slip one is using a direct object. Can we mess around with this? Sure.

  • Ich verspreche mir, mich nicht mehr zu versprechen.
  • I promise myself to not misspeak anymore.

Okay, technically it could also mean that I promise myself to not promise myself (to someone) anymore. So there, we’d need Cpt. Context to clear it up.  Anyways, these situations are rather rare and to be honest, the tongue slip versprechen is not a word you would need everyday. It is just good to know, that the meaning exists.

So… I think we’re pretty much done here. This was our German Word of the Day versprechen. It can mean to promise and, if the promise is made to oneself, it can also mean to expect or to hope. The other, less important meaning is to make a slip of the tongue. Each meaning is a good representative for one of the concepts that ver can add to a verb… one being something like for real or for good and the other being wrong.
If you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next thyme… I mean time ;)


** vocab **

jemandem etwas versprechen – promise something to someone
sich (dative)  etwas von X versprechen – expect something from X /have hope for something from X

sich (accusative) versprechen – to misspeak, to make a slip of the tongue

das Versprechen – the promise
(die Versprechungen (plural) – promises,usually used in context of empty promises)

der Freudsche Versprecher – the Freudian slip

versprochen – promised
vielversprechend – promising

die Sprache – the language
das Sprichwort – the proverb


for members :)

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Erik Andersen
Erik Andersen

Emanuel… I really can’t believe how thorough you are with all your defintions, examples, usages, etc. Thanks. Somewhere… can’t recall now.. I came across a description of the prefix ‘ver’ and recall it being defined as something ‘negative’, ‘negated’ or ‘extreme’… though I doubt that was exactly it. Anyway, I always intended to follow-up on ‘ver’… and never have… so thanks for a) reminding me and b) applying it here… But I do agree with Amber ;-)… I really would appreciate a ‘show’ on ‘ver’ and, ideally, a lot of the various verb prefixes… I know they vary… but even the generalisations and ‘rules’ are helpful. A similar thing applied to learning the nouns and their gender. While there are a huge number of exceptions… I’ve remembered a large number of the suggested ‘rules’ that help you determine the gender of a noun. That’s a lot better than one of the first suggestions I got on noun genders… ‘more than ~40% of all nouns are masculine, so when in doubt, guess masculine’… hmmmmm… Cheers… Erik


Thanks for your blog it’s really helpful :)


accidentally find this blog. thank you so much. it’s so great. keep it up!!


regarding “versprechen” as to expect, is that interchangeable with “erwarten” or do they have different connotations?


Hi! I accidentally found this blog via “lang-8.com”. Very interesting! Some corrections:
“Ich verspreche mir oft zuviel” – this is correct German and you explained it. “Ich verspreche mich oft zuviel.” – I am afraid, this is no correct German sentence. In this sentence “zuviel” is simply wrong. A correct variation would be “Ich verspreche mich oft (zu oft)”. “Zuviel” implies, that you can’t count, what you are talking about. Like “Ich habe dir zuviel Geld gegeben” (Geld is abstract, not countable). Unlike: “Ich habe dir zuviele Geldscheine gegeben”. Theoretically you can count, how often a guy misspeaks. Therefore “Er verspricht sich viel” clearly is the first meaning (“His hopes are often high”). The other meaning (“He often misspeaks”) would be “Er verspricht sich oft”. It becomes even clearer remembering, that the verb is “sich viel von etwas versprechen”. So “Er verspricht sich viel” really is incomplete. “Er verspricht sich viel von dem Projekt” would be a complete sentence.

Here is one you missed ;)

Er: Sorry, aber ich komme heute nicht mit ins Theater.“
Sie: „Aber… aber… du hast es versprochen…“
Er: “Da habe ich mich wohl versprochen”


The image is hilarious, heuhauehuaeheuheau!



Short question, you explain at the end that ‘sich versprechen’ can be very confusing when using the third person:

[Now, what about the third person? I mean … himself, herself and itself are always sich regardless whether direct or indirect object. Shouldn’t there be a confusion? Well, yes there is.

Er verspricht sich viel.
This can mean either of the following things.

He often has high hopes.
He often misspeaks.
There is NO telling which one it is without context.]

And everything looked fine for me, but then I remembered something you wrote before:

[The structure for this versprechen… the expecting-one if you will… is always involving a mir, dir or sich and a von.]

You explain that the ‘versprechen – to expect’ needs the ‘von’ in the structure.

Is it not needed in the last one?



Hi, can I use “muss” instead of “müsste” in “Ich habe kein Bargeld mehr, sprich, ich müsste mal zur Bank.”? Why did you use müsste there?

Rashi Rathi
Rashi Rathi

Hey, a real good explanation. Thanks a lot. I am currently learning this language.
I am confused, if there is a word called “zersprechen” – meaning to bore somebody by speaking.
If it does not exist, what is the german word (other than langweilen) for this, with sprechen .


A very interesting post.
How has auf etwas ansprechen come to mean in medical terms to respond to a drug or respond to treatment?
thanks very much