I love to focus on individual words in the German language and explore their meanings. The German for ‘vocabulary’ is der Wortschatz, or ‘word treasure’. Each word is like a jewel, truly something to be treasured. I am aiming to help you expand your German voabulary by focusing on one word and its many shades of meaning. I am using the medium of English to explore a word in German to make it easy for beginners and those who just want to find out more about the amazing German language. The word I am focusing on today is Der Tag – the German word for ‘day’
Whatever the language it’s one of the first words we learn and Guten Tag! it’s often the first thing we say to people in the morning, though in the various regions of Germany, people prefer alternatives such as Grüß Gott in the south or Moin in the north.
Guten Tag is the standard greeting but often the more familiar Tagchen is used – ‘Have a nice little day’.
Tag is cognate with (related to) the word ‘day’ in English. As with many other cognate words, T in German corresponds with D in English, and G with Y.
Please note the pronunciation of Tag is with a long A, / taak / The g is usually pronounced more like k. In some accents in northern Germany the say / tach / rhyming with Bach, or nach.
Related words include täglich – every day – with -lich, an Umlaut is added, changing the sound of the vowel from / a / to / ä / or / eh /.
Something that takes place day after day is ‘tagtäglich’ and every day is ‘jeden Tag’. Please note, there is an -n on jeden, unlike jede Woche and jedes Wochenende. Jeden always goes with Tag as it’s masculine accusative. Learn the word pair as it if were joined together into a single word – JedenTag. As with all new words and phrases, it pays to repeat aloud it three times!
Traditionally, der Tag is the period of the day when it’s light, from sunrise to sunset. The opposite is die Nacht.
We often see the sign Einfahrt! Tag und Nacht freihalten. Keep free day and night.
The days of the week are die Wochentage. On parking signs you will read werktags this means Monday to Saturday. An Arbeitstag is a working day, which can be any day of the week.
As in English, some days of the week are named after planets, but not all. Montag is named after the moon, der Mond, but Mittwoch is simply the day in the middle of the week.
In English we say ‘on’ Monday but in German it’s am, short for an dem. It’s good to practice the days of the week with am: Am Montag, am Dienstag, am Mittwoch, am Donnerstag, am Freitag, am Samstag, am Sonntag.
Feiertage are feast days, which in the UK may or may not be bank holidays. On signs you see An Sonn- und Feiertagen on Sundays and bank holidays.
Birthday is der Geburtstag, and happy birthday is Herzliche Glückwünsche zum Geburtstag!
You’ll find tag in countless compound words. One page lists 2581 words containing or ending with tag but not all of them are examples of der Tag.
Der Sporttag, der Schultag, der Durchschnittstagesverdienst = average daily earnings all contain Tag, but die Montage / mon TA zhe / = installation, die Etage = floor are from French and end with -age preceded by T.
If an activity takes place over the course of the day, it’s tagsüber or während des Tages – during the day. Here we have the genitive ‘of the day’, often seen in menus: Suppe des Tages, Spezialität des Tages.
tagesschau is the name of the nightly tv news programme on ARD, – literally ‘show of the day’, or ‘a look at the events of the day’, and please note, it’s written with a small t.
That’s the main meaning of Tag, but its is extended and transformed in some fascinating ways.
In Berlin, the national parliament is the Bundestag, a name that’s familiar in news reports. It is housed in the building known as the Reichstag – the parliament of the old German Reich. But why Tag? Because meetings are traditionally held during the day, and so we have the verb tagen, to have a meeting or conference, eine Tagung.
There is a Landtag, a regional parliament, each of the 16 federal states.
Organisations have their Tag as well, for instance the Deutscher Katholikentag – the conference of Roman Catholics, and there’s also the Deutscher Evangelische Kirchentag – the German Lutheran church conference .
Festivals often take place over a number of days, and so they are called Tage – die Rumpenheimer Kunsttage which would translate as the Rumpenheim Art Festival.
When a woman says ‘Ich kriege meine Tage’ it means she is getting her period.
There are some famous names with Tag – Maytag, the American commercial appliance brand. It’s derived from der Maitag, May day, the first day of May.
The famous Swiss watch brand is Tag Heuer, which sounds like the German word Tag combined with heuer – ‘this year’ in the south German, Austrian and Swiss German. However the name actually derives from Edouard Heuer, who in 1860 founded Uhrenmanufaktur Heuer AG. This company was bought by Luxembourg based TAG group. TAG is an acronym from French Techniques d’Avant-Garde and has nothing to do with German Tag!
— TAG Heuer (@TAGHeuer) November 21, 2016
An interesting use of Tag is in the words der Tagebau open cast mining. In Bergmannsprache – the specialist language of Bergmänner – miners, Tag doesn’t mean a length of time but the surface of the earth, where mining is carried out under the light of day – im Licht des Tages .
From this we get unter Tage, which means ‘under the ground’. And yet this phrase seems contradictory – if you’re unter Tage, it sound like you’re under the daylight, when in fact you are deep under the ground. In 2010, the trapped Chilean miners spent 69 days unter Tage.
Mögest du alle Tage deines Lebens leben! – Zum Wohl!
May you live all the days of your life! – Cheers!
And so as we draw to a close, let’s take a look at the Reichstag as it looks heutzutage – with the glass dome from which visitors can look down on the Bundestag.
More on the background to this article:
This article was written by me, Aidan O’Rourke, based on my knowledge of the German language. The aim is to help people learn German by introducing German words through the medium of English. This is useful for beginners, who may feel overwhelmed by the exclusive use of the foreign language. It also presents a variety of words in an easily digestible fashion.
The German words are seen not as foreign vocabulary but as words which could just as easily be used in the English language. In fact, many German words have become part of the English language, such as angst, zeitgeist and rucksack. They should be used with capital letters in German but in English they’re written small.
By reading information articles on German vocab I hope that people will be able to learn and remember vocabulary and to get a taster of the incredible richness of the German language and its Wortschatz its ‘treasure of words’.