Want to cut the German language down to size?
You already know that even English can be a bit much sometimes.
So much so that we often feel the need to…alter it a bit.
Shorten it, in other words.
You’ll know what I’m talking about when you read on.
In fact, I’ve shortened our language three times within this sentence and the last one. Can you spot where?
We normally combine a verb with another word by stitching them together to create a completely new word.
This happens in other languages, too.
German is no exception, although of course German speakers do it with different words than we do in English.
This post is all about words that are shortened by being fused together into one.
Or, as they’re commonly known: contractions.
What Exactly Is a Contraction?
Contractions are single words that have been created by joining two words together. The new word loses some of the letters from both original words. They therefore contract to become one word, hence the name “contraction.” We usually do this with common word pairings that are used frequently. In English, we place an apostrophe in the gap left by the missing letters.
Take “have” and “not.” Whenever these two words crop up next to each other in a sentence, we rarely say them as separate words. Instead, we contract them to create “haven’t.” In the space left by the missing “o” from “not,” we just put in an apostrophe. In English, contractions are usually made up of verbs and “not” or verbs and personal pronouns, e.g., “we” and “will” become “we’ll.”
However, in German, contractions are usually made up of prepositions and the definite article. One thing that makes German contractions slightly easier than ours is that they don’t stick any extra apostrophes into the new word.
Why Learn German Contractions?
- Contractions are rarely listed in German dictionaries. This is because they aren’t really official words in Hochdeutsch (standard German). If they’re in a dictionary, the entry will only send you to the two individual words’ definitions.
This means you’ll have to figure out the definition of the contraction on your own. It’s therefore imperative to know the meaning of all German contractions in case you come across them in conversation and reading.
One way to do this would be to knuckle down and learn them one by one. Contractions don’t have to be that boring, though, and I have some better suggestions on how to learn them coming up in the next section!
- Once you know all your contractions by heart, you’ll be able to understand much more German. As your vocabulary increases, you’ll be stumped a lot less by unknown words.
Not only that, but slipping these contractions into your speaking and writing will help you sound a lot more fluent, as many speakers see them as colloquialisms. Because of this, you may need to be careful about where you use them. It’s okay to add them to informal writing, but steer clear of them in any important formal pieces.
Just like with English contractions, German ones are optional. You can get away with using the two separate words rather than contracting them. However, contractions are widely used in German. If you learn them, you’ll be able to recognize them as well as use them confidently.
How to Learn German Contractions
As with most aspects of language, the best way of learning contractions is to throw yourself into German culture as much as possible. This will expose you to a lot more German than you’ll find in your grammar books. Tune in to German TV shows. Catch up on the latest German film releases. Pop some German songs onto your playlists.
All of these are enjoyable ways of getting into German culture and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much of the language you’ll pick up from these activities, including contractions!
Want to turn these passive actions into more active steps?
- Turn your viewing and listening into a game of identifying contractions. Invite friends who are also learning German over and put a German DVD like “Good Bye, Lenin!” on, stream something on German Netflix or download a German song.
While you’re watching or listening, try to pick out any contractions. When you hear one, shout out! The first one to notice a contraction gets a point. At the end of the film, show or song, count up everyone’s points. Whoever has the most is the winner!
If you don’t know other people who are learning German, you can also play a game on your own: Write down a list of common contractions, and check them off when you hear them.
- Make an effort to use more contractions in your writing. The more you write with them, the more confident you’ll be in slipping them into everyday writing and speaking tasks. You’ll also quickly pick up on spelling! Try to aim for a minimum number of contractions in your writing until you feel really confident in using them.
- Add some fun to your German learning by doing preposition and contraction exercises. Or, better yet, create your own quizzes and give them to your friends. It’s been proven that teaching someone something can actually strengthen your knowledge in the subject matter. So start teaching your friends contractions to help your own German!
Want to know which contractions you should begin learning? This following list covers the most common ones that you’ll come across in German.
