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
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.Read full lesson
Making a photo
Even if you translate each individual word in a sentence correctly, the resulting translation can still be off.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
You can spot Germans by the fact that they use “or” to ask questions. Unfortunately, the word doesn’t work that way in English.Read full lesson
This mistranslation gave this course its name. “Together” refers to doing something with others. Here’s how to greet a group of people instead.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
False friends are everywhere. Eventually is very similar to the German “eventuell”, but it means something completely different.Read full lesson
Why isn’t it “Whom let the dogs out”? The extra letter does not turn a regular “who” into a fancy version of itself.Read full lesson
When coming from a language that doesn’t normally use them, where to put apostrophes can seem confusing.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
When you’re excited about something, tell others what that thing is. On its own, you’re only saying half an expression otherwise.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
We have been taught to always say please and thank you. Whether they are right for a situation depends on the context.Read full lesson
Some actions happen to multiple people at once, like running into someone. In these situations, we need to use reciprocal pronouns.Read full lesson
Other languages don’t always use the auxillary “do” as much as the English language does, so it’s often lost in translation.Read full lesson