German phrase of the day: Nach und nach

German phrase of the day: Nach und nach
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Today’s phrase describes something happening or being done in small stages, and can be equated with the English expression ‘bit by bit’.

The phrase is formed by a double use of the preposition ‘nach’ – a little word with a lot of meanings. 

Related to the word nah (near) and a cognate of the English ‘nigh’, ‘nach’ refers to something in close proximity – either spatially or temporally – and has seven different meanings as a preposition:

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See also on The Local:

  • To describe something later in time

         Nach zwei Tagen

         after two days

         Viertel nach drei

         quarter-past three

  • To describe something that comes after something else in a sequence

           Die Nummer zwei kommt nach die Nummer eins.

           The number two comes after the number one.

  • ‘To’ or ‘towards’

            Ich fahre nach Berlin.

            I’m travelling to Berlin.

  • ‘According to’ or ‘guided by’

            nach Geschmack würzen

            to season to taste

            Meiner Meinung nach

            In my opinion

  • ‘Following’, or ‘by the authority of’

            Die Analyse nach Freud

            The analysis following Freud

  • To indicate desire

            Ich sehne mich nach Urlaub. 

            I’m longing for a holiday.

  • To describe a sensory experience

            Es riecht nach Kaffee.

            It smells of coffee.

So what happens when you use ‘nach’ two times?

The use in ‘nach und nach’ refers to each of the progressive steps that are taking place in the process of whatever is happening ‘bit by bit’ – a steady sequence. 

Nach und nach habe ich mich an den sehr kalten Winter in Berlin gewöhnt.

I gradually got used to the very cold winters in Berlin.

Die Ausgangssperre wird nach und nach gelockert.

The lockdown is gradually being eased.

Nach und nach kenne ich mich mit der deutschen Sprache besser aus.

I’m gradually getting better at German.


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