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I think it means something like "Hello" or "How are you?", am I right?

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In addition to the answer, it also carries the meaning of "Well," as in "Well, what's up?" usw. –  Kevin Feb 3 '12 at 0:08

5 Answers 5

up vote 18 down vote accepted

In the end, yes it does mean 'Hello', at least in this context. But it does not mean 'How are you?'. You often add the question:

  • Na, wie gehts dir?
  • Na, alles klar?

Or you add something stupid like:

  • Na, du auch hier?

(I believe, that your friend will never say that, but imagine the situation you meet a person in a gym, or so.)

Besides greetings, Na is an interjection (Appellinterjektion) and is used in colloquial. Usually, it is placed in front of a short sentence. Na can express feelings like surprise, unhappiness, impatience, ...

  • Na, jetzt aber los.
  • Na, wenn du meinst.
  • Na, warum auch nicht?

Have a look at the DUDEN for more examples.


As the comments point out, in some region of Germany "Na?" has the connotation of Wie geht's? - How are you?, too, without explicitly adding that question itself. You usually will use in that way, of course, just when greeting a person you know well.

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It is often used when you meet a person again and you already exchanged proper greetings. At work for example. –  Jules Feb 3 '12 at 10:16
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Until I was twenty I only knew “Na?” with the meaning “How are you?”. That's the way we used it in Swabia. Then I got to know people from Northern Germany who used it as “Hi” or “Hello” and the like. This led to some confusion... What I mean to say: there might be different meanings depending on the region?! –  cgnieder Apr 23 '12 at 14:05
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@Clemens: agreed to your observation from the South. If we greet with "Na...?" only we imply having asked further - be it "Wie geht's?" or "Was gibt's?". By this it differs from just saying "Tag.", where no answer is expected. –  Takkat Apr 23 '12 at 14:54
    
Nowadays though, I often have phone calls with the caller starting “Hallo <Name>. Na?” and the called responding “Na.” –  cgnieder Apr 23 '12 at 15:12
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@Em1 Yes, I know this usage of “Na?” as well. I tend to use “Na?” as a greeting only with people I know use it the same way (and of course only at the beginning of a conversation). Else I try to add what I mean by “Na?”, for instance “Na? Wie gehts?”. –  cgnieder Apr 23 '12 at 15:34

Em1 and user unknown have brought up good points but I'd like to state my experience about the inquiring "Na?":

"Na?" is simply a very short entry to start an unconditional/optional conversation with someone.
It is essentially a short form of

"Du siehst beschäftigt aus, kann ich stören?" // "You look busy, may I interrupt?"

"Ja." // "Yes."

"Was ist los, was machst du gerade?" // "What's going on? What are you doing right now?"

You are showing interest in the other person and if they feel like they can talk to you about what is going on or not.

The difference to directly asking "Wie geht's?" or "Was ist los?" is that there is no commitment. Neither do you ask something specific nor does the partner have to engage a full conversation. Furthermore "Na?" also implies that the topic of the conversation is free to be set around what ever is on the partner's mind.

For example:

Someone is obviously pondering over something and you ask "Na?" to indicate your interest in the other's current mood/feeling/puzzles.

  1. The response can be "Oh, hi! Ich stecke hier gerade bei der Matrizenberechnung fest." -> conversation starts.
  2. Or the reply "Na?" then indicates "I heard you but I do not feel like talking to you right now, I am busy?" -> conversation ends

On the other hand the inquiring Naaaa?:

usually implies that one is supposed to recognize something of/about the inquirer (some body modification or achievement). The inquirer is then looking for/expecting some (verbal) praise and recognition.

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In my understanding of what your friend means it's the very short colloquial form of Na, wie sieht's aus?!. It is salutation including the expectation of a reply with a situation summary. Usually, the continuation of an interrupted shared event.

You could reply Na? also and grin to him... ;-)

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The exclamation "na?" simply means:

What's up?

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In Österreich, welches zum dt. Sprachraum zählt, steht "Na" häufig für "Nein".

"Gehn ma Tauben vergiften im Park?"
"Na, ich war schon!"

Außerdem wird es ermahnend, teils kurz und scharf, in Deutschland verwendet. Wenn die Katze verbotenerweise auf den Esstisch hupft ruft man harsch "Na!" um sie zu verscheuchen, ertappt man das Kind mit dem Finger in der Nuss-Nougat-Crème kann man verständnisvoll-tadelnd ein "Na, na, na" über die Lesebrille raunzen.

Die Em1-Antwort dürfte aber am häufigsten stimmen.

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+1 für Tauben vergiften ;p. Ne Quark, das stimmt übrigens auch für Deutschland. "Na, na, na" durch aus häufiger als "Na" für nein, wo - zumindest in Westdeutschland" - "Ne" die typische Kurzform ist. –  Em1 Apr 23 '12 at 20:22
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Das "Na, na, na" (kurzes offenes "a") kenne ich aber ausschließlich mit der Bedeutung "Nun aber mal langsam" o.ä. - das hat mit dem österreichisch-bayrischen "Na" (gedehntes geschlossenes "a") m.E. gar nix zu tun. Bei Ersterem handelt es sich um die Interjektion, um die es dem OP geht, Letzteres ist einfach die Dialektform von "nein". –  Mac Apr 24 '12 at 16:09
    
@Mac: Es ist auch nicht so gemeint, als hätten beide Bedeutungen was miteinander zu tun. Deswegen "Außerdem ...", nicht "Ähnlich ...". –  user unknown Apr 24 '12 at 19:28
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Ach so, nein, mein Kommentar bezog sich auf den Kommentar von Em1 - in deiner ursprünglichen Antwort (vor dem edit) ging es ja nur um die österreichische Sache - oder irre ich mich? Allerdings ist es m.E. für Nicht-Muttersprachler schon wichtig, klarzustellen, dass es sich um zwei komplett verschiedene Wörter handelt: einmal die Interjektion "na" und einmal eine Dialektvariante von "nein", die nur zufällig gleich geschrieben werden. –  Mac Apr 25 '12 at 15:30
    
Nein, Du irrst. "Na" als Verneinung ist die österreichische Sache, Nanana als Tadel/Ermahnung allgemeiner Natur. –  user unknown Apr 25 '12 at 15:55

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