How to be vague in German

At some stage in your German learning, you will come across words with the prefix ‘irgend’ – actually, quite a few of them! And they all mean something vague.

Let’s have a look at some of the easy ones:

  • irgendetwas – something, anything
    Was wirst du essen? Irgendetwas! What will you eat? Something (but right now I have no idea what it will be, I’ll find something in the fridge …)
    In spoken German it’s often just used as ‘irgendwas’
  • irgendwas – something
    Was wirst du ihm zum Geburtstag schenken? Irgendwas! What will you get him for his birthday? Something! (I have absolutely no idea yet, but I’ll find something)
  • irgendwann – sometime
    Wann wirst du deine Hausaufgaben machen? Irgendwann! When will you do your homework? Sometime (but I really haven’t got a clue when, stop pestering me)
  • irgendwie – somehow
    Irgendwie werde ich die Rechnung bezahlen! (I have absolutely no idea where to get the money from but) somehow I will pay that bill!
  • irgendwo – somewhere
    Ich habe meine Brille irgendwo liegengelassen! I’ve left my glasses somewhere (Oh, how I wish I knew where!)
  • irgendwohin – anywhere, some place
    Wohin soll ich fahren? Irgendwohin! Where shall I drive to? Anywhere (I don’t really care, just drive!)
  • irgendwoher – from somewhere
    Woher kommt der neue Nachbar? Irgendwoher! Where’s the new neighbour from? From somewhere (I’m not really bothered where)

Now some more complicated ones:

irgendein/-eine/-einen/-einem/-einer…

These depend on the gender and the case.

Nominative (the subject):

  • Irgendein Mann hat mir Blumen gegeben. (masculine) Some man has given me flowers.
  • Irgendeine Frau hat mir Blumen gegeben. (feminine) Some woman has given me flowers.
  • Irgendein Kind hat mir Blumen gegeben. (neuter) Some child has given me flowers.

Accusative (the direct object):
Wen hast du gesehen? Who did you see?

  • Irgendeinen Mann! Some man (no idea who)
  • Irgendeine Frau! Some woman!
  • irgendein Kind! Some child!

Dative (the indirect object):
Wem hast du den Brief gegeben? Who did you give the letter?

  • Irgendeinem Mann! Some man! (no idea who he was, but he got the letter now)
  • Irgendeiner Frau! Some woman!
  • irgendeinem Kind! Some child!

Alternatively, just use ‘irgendeiner’ assuming you mean a man, or ‘irgendeine’ assuming you mean a woman’: Irgendeine(r) hat mir Blumen gegeben!

Or you can use
irgendjemand, -jemandem, -jemanden

  • Nominative: Irgendjemand hat angerufen. Somebody phoned (but I have no idea who it was)
  • Dative: Wem hast du den Brief gegeben? Irgendjemandem! Who did you give the letter? Somebody! (don’t ask who it was, I have no idea!)
  • Accusative: Wen hast du gestern gesehen? Irgendjemanden! Who did you see yesterday? Somebody! (Stop asking all those questions! I don’t know and don’t care who it was!)

Then we also have
Irgendwer, -wen, -wem
This is even more vague as we don’t even know (or care) whether it’s a man or a woman.

Irgendwer hat mir ein Bier gebracht. Somebody has bought me a beer (but I was too drunk to notice who it was)
Irgendwen habe ich gesehen. I’ve seen somebody (yes, they turned up with this beer and I took it. Does it matter who it is? I don’t care)
Irgendwem habe ich das Geld gegeben. I gave the money to somebody (you mean I gave it to the wrong person? Oh no!)

And then we have
irgendwelchen, -welches, -welche, -welchem,  … again giving a very vague answer to a question:

  • Welchen Käse möchtest du essen? Irgendwelchen! Which cheese do you want to eat? Any! (I don’t care, as long as it tastes of cheese)
  • Welche Suppe möchtest du essen?  Irgendwelche! Which soup do you want to eat? Whichever! (As long as it’s edible)
  • Welches Hemd soll ich tragen? Irgendwelches! Which shirt shall I wear? Whichever! (They all look the same to me anyway, just make sure it’s clean)
  • Wem hast du das Geld gegeben? Irgendwelchem Mann/ irgendwelcher Frau! Who did you give the money? Some man/ some woman (no idea)

 

To recap, compare these sentences.
Haben Sie noch einen Vorschlag/ eine Frage/ ein Dokument? Do you have another suggestion/ question/ document?
Haben Sie noch irgendeinen Vorschlag/ irgendeine Frage/ irgendein Dokument? Do you have another suggestion/ question/ document? (Could also mean: anything? any more? Come on, think! I could do with some more suggestions, questions, documents from you)

Jemand hat das Paket abgeholt. Somebody’s picked up the parcel. (I saw them but I don’t know who they were) or maybe (I saw them. I think it was the postman but not sure)
Irgendjemand hat das Paket abgeholt. Somebody’s picked up the parcel (Could also mean: but I didn’t see it and have no idea who it was. Does it matter who it was?)

 

Does all this matter? Well, it doesn’t, but actually somehow it does.

Ist all das wichtig? Eigentlich nicht, aber

irgendwie schon ☺

If you now find you need some nice German music, have a listen to this one (and if you have watched DARK on Netflix, you might even recognise it):

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2 Responses to How to be vague in German

  1. Claire says:

    I am thinking of the adverb ungefähr, and wondering if it has an equivalent among the adjectives.

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