German word of the day: Na

German word of the day: Na
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Though it is hard to say what it actually means on its own, Na is one of the most common words you will encounter when living in Germany.

You’ll most likely hear it first as a greeting, in place of Hallo, but it also forms part of some of the language’s most common colloquial phrases. 

Na is an interjection that you will only really hear when you are speaking to locals, but it is almost guaranteed that this simple word will crop up multiple times throughout each conversation. 

Though Na perhaps sounds negative to a native English speaker, who might confuse the word for the English ‘nah’, the German translated to something closer to ‘well?’, but its meaning is completely dependent on the context in which it is used.

This video from YouTuber ‘Don’t Trust the Rabbit’ explains how ‘Na’ means ‘everything and nothing’.

If you meet up with a German friend and they greet you with Na? instead of the usual Hallo, Moin or Servus, this is just another way of saying ‘hello’, and it is best to spiegeln (mirror) your friend and reply with a friendly Na? or Na, wie geht’s?

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

On its own, Na has very little meaning but, as it gains significance through its linguistic context, it can be a very useful particle.

You can change its meaning simply through stress and intonation; for example, an elongated Naaa? with upward intonation sounds much more friendly than a short Na? when you are greeting a good friend. 

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See also on The Local:

Na is a key component of many everyday phrases you will hear in spoken German. Here are some of the most common examples: 

Na, du/Nah, ihr – hey there!

Na, schön – okay then/very well

Na ja – well/oh well

Na, toll – oh, great (sarcastic)

Na, und? – so what?

Na klar! – but of course! 

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: Na klar

Na, was soll’s  – whatever

Na, geht doch – there you go

Na, na, na – now, now

Na, endlich – well, finally! (how you may be greeted if you arrive late)

Na, los! – go ahead then


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