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German word of the day: Sympathisch

A very difficult German word to translate into English, sympathisch is generally a wonderful compliment or way of describing a person.

German word of the day: Sympathisch
Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

What does it mean?

Sympathisch may sound like “sympathetic” in English. But while a sympathisch person may well express sympathy for people, sympathisch covers a lot more than this, which is why it’s so hard to translate.

The closest English translations are “likeable”, “congenial” or “friendly”, but none of these words quite convey the exact meaning of sympathisch.

Sympathisch often describes a nice energy that you get from a person. You may find someone likeable and friendly, but a sympathisch vibe indicates that you instinctively like or trust them based on intuition. You could say that it’s about “vibing with someone” – not necessarily in a romantic way, though. 

You may find someone friendly, but not necessarily sympathisch, if you like them but also think they might be hiding something from you, to use one example.

How do you use it or where might you see it?

Sympathisch is an adjective used mostly to describe a person, and you’re likely to encounter it reasonably often in everyday conversation and in German language media and popular culture.

You’ll often see it in a sentence like this:

Findest du ihn sympathisch? – Do you vibe with him? 

Warum ist uns jemand sympathisch und anderen nicht? – Why do we find some people likeable and others not?

READ ALSO: Eight German words that are impossible to translate into English

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For members


German phrase of the day: Die Butter vom Brot nehmen

If you're looking for a German phrase that describes one of the most heinous and anti-social crimes imaginable, look no further than this one.

German phrase of the day: Die Butter vom Brot nehmen

Why do I need to know this phrase?

Die Butter vom Brot nehmen (pronounced like this) is another classic example of Germans using food to describe almost any situation in life – and in this case, you can use it to call out people who always seem to be trying to get the better of you. 

What does it mean?

While normally there’s a fairly accurate equivalent to German sayings in English, in this case it’s a little harder to find a direct translation.

As you may realise, die Butter vom Brot nehmen quite literally means: “taking the butter from the bread”. It’s used to describe situations where someone takes something important from someone else, behaves a bit cheekily or tries to get one over on another person in some way. For instance, if there’s one dog at the park that always steals your dog’s ball, that would be a key example of a canine butter-thief. 

You may wonder why this scenario is so emotive for the Germans. Aren’t there worse things to take from someone than a bit of butter? 

Well, one reason could be that butter is viewed as a key component of any Abendbrot ritual: it’s the salty, fatty bit of deliciousness that can perfectly complement your salami and Sauergurke (pickled gherkins) when you’re tucking into a few slices of rye as a light evening meal. And if you find you don’t have at least an inch of butter on both sides of your belegtes Brötchen (filled bread roll), as a German you may well ask for your money back.

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: Erste Sahne

What else should I know?

If you’d like to start using this fun expression, it’s important to note that you’ll need to use the dative case with it, as in jemandem die Butter vom Brot nehmen. This often applies when something is being given or taken, and means you’ll use dative pronouns such as dir, mir, ihr and ihm to talk about the person losing out rather than their accusative forms of dich, mich, sie and ihn.

Use it like this: 

Willst du mir jetzt auch noch die Butter vom Brot nehmen?

Now you also want to get the better of me?

Er ist ein Typ, der sich die Butter vom Brot nicht nehmen lässt. 

He’s a guy that doesn’t take any nonsense from anybody.