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Does "so" have similar usage and meaning in English and German?

so ein schönes Lied!

das tut uns [ja] so leid!

so? Das wäre aber sonderbar

du darfst nehmen, so viel wie du willst.

alles ging so weit (bis dahin) gut, aber dann …

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The meaoning is similar to the english meaning here. IIRC, so is used as a modal particle (Modalpartikel) here. –  FUZxxl Jul 17 '11 at 11:33

2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

So is one of the most complicated words in German. The Grimm has dozens (if not hundreds) of pages (the link generator is somewhat broken - follow the link, search for "so", and click on the second "so" entry) on this word. "So" can be an adverb, a conjunction or a particle. Most of the uses are the adverb. From the chat:

Also, das deutsche und englische "So" sind sich ähnlich, aber manchmal auch so unterschiedlich...

Some of the meanings are very similar to English. It can mean something similar to "very":

das tut uns [ja] so leid! => We are so sorry! (note that the German version is made sarcastic by the use of "so" in the first example)

Ich hätte so gern Montana gesehen. (from The Hunt for Red October)

It can also mean a surprise:

so? Das wäre aber sonderbar. => so? That would be strange.

In this case, you could also say "Ach so?" or "Tatsächlich?" instead.

An important meaning of "so" in German, however, is a comparison. so-wie is used similar to as-as in English:

Anna ist so groß wie Marie. Anna is as tall as Marie.

It can be used standalone, on the other hand:

Anna ist so groß. She's so tall.

In this case, it is still a comparison and kind of requires more explanation (sie stößt mit dem Kopf an die Decke).

In English, "so" is often used like "hence". You can use it in German as well:

Das ist nicht gut gegangen, so (folglich/daher) haben wir es nicht noch einmal probiert. This didn't go well, so we didn't try again.

"so" can also mean "like this" in German, for example:

Ich habe einen Fisch gefangen, der war so groß. It was so tall.

The "so" is pronounced rather long - and you show what you mean while saying it. I don't know if it is used like this in English as well.

So kann man das auch sagen. Das geht so, so [sagt] der Duden.

Note that the verb can be omitted in some variants.

"so" can also mean "einfach so", or describe an omitted previous situation (from Duden):

Ich hatte meine Mitgliedskarte vergessen, da hat man mich so reingelassen.

And it can mean "etwa":

Ich bin so in fünf Minuten fertig. So fünfzig Euro habe ich noch übrig.

Usages of the conjunction

In the form "so dass":

Er hat zu viel ausgegeben, so dass er pleite war.

It can be used conditionally:

Morgen früh, so Gott will, wirst du wieder geweckt. (From a German lullaby)

Other forms include (from Duden) the concessive use:

so leid es mir tut, ich muss absagen

And comparing use:

so jung sie ist, so unerfahren ist sie

If you still can't get enough of the word "so" in German, read yesterday's chat transcript from here - highlight "so" ;)

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In addition to OregonGhost's answer, I can think of the following other uses of "so" (some overlap in meaning):

  • "So!" as an exclamation is a bit like "okay!" when starting or finishing something.
  • "Soso." (The first syllable spoken in a higher tone), is a doubtful "is that so?"
  • "So geht das also". ("So that's how it works.")
  • "So geht das!" ("That's how you are supposed to do it!")
  • "So" (while showing how something works, usually lengthening the "o"), like "It goes like that …"
  • "Wie geht es Dir"? "Soso" (or "So lala"), meaning "okay; not well, not bad".
  • "So nicht!" during an argument, meaning "not like that!"
  • "Vor nicht so langer Zeit" = "Vor nicht allzu langer Zeit", meaning "not that long ago".
  • "So oder so, …" meaning "Either way" or "Regardless of what you do, …"
  • "So!" (with a somewhat cut off o) "Done!", "Finished!"
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