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Or?

You are enjoying lunch outside with your coworkers. The sun is warming your face, you breathe in the fresh spring air, and say:

“The weather is beautiful, or?”

In German, we attach “…, oder?” to the end of a sentence to ask for confirmation of a statement. That does not translate to English, where “or” is not an interrogative (a “Fragewort”).

Translating “…, oder?” to English is not intuitive: you take the verb and pronoun of a sentence and negate them. Those are “is” and “it” (meaning the weather) in our example, which gives us:

“The weather is beautiful, is it not?”

We can even shorten this sentence a little:

“The weather is beautiful, isn’t it?”

If you phrased this question without attaching an “oder”, you could say:

“Isn’t the weather beautiful?”

Won’t you look at that. This version contains all the same words, and the meaning is identical as well. If you don’t feel comfortable using “isn’t it”, you can mix up the words a little to avoid having to use it.

We always negate the question-part of a sentence. If the original sentence is negative to begin with, the question-part becomes positive:

“It is not raining, is it?”

Here are some more examples using this pattern:

  • We’re the world, aren’t we?
  • You didn’t catch that reference, did you?
  • Your dog has an Instagram account, doesn’t he? (Yes he does.)

As an exercise, try to identify the verbs and pronouns in these questions. How would you move the words around to avoid the various forms of “isn’t it”?

If you take a single lesson away from this course, let it be this one. With it, you are taking a huge step towards speaking English more like a native speaker.

All lessons in this course

1

An actual video

Two words can look like translations of each other even if they aren’t. The word “actual” is our first venture into this category of false friends.

2

Making a photo

Even if you translate each individual word in a sentence correctly, the resulting translation can still be off.

3

What for a picture

Not every word in a sentence needs to appear in its translation. Languages don’t map to each other one-to-one.

Or?

You can spot Germans by the fact that they use “or” to ask questions. Unfortunately, the word doesn’t work that way in English.

5

Hello together

This mistranslation gave this course its name. “Together” refers to doing something with others. Here’s how to greet a group of people instead.

6

Handy

What do you call a phone you can hold in your hand? Well, it’s not this. If you call it a handy, you’re in for some awkward looks.

7

Becoming a car

“Bekommen” and “to become” are another pair of false friends. If you want something, make sure you’re not accidentally turning yourself into that thing.

8

Less vs fewer

Is it “less mistakes” or “fewer mistakes”? They both seem to say that something is not as much as it was before, but only one is grammatically correct.

9

Eventually

False friends are everywhere. Eventually is very similar to the German “eventuell”, but it means something completely different.

10

Whom

Why isn’t it “Whom let the dogs out”? The extra letter does not turn a regular “who” into a fancy version of itself.

11

Apostrophes

When coming from a language that doesn’t normally use them, where to put apostrophes can seem confusing.

12

I vs me

Was an event organized by “Nina and I” or “Nina and me”? To find which one applies, take the other person out of the sentence for a second.

13

Good vs well

You’re doing well, Superman is doing good. This lesson looks at the rules behind which of these two is correct in a given situation.

14

Looking forward

When you’re excited about something, tell others what that thing is. On its own, you’re only saying half an expression otherwise.

15

Gender-neutral pronouns

When you don’t know someone’s preferred pronouns, you can use they/them even when speaking about an individual person and not a group.

16

Please

We have been taught to always say please and thank you. Whether they are right for a situation depends on the context.

17

Each other

Some actions happen to multiple people at once, like running into someone. In these situations, we need to use reciprocal pronouns.

18

Do

Other languages don’t always use the auxillary “do” as much as the English language does, so it’s often lost in translation.