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German word of the day: Kette

From describing the stunning natural landscape in Germany's lake district to understanding international trade issues, this is a German word you won't be able to do without.

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

Why do I need to know Kette? 

While it may not be too useful by itself, Kette is a noun you’ll find attached to other words in many of Germany’s famous compound nouns – so it’s definitely worth knowing what it means.

In fact, you’ll hear it everywhere from the bike repair shop to news articles about economics and even chemistry analogies. 

What does it mean?

The feminine noun die Kette (pronounced like this) is the same as the English word ‘chain’. It’s what keeps your wheels moving on your bicycle and what jewellers use to make necklaces (or Halzketten in German – literally, throat chains). 

Like the English ‘chain’ though, Kette is an incredibly versatile word that can describe anything that’s linked to something else. For instance, the northern state of Brandenburg has a famous Seenkette – a chain of lakes that weaves through the rural landscape for several miles.

When you’re reading about the fall-out from the Covid pandemic, you may hear about issues with the Lieferketten – or supply chains – that have affected trade between Europe and China in particular. When you’re at a protest or demonstration, you may see people link arms to form a Menschenkette – or chain of people – and it’s pretty normal to decorate your home with Lichterketten (fairy lights) at Christmas time. 

There’s also a helpful idiom (originally from chemistry and physics) that you can use to describe a situation where a small event spirals into a larger one. When a situation like this is getting out of hand, you may worry that something you’ve done has set off a Kettenreaktion – or chain reaction. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Klartext

Use it like this: 

Seine Worte lösten eine unangenehme Kette von Ereignissen aus.

His words set off an unpleasant chain of events.

Kannst du mir bitte helfen? Meine Fahrradkette is abgesprungen.

Can you help me please? My bike chain’s come off. 

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For members


German word of the day: Verschlafen

Ever end up staying just a little too long in bed? Then this German word will be used in a lot of your apologies.

German word of the day: Verschlafen

Why do I need to know verschlafen?

Because it’s is a great verb that can be incredibly handy if you turn up late to work or school – and it also teaches you something interesting about the German language.

What does it mean?

As you may have noticed, verschlafen (pronounced like this) is a combination of the verb schlafen and the prefix ver. Anyone who’s been studying German for more than five minutes understands that schlafen means ‘to sleep’, but what does adding that little prefix do to it?

Most times you see the prefix ver, it’s a sign that something has gone a little bit wrong while doing the action you’re talking about. Hast du die Eier verkocht? If the answer’s yes, then those eggs are unfortunately overcooked and not likely to be enjoyable. Meanwhile, bist du verlaufen? means “Did you get lost?”. In other words: did something go wrong in the process of walking?

READ ALSO: The complete A-Z guide to German prefixes and what they mean

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that verschlafen is that most common of sleeping mistakes: oversleeping. 

You can also use it to describe going to bed and missing something, such as the ringing in of the New Year. In fact, this is quite a common form of verschlafen in Germany: a poll back in 2023 found that 51 percent of Germans went to bed early and missed celebrations on the 31st. 

Use it like this:

Es tut mir leid, dass ich so spät ankomme: heute habe ich verschlafen.

I’m sorry I’m so late: I overslept today.

Hast du jemals verschlafen, und bist spät zur Arbeit gekommen?

Have you ever overslept and been late to work?