German word of the day: Mal

This short German word has a fairly mundane literal meaning, but you will hear it in almost every conversation with locals.

German word of the day: Mal
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

The noun das Mal literally means a time or occasion, in the sense of ein letztes Mal (one last time) or more generally to mean sometime, or from time to time. 

On an everyday basis, you are likely to hear the short word peppered through conversations fairly liberally – though its meaning may not always be totally clear. 

The word comes from the old high German word Māle which denoted a measure of some sort, but the meaning has now morphed to mean an instant or point in time.  

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

Mal is often used to add immediacy to an instruction, so you might say komm mal her to mean come here at once, or guck mal if you need someone to look at something right away.

Though the word suggests some urgency, it also acts to soften a command or sound more polite, so it is good to use when asking something of friends and family. 

Somewhat confusingly, although mal can add immediacy to an expression, it can also be fairly vague when used in other contexts. The short particle can mean at some point in time, or ever. So, if you were to ask someone if they had visited somewhere before, you might say ‘warst du mal in Frankfurt?’ (have you ever been to Frankfurt?). 

Within both of these common uses, mal actually conveys very little meaning and could be taken out of most sentences, or replaced with a more specific word such as jetzt (now) or einmal (once). 

What mal does add, however, is a casual and familiar tone to your speech, and removing it from your sentences could make them sound more formal or formulaic. The equivalent in English would be something like ‘just’ or ‘quickly’. 


Leihst du mir das Buch mal?

Can you lend me that book?

Guck mal, dahinten ist ein Filmstar!

Look! There’s a film star over there!

Du hast ein neues Haus? Mega, ich komm’ auf jeden Fall mal vorbei.

You have a new house? Cool, I’ll definitely pop by sometime.

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German word of the day: Umgangssprache

This is a good word to be aware of when you're looking out for phrases to add to your everyday vocabulary in Germany.

German word of the day: Umgangssprache

Why do I need to know Umgangssprache?

We may be getting a little meta here, but we think it’s worth knowing this word so you can listen out for the words around it (or know when not to use this type of language).

What does it mean?

Umgangssprache, which sounds like this, means ‘colloquial language’ or ‘slang’. These are the kinds of words and phrases you might not find in a textbook, but they are heard in everyday life.

By using slang vocabulary, you’ll be able to bring your sentences to life and sound like a true local.

The term is said to have been introduced into the German language by the writer and linguist Joachim Heinrich Campe at the beginning of the 19th century.

Umgangssprache is shaped by the world around it, whether its regional factors or social circumstances of the time. 

Here are a few examples of colloquial phrases and words:

Geil means horny in German, but it is also used colloquially to describe anything you think is cool. In English, you might use the word ‘sick’ or ‘awesome’ in the same context.

Krass is another colloquial word that can mean lots of things. It is usually used to intensify the meaning of something very bad or something very good depending on the tone and context. So something disgusting is krass, and something amazing can also be krass

Das ist mir Wurst translates to ‘that’s sausage to me’, and means you don’t give a toss. 

Das ist doch Käse translates to ‘that’s cheese’ and expresses that you mean something is absolute nonsense. 

And a ruder one is: Das ist am Arsch der Welt. It means ‘that’s the arse of the world’ and refers to a place that is far away or very difficult to reach. In English you might say ‘back of beyond’. 

You would hear these kinds of phrases in relaxed conversations in cafes and bars, but they aren’t so common in formal situations. 

Use it like this:

Ist das Umgangssprache oder kann ich das bei meinem Chef benutzen?

Is that colloquial language or can I use it with my boss?

Mir gefällt die umgangssprachliche Floskel: auf dein Nacken!

I really like the colloquial phrase ‘this is on you!’