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German word of the day: Verschlafen

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
German word of the day: Verschlafen
Image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Ever end up staying just a little too long in bed? Then this German word will be used in a lot of your apologies.

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Why do I need to know verschlafen?

Because it's is a great verb that can be incredibly handy if you turn up late to work or school - and it also teaches you something interesting about the German language.

What does it mean?

As you may have noticed, verschlafen (pronounced like this) is a combination of the verb schlafen and the prefix ver. Anyone who's been studying German for more than five minutes understands that schlafen means 'to sleep', but what does adding that little prefix do to it?

Most times you see the prefix ver, it's a sign that something has gone a little bit wrong while doing the action you're talking about. Hast du die Eier verkocht? If the answer's yes, then those eggs are unfortunately overcooked and not likely to be enjoyable. Meanwhile, bist du verlaufen? means "Did you get lost?". In other words: did something go wrong in the process of walking?

READ ALSO: The complete A-Z guide to German prefixes and what they mean

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that verschlafen is that most common of sleeping mistakes: oversleeping. 

You can also use it to describe going to bed and missing something, such as the ringing in of the New Year. In fact, this is quite a common form of verschlafen in Germany: a poll back in 2023 found that 51 percent of Germans went to bed early and missed celebrations on the 31st. 

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Use it like this:

Es tut mir leid, dass ich so spät ankomme: heute habe ich verschlafen.

I'm sorry I'm so late: I overslept today.

Hast du jemals verschlafen, und bist spät zur Arbeit gekommen?

Have you ever overslept and been late to work?

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