German Language Stack Exchange is a bilingual question and answer site for speakers of all levels who want to share and increase their knowledge of the German language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have a question about the importance of context in German language.

The phrase I'm interested in is the word Verschwinden. My understanding is that Verschwinden on its own would mean something like disappearance, however when put with a word like müssen, e.g. müssen verschwinden, it becomes "must disappear".

My question is, did the two (slightly) different meanings of a word like verschwinden com about because the context had a serious effect on the meaning of it? Or am I totally missing the bigger picture about why the same word is being used both as a verb and as a noun?

share|improve this question

closed as unclear what you're asking by Em1, Emanuel, Baz, Wrzlprmft, RegDwight Feb 6 '14 at 21:43

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

What is "a word like Verschwinden" ? A noun? A nounified verb? What is a serious effect? IN your example the words seem to be rather close, don't you think? The point you're missing is that "verschwinden" is a verb that means "to disappear". This is then turned into the generic noun by adding "das" and using a capital v. The meaning is the SAME. In general... yes, context can make all the difference or none. This question cannot be answered like... ever. – Emanuel Feb 6 '14 at 10:23
Expanded question for greater clarity. – Tom Au Feb 6 '14 at 20:53
I am still not sure what the question here is. The context has a serious effect on the meaning of absolutely any word in absolutely any language. As to nouns vs. verbs, that is a very weird question to ask from the perspective of English (and in English), a language in which absolutely any word at all can be used as a verb as is, which in German and other languages is exceptionally rare. So if anything, you should be asking the exact opposite question: how come zero derivation is not available for every German word. – RegDwight Feb 6 '14 at 21:50
@RegDwight: The question as I now understand it, was "Did the meaning of the two different forms of the word change because of the context, or because one is a noun and the other is a verb?" A simpler version of the question is, "What is a gerund?" Perhaps my edits did not make that clear. – Tom Au Feb 7 '14 at 16:14
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Every verb in German can be used as a noun:

verschwinden => das Verschwinden (to disappear, the disappearance)
gehen => das Gehen (to walk, the walk)

You need to distinguish when the verb is used as a verb or when it is a noun, which can be easily done by checking the capitalization - nouns always start with a capital letter.

The only problem may be the beginning of a sentence, when every word starts with a capital letter.

share|improve this answer
That makes sense, i now see where i'm going wrong. Thank you! – daark Feb 6 '14 at 9:36
Side note: Some capitalized verbs can have several meanings. E.g. das Essen: food vs the process of eating. – MCL Feb 6 '14 at 15:06
Also: the walk --> der Spaziergang. Das Gehen --> the walking. der Gang --> corridor / way of walking – Vogel612 Feb 6 '14 at 23:23

I am not sure I get the major difference in meaning in your two examples, but in the first one, you use Verschwinden as a noun, "das Verschwinden", and in the second one you use it as a verb, "etwas muss verschwinden". The meaning is pretty much the same, but the grammatical form differs, exactly like in the English translation, "disappearance" vs. "must disappear".

In general, there are of course words whose meaning depends on context, "mouse" is a fairly known example that works both in English and German, but I am not aware of a general rule that would help to decide in how far and how much the meaning of a word differs between different contexts.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.