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German phrase of the day: Etwas in Kauf nehmen

Leave it to the German language to help with any situation that involves a trade-off between two things.

German phrase of the day: Etwas in Kauf nehmen

Why do I need to know this phrase?

This is one of the most common German idioms, which pops up just as frequently in colloquial chats as it is in political debates and news broadcasts across the German-speaking world.

What does it mean?

The phrase literally translates as “to take something in the purchase”. But its usage goes far beyond commercial transactions: essentially it means that, in order to get something you really want, you have to accept something less-than-ideal in return.

Let’s say you’re a trivia buff who’s invited to be a participant on Wer wird Millionär (the German version of Who wants to be a Millionaire?) – on the same night as your best friend’s birthday bash which you’ve been planning for weeks. You might have to take it in Kauf that you’ll miss the festivities. 

In the political dimension, the phrase is often used to argue that, in order to implement a beneficial measure – be it more reliable public transport or energy rebates – a less desired consequence, such as raising taxes, will be part of the deal. 

And the phrase frequently arises in debates around the ethics of technology: some say, for example, that self-driving cars will ultimately save lives, even if there are a few fatal crashes before the AI behind them is perfected.

Essentially it’s a trade-off of two things, with a person arguing (or at least accepting) that the good outweighs the inevitable bad.

Where does the phrase come from?

Originally the phrase was used to refer to something a person receives in addition to what they have already bought. It then came to refer to the bad goods that a merchant wanted to get rid of along with the desired purchase.

Examples of how it’s used:

Dieses Risiko kann ich in Kauf nehmen.

I can accept this risk.

Bei diesen preisgünstigeren Geräten müssen Nutzer aber eine niedrigere Rechenleistung in Kauf nehmen.

But with these lower-priced devices, the user must take into account the lower processing power.

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For members


German word of the day: Sicher

This seemingly simple German word is an essential addition to your vocabulary, whether you're struggling in a language class or discussing extremist politics.

German word of the day: Sicher

Why do I need to know sicher?

This helpful German word is used in a huge range of everyday contexts, from expressing your certainty to discussing your safety. 

What does it mean?

Sicher (pronounced like this) has a variety of meanings: understanding which one applies involves becoming sensitive to the context.

You’ve probably heard the word used to mean “sure” or “certain”. If you ask someone for directions on the street and they tell you, “Ich bin mir nicht sicher”, you may need to ask someone else, as this person isn’t sure. On the other hand, if someone gives you directions but you’re convinced they’re leading you in the wrong direction, you may want to double check by asking, “Bist du dir sicher?”, meaning, “Are you sure?”.

In a similar vein, you can add sicher to any statement you make to emphasise your certainty and reinforce your point. For example, if a friend is worrying about their performance in an exam, you could tell them: “Du hast die Prüfung sicher bestanden”, which would roughly translate as: “I’m sure you’ve passed the exam”. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Also

Of course, if you’ve made a good investment recently, you can also look forward to “sichere Gewinne”, or assured profits, sometime in the near future. 

Just like in English, sicher can normally be used interchangeably with “sicherlich”, which translates as “surely” and also expresses a feeling of certainty. 

Another common translation of the word sicher is “safe” or “secure”, which can relate either to literal safety, or a feeling of comfort and security. For instance, “Ich fühle mich sicher zuhause” would express a feeling of safety and security (Sicherheit) in your own home, while “Er fährt sicher” would mean: “He drives safely”.  

You may have also heard the phrase, “gesichert rechtsextrem” when it comes to discussions of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and other extreme forces in German politics.

If this sounds legalistic, it’s because it is: “gesichtert rechtsextreme”, or confirmed far-right, is a term used by officials who have gathered enough evidence about a party or its members to brand it an extremist organisation and track its activity in the name of national security. 

READ ALSO: Germany labels far-right AfD’s youth wing ‘extremist’

How do I know which meaning of sicher applies?

Though you’ll often need to rely on context in order to understand how the word sicher is being used, there are some easy ways to tell. 

When you hear it used as a reflexive adverb along with the dative, i.e. “Ich bin mir sicher” it always means: “I’m sure”, whereas “Ich fühle mich sicher” (with accusative) would describe feeling safe or secure.

If there’s no reflexive pronoun (i.e. mir oder mich) the meaning ist more ambiguous. For example, saying: “Meine Tasche ist sicher im Büro” could mean both “My bag is safe in the office” and “I’m sure my bag is in the office.” In most of these cases, though, you’ll have a bit more context to go on, so you can normally work out what someone is trying to tell you. 

Use it like this:

Sind sie sicher an ihrem Ziel gekommen?

Have they arrived safely at their destination? 

Du wirst den Job bekommen – da bin ich mir sicher!

You’ll get the job – I’m sure of it!