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:

  • Ich spreche nicht gut Deutsch.

„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.

  • Ich verspreche dir ein Pony.
  • I promise you a pony.
  • „Sorry, aber ich komme heute nicht mit ins Theater.“
    „Aber… aber… du hast es versprochen…“
  • „Sorry but I won’t go to the theater with you tonight.“
    „But … but… you promised

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

  • Ich habe mir versprochen nie wieder zu rauchen.
  • I promised myself never to smoke again.

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.

  • Ich verspreche mir viel von der neuen Sekretärin.
    “I promise myself a lot from the new secretary (lit.)”
  • I have high hopes for the new secretary.
  • Ich habe mir nicht viel von dem Film versprochen.
    I didn’t promise myself much from that movie.
  • I didn’t expect much of that movie.

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.

  • Ich habe dir ein Versprechen gegeben.
  • I made you a 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.

  • I make no promises.
  • Ich kann/will nichts versprechen. (I can’t / don’t want to promise anything. Lit.)

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.

  • Das sieht vielversprechend aus.
  • That looks promising.
  • Mark ist ein vielversprechender Fußballer.
  • Mark is an up-and-coming soccer player.

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.

  • Ich bringe dir die versprochenen DVDS mit.
  • I’ll bring along the promised DVDs.

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.

  • Emanuel verspricht sich.
  • Emanuel makes a slip of the tongue.
  • Entschuldigung, ich habe mich versprochen.
  • Sorry I misspoke.

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
  • Ich verspreche mich 4 mal in einem Satz.
  • I misspeak four times in one sentence.

So the self reference is crucial.

  • Ich verspreche mich ..
  • Du versprichst dich
  • Er / sie / es verspricht sich ...

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


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6 months ago

Hi, Emanuel. I’ve been addicted to your posts for a while : they’re life-saving for a self-taught person. Especially during quarantine periods ahah. Thank you so much. Btw I had a doubt concerning one of your examples, although it’s not really related to this specific post.
„Sorry, aber ich komme heute nicht mit ins Theater.“
How come the ‘mit’ doesn’t come at the end? I’ve already seen some other sentence structures like this one, and I’m just trying to understand if it mimicks real life speeches or if it has a different purpose. I have already checked your word order and nicht articles, but I couldn’t really find an answer to that (or maybe it was there and simply didn’t get it)..and I think you had mentioned sth about this kind of structure somewhere else, but I can’t seem to find it back again…

1 year ago

Interesting topic, but the verbosity and confusing layout makes for difficult reading,

1 year ago

Hi Emauel

Gibt es einen Unterschied zwischen den beiden Saetzen?

Ich habe mir versprochen nie wieder zu rauchen.
Ich habe mir vorgenommen nie wieder zu rauchen.

Wenn nicht, gibt es eine Praeferenz?


4 years ago

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

Rashi Rathi
Rashi Rathi
4 years ago

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 .

6 years ago

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?

6 years ago


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?


5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Hey!Also erstmal ein großes Kompliment!
Ich schaue seit Jahren immer mal wieder gerne in deinen Blog rein! I have some english speaking friends, who asks me about some confusing german language logic, where sometimes I realise how difficult it actually is to explain it, that it makes sense without any doubt. Since I was taking looks in your Blog I began to take more attentions to it, the structure and the roots. Very interesting to read. So, enough with compliments.

I now just wanted to be part of this interesting discussion about sentences, that seems clear on the first look. but they arn’t.
Like somebody said before me, the Duden taking those things, cause they are common used.

For the last I like to add (or to make it even more difficult lol):

-Er verspricht sich viel davon.

Makes it seem like from something specific.

Davon, also von einer Sache (from one thing), verspricht er sich viel.

It might me subjektiv from me, but it is more used in a sceptical or negativ context, Somebody has big expectations from just one action.

Like making a diet, and hope everything will turn good in life. Looking like Marky Mark, getting a model contract, being rich and famous. (little dramatic).

-Er verspricht sich viel.

You could say, when there is new-Years-eve and somebody wants to change a lot. Stop smoking, more housecleaning, less tv, less wife.

Ich hoffe, dass ich mit meinem Beitrag ein paar Gedanken zu diesen Begrifflichkeiten ergänzen.

Liebe Grüße

9 years ago

The image is hilarious, heuhauehuaeheuheau!

9 years ago

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”

9 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I wouldn’t say, that “viel” is not high-level German, there is nothing wrong with the word. It’s is just an adverb for an uncountable quantity. The examples in the “Duden” like your examples even underline my point :)

“Ich laufe viel” just indicates some big quantity (be it 7 x 1 km = “ich laufe oft”, be it 1 x 30 km “ich laufe viele Kilometer”).

“Ich esse viel auswärts” is somewhat colloquial, the correct sentence would be “Ich esse oft auswärts”. “Ich esse viel auswärts” might even mean “I eat a lot, when not at home”.

“Ich koche viel” also indicates and unspecified quantity. I agree, it is used in the sense “Ich koche oft”, but wants to express much more, that I spend a lot of time cooking, most probably, that I like cooking etc.

Still, in all those examples “viel” means a quantity, that is either not countable or there is not enough information to count. Because for countable objects there is the word “viele”: “Ich laufe viele Kilometer”, “Ich esse viele Steaks, wenn sie gratis sind”, “Ich koche viele Eier”

In this sense I would maintain, that “Ich verspreche mich viel” is not correct. However, I am not a language scientist. And every now and then it happens, that incorrect words or expressions become “correct”, that is part of the Duden, just because it has become common use. When I was in school, our economics teacher told us, that everyone pronouncing the word “Unkosten” would receive bad marks. Why? The correct term is “Kosten” (costs), the prefix “un” in German means “not”, so what sense does “Unkosten” make? But due to extensive use in the “non-economical” population, it became part of the German vocabulary.

9 years ago

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

9 years ago

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

9 years ago

Thanks for your blog it’s really helpful :)

Erik Andersen
Erik Andersen
9 years ago

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