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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Los

This tiny German word has a huge range of meanings.

German word of the day: Los

Why do I need to know los?

Because it’s a very common word in spoken German which crops up everywhere, from yoga classes to unemployment offices. We explain how it’s used below. 

What does it mean?

The word los has a wide variety of uses in the German language – it can be a noun, adjective, adverb, interjection, as well as a prefix and a suffix.

As an adjective it means “loose” in English and is used to describe something not firmly or tightly fixed in place. This is the kind of los you’re most likely to encounter in everyday life. If an Austrian friend asks you why you’re looking a bit down, for example, they’ll probably say:

Was ist mit dir los?

This literally means “what’s loose with you?” but is used to mean “what’s up”?

Similarly, if there’s some commotion on the street outside your office, an Austrian colleague might ask:

Was ist da los?

What’s up there?

Los is also commonly used as an exclamation, meaning “Go!”

(Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP)

At the start of a race, for example, instead of “On your marks – get set – Go!” you’ll hear auf die Plätze – fertig – Los!

You’ll also hear this type of los as a general encouragement or as an order to someone to make a move:

Worauf wartest du? Los!

What are you waiting for? Go!

Or a chant in football fields: jetzt geht’s los meaning something like here we go!

Los as a prefix and suffix

When it appears at the beginning of a verb, los expresses the idea of starting or going. The verb losgehen, for example, means “to get going”, while loslassen  – a favourite of Austrian yoga teachers – means “to let go”.

When it appears at the end of a word, however, -los has a similar meaning to the English suffix “-less,” such as nutzlos (useless), harmlos (harmless) and arbeitslos (jobless).

Los as a noun

As a noun, das Los has a very different definition and means “fate” or “lot”. Stemming from this meaning, das Los is also a common word for “lottery ticket” in German.

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German phrase of the day: Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen

Anyone struggling with learning German (or any big skill) could use this popular piece of reassurance.

German phrase of the day: Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen

Why do I need to know this?

If you’re getting down on yourself for not doing something you are still learning just right – be it playing the piano or speaking German – you can gently comfort yourself with this phrase. Or you can confidently cite it to reassure your perfectionist friend or family member that they are indeed making great strides towards their goal.

What does it mean?

Literally translated as “There is still no master which has fallen from the sky,” the expression gets the idea across that no one is born – or comes pummeling down from the heavens – as an expert at something.

Rather they become a Meister (or at least halfway decent) through continuous hard work and discipline. 

READ ALSO: How to remember the gender of German words

The saying is similar to the also widely used “Übung macht den Meister” (Practice makes the master) or the English version: Practice makes perfect. 

Not surprisingly, Austrians and Germans – who pride themselves on industriously reaching their goals – have several other equivalent sayings. They include “Ohne Fleiß kein Preis” (There’s no prize without hard work) and “Von nichts kommt nichts” (Nothing comes out of nothing).

Where does it come from?

The popular phrase can be traced back to the Latin “Nemo magister natus”, or no one is born a master. Another version is “Nemo nascitur artifex” or no one is born an artist. This explains why so many languages have similar expressions.

What are some examples of how it’s used?

Sei nicht so streng mit dir selbst. Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one is born perfect. 

Mein Trainer sagte, es sei noch kein perfekter Schwimmer vom Himmel gefallen.

My coach said that no one is born a perfect swimmer.

READ ALSO: Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust

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