Picture this: You’ve just moved to Berlin, and a helpful local is explaining to you how the U-Bahn system works.
Or, picture this: you’re sitting in German class and you want to show your teacher that you’re listening and you aren’t glassy eyed or nodding off.
As “ich verstehe” may sound clunky, “ach so” is the perfect native-sounding noise to make as you’re nodding along politely. It is also written, especially in colloquial chats, as “achso”.
“Ach so” is a combination of “ach” which is generally translated as “oh”, or “alas” if you’re feeling fancy, and “so”, which has a number of translations, including “so”, “right!’ and “yeah?”. The term ach so is used to express understanding. For example:
“Du kannst deine 7-Tage-Karte für die S-Bahn UND die U-Bahn benützen.” (“You can use your 7 day ticket for the tram AND the underground.”)
“Ach so.” (“I see”)
Or: “Nein, DU solltest die Blumen kaufen!” (“No, YOU were supposed to bring the flowers!”)
“Ach so. Scheiße.” (“Oh I see, damn it.”)
If we add an exclamation mark, so we have the phrase “Ach so!”, the meaning is altered slightly to convey a eureka moment, or a surprise realization. Sometimes the word is elongated for extra emphasis.
“Ach so! Die Gleichung macht endlich Sinn!” (“Aha! The equation finally makes sense!”)
“Ach soooo! Also das IST die richtige Richtung!” (“I see! So this IS the right direction!”)
Using 'ach so' in a different way
A different meaning that ach so can offer is a more sarcastic one, expressing “oh-so” or “ever-so” in an ironic sense.
“Der ach so pünktliche Deutsche kommt wieder zu spät.” (“The oh-so punctual German is late again.”)
“Meine Schwester stellte mich ihrem ach so charmanten Freund vor. Mein Gott, ich mag ihn nicht.” (“My sister introduced me to her ever-so charming boyfriend. My God, I hate that guy.”)
So, if you want to sound like you’ve been speaking German all your life, start casually peppering ach so into your sentences. People will be ach so impressed.