German word of the day: Naja

Naja, we look at one of the most widely used German particles.

German word of the day: Naja
Photo: depositphotos

Germans have a habit of using a lot of particles – which again and again confuse non-native speakers. After talking about doch last week, let’s have a look at one of the other tricky ones.

SEE ALSO: German word of the day: Doch

Picture this: You are talking to someone in German. The conversation goes like this: Your conversation partner tells you a rather long story and ends it with “Naja, und dann habe ich ihr gesagt, dass sie nicht zurück zu kommen braucht.” (“Well, and then I told her that she doesn’t have to bother coming back.”) In this case, your conversation partner used one of the most infamous German particles.

Naja, or na ja can be translated to “well” and is an interjection, which means it’s used to express a feeling. In the case of na ja, it’s used to express either agreement or doubt.

Two examples for its use are the following:

To tell the person you’re talking to that you agree with their statement, but have something more to say: “Na ja, ich stimme dir zu, aber…” (“Well, I agree with you, but…”)

To wrap up a long story with a final statement: “Na ja, das war jetzt eine lange Geschichte, aber alles in allem finde ich es blöd.” (“Well, this was a long story, but all in all it really upsets me.”)

SEE ALSO: Das ist ja mal wichtig: The complete guide to German particles

Na ja consists of the words na and ja, ja meaning “yes” and na being a totally different case. So let me explain.

Na is a short particle that you will probably stumble across many, many times while in Germany. If you look it up, the dictionary Duden explains na like this:

“A particle preceding a [shortened] sentence and creating the emotional transition of something, which preceded the sentence as something spoken, occurred or thought, to a concluding statement, which may contain personal feelings, but especially the impatience, dissatisfaction, resignation, rejection, but also surprise, a request, encouragement or joy.”

What a mouthful. A shorter explanation is probably: Na is a particle that can be used in basically any context.

Here are some examples to showcase this:

Na, wie geht es dir? – “Hi, how are you?”

Na, das ist ja super gelaufen. – “Well that went great.” (ironically)

Na so was! – “How strange!”

Na schön. – “Very well.”

Na, dann mal los! – “Well then, let’s go!”

Na endlich! – “Finally!”

Na, jetzt mach mal nicht so ein Theater. – “Now, stop making such a fuss about it.”

So, if you want to sound like you’ve been speaking German all your life, casually start using na or na ja in your sentences. People will be impressed.

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German phrase of the day: Auf dein Nacken

Get to know this colloquial phrase and use it with your German friends.

German phrase of the day: Auf dein Nacken

Why do I need to know auf dein Nacken?

This is the kind of phrase you’ll never find in a German textbook, but you might hear it in the wild so it’s good to learn it for informal situations. 

What does it mean?

The phrase auf dein Nacken! literally translates to on your neck and means something like ‘this is on you’ or ‘Your treat’ or ‘you pay’. You can also use it on yourself with mein/meinen Nacken which then means: ‘this is on me’, ‘my treat’ or ‘I got this’. 

You can use this expression in the context of paying for something, for example when the bill comes in a restaurant or if it’s your round at the pub you might hear this from friends. 

However, the phrase can also mean something like: ‘I’ll do it’ or ‘I’ll handle it’ so it doesn’t just have to apply to money situations. In this context, it’s more about when someone takes the lead on something. 

A group of friends clink beers in Leer, Lower Saxony.

The German expression “auf dein Nacken” is used among friends. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lars Klemmer

For the eagle-eyed among you, you’ll notice that the grammar of this phrase isn’t technically correct. It should be: auf deinEN Nacken. 

The imperfect grammar represents the origins of the phrase, which comes from young people speaking and chatting on social media or text.

However, sometimes when people use it to apply to themselves, they use the correct grammar: Auf meinen Nacken. But it can be shortened too. Basically, don’t worry too much about grammar rules on this one and just go with the flow!

The phrase has become more mainstream after it was a runner up in the German Youth Word of the Year 2018.  

READ ALSO: What are the meanings behind Germany’s youth words of the year?

Keep in mind that this expression is for use with your good friends, not with your German boss (unless you’re on very friendly terms).

Use it like this: 

– Hey, hast du Bock auf Binge-Watching Netflix mit Sushi?

Auf dein Nacken oder wie?

– Hey, are you up for binge-watching Netflix with sushi?”

– Your treat or what?

If you want to use the expression yourself, you can easily integrate it into an informal conversation over text. For instance, if you are taking on a bill or a task, write: Auf meinen Nacken and everyone will know that you are performing the action, paying for something or taking the lead.