You can hear them in action and learn them thoroughly on FluentU.
FluentU is one of the best websites and apps for learning German the way native speakers really use it. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Watch authentic media to simultaneously immerse yourself in the German language and build an understanding of the German culture.
By using real-life videos, the content is kept fresh and current. Topics cover a lot of ground as you can see here:
Vocabulary and phrases are learned with the help of interactive subtitles and full transcripts.
Hovering over or tapping on any word in the subtitles will automatically pause the video and instantly display its meaning. Interesting words you don’t know yet can be added to a to-learn list for later.
For every lesson, a list of vocabulary is provided for easy reference and bolstered with plenty of examples of how each word is used in a sentence.
Your existing knowledge is tested with the help of adaptive quizzes in which words are learned in context.
FluentU keeps track of the words you’re learning and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
This way, you have a truly personalized learning experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or practice anytime, anywhere on the mobile app for iOS and Android.
In brief: FluentU is a great tool for learning real-life German, from incredibly lengthy compound words to short contractions.
The Succinct Shortlist: 18 German Contractions for Being Brief
1. an + dem = am (on the / at the)
Ich bin am Rathaus.
(I’m at the town hall.)
2. an + das = ans (on the / at the)
Er ist ans Haus gebunden.
(He’s stuck indoors.)
3. auf + das = aufs (on the / at the)
Es läuft aufs Geld hinaus.
(It comes down to the money.)
4. bei + dem = beim (at the / in the / with the)
Sie ist beim Freund.
(She’s with the boyfriend.)
Beim ersten Mal könnte es schwer werden.
(The first time could be difficult.)
5. durch + das = durchs (through the)
Es gleitet durchs Wasser.
(It slides through the water.)
6. für + das = fürs (for the)
Das ist nur fürs Auge.
(That’s only window-dressing.) (Literally, “That is only for the eyes.”)
7. hinter + dem = hinterm (behind the)
Ich stehe hinterm Haus.
(I’m standing behind the house.)
8. in + das = ins (in the / into the / to the)
Wir gehen ins Kino.
(We’re going to the cinema.)
Er ist ins Bett gegangen.
(He has gone to bed.)
9. in + dem = im (at / in the)
Er sitzt im Restaurant.
(He’s sitting in the restaurant.)
Ich warte geduldig im Auto.
(I’m waiting patiently in the car.)
10. über + das = übers (over the / about the)
Ich rede übers Buch.
(I’m talking about the book.)
11. um + das = ums (at the / around)
Viele Bäume stehen ums Haus.
(There are many trees around the house.)
Sie ist ums Leben gekommen.
(She has passed away.)
12. unter + das = unters (under the)
Ich lege mich unters Messer.
(I’m going under the knife.)
13. unter + dem = unterm (under the)
Ich habe es unterm Ladentisch gefunden.
(I found it under the counter.)
14. von + dem = vom (from the)
Es dauert vom 1. Januar bis 11. Januar.
(It’ll take between January 1st and January 11th.)
Sie schweifen vom Thema ab.
(They wandered from the subject.)
15. vor + das = vors (in front of the)
Sie geht vors Haus.
(She goes in front of the house.)
16. vor + dem = vorm (in front of the / from)
Er hat mich vorm Ertrinken gerettet.
(He rescued me from drowning.)
17. zu + dem = zum (to the / to)
Wie komme ich zum Stadtzentrum?
(How do I get to the city center?)
As you can see, contractions can even be helpful for asking and giving directions in German.
Ich hätte gern einen Kaffee zum mitnehmen, bitte.
(I would like a coffee to go, please.)
18. zu + der = zur (to the / to)
Die Kinder gehen zur Schule.
(The kids are going to school.)
Wir stehen gerne zur Verfügung.
(We’re pleased to be available.)
Hopefully, this list of contractions will help get you started on incorporating contractions into your own German speech and writing.
Now that you know all about contractions and how to learn them, you’ll start to notice your German really improving!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.