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German word of the day: Merkwürdig

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
German word of the day: Merkwürdig
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

When something strange catches your eye, it's often helpful to reach for this German word.

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Why do I need to know merkwürdig?

Because once you do know it, you'll probably find it's one of those adjectives you end up using time and time again. It's also a far more interesting and descriptive alternative to a common word you may have learned in your A1 or A2 German class - and we happen to think it's also pretty fun to say.

What does it mean?

Merkwürdig, which sounds like this, can be used to describe anything you find strange, odd or a bit out of place - or perhaps something that makes you a bit mistrustful. In that sense, it can be a good stand-in for the word komisch, which many beginner German learners tend to overuse. 

However, it's important to note that merkwürdig isn't an exact synonym for komisch. The word is a combination of two other German words: merken, which means to notice or remark upon, and würdig, meaning worthy. 

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In that sense, you can think of merkwürdig a little like the English word remarkable, although the word außergewöhnlich is more likely to be used if the situation or observation is a positive one. Things that are merkwürdig may provoke astonishment, curiosity or surprise and are therefore worth noticing or remarking upon. 

In Austrian media, this word is often used to describe strange or curious situations. For example, this story by Der Standard on how the former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his ÖVP party ploughed money into plans for visitors to have access to the Chancellory has the headline: 'Die merkwürdige Geschichte des "Besuchermanagements" im Kanzleramt' or 'The strange history of "visitor management" in the Chancellery'.

Use it like this:

Ich finde sein merkwürdiges Verhalten ein bisschen abschreckend.

I find his strange behaviour a bit off-putting.

Sie befindet sich momentan in einer merkwürdigen Situation. 

She finds herself in an odd situation at the moment. 

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