German word of the day: Schaltjahr

Freya Jones
Freya Jones - [email protected]
German word of the day: Schaltjahr
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

February 2024 has an extra day than usual, thanks to this phenomenon.


Schaltjahr means “leap year” in German. The practice of adding an extra day at the end of February every four years has been followed around the world since Roman times, to keep us in sync with a standard calendar, so adding February 29th in 2024 shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

However, given the popularity of printed calendars and paper diaries in Germany, the extra day is certainly something to watch out for when you’re drawing up your plans this year.

READ ALSO: Everything that changes in Germany in February 2024

Why is it called Schaltjahr?

The verb “schalten” has multiple meanings in present-day German, with the most common being “to switch”. It’s also seen in a variety of other verbs, such as “einschalten” (switch on), “anschalten” (to connect) and “auschalten” (to switch off). 

However, the word Schaltjahr is believed to have existed in its own right since the 8th century, when the meaning of “schalten” was even more context-dependent. 

According to etymologists, “schalten” in the context of Schaltjahr is most likely to have given the word a meaning of “a year where an opening is made and another day inserted”. 

Following the same principle, Germans also refer to “der Schalttag” or “leap day” (February 29th itself) and occasionally “Schaltsekunde” (added seconds) if discussing leap years in a very literal and mathematical way.


How can I use this in a sentence?

Das Schaltjahr zählt 366 Tage 

A leap year has 366 days.

Ein Schaltjahr ist ein alle vier Jahre wiederkehrendes Jahr mit einem zusätzlichen Tag am Ende Februar.

A leap year recurs every four years, when an extra day is added at the end of February.

Achtung! 2024 ist ein Schaltjahr.

Watch out! 2024 is a leap year.


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