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I cannot understand the difference in the meaning of these two words: irgendwann and manchmal

As I understand, both are a lesser than immer, and more than nie. In between.

In my online courses, they are translated respectively sometime and sometimes...

And as I don't really make a difference in english also... I just wonder if there is really a difference enough in using one or the other.

Could I consider them synonyms ?

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Note that it actually is the same thing in English: Sometimes = every now and then, sometime = at some future point of time. – Mac Nov 7 '12 at 8:08
up vote 11 down vote accepted

No, in German they are quite different. Let me explain it with an example:

Wenn ich traurig bin, trinke ich manchmal Alkohol.

Sometimes, when I’m sad, I drink alcohol.

Another one:

Irgendwann werde ich das Fahrrad reparieren.

One day I’ll repair the bicycle.

I would translate „irgendwann“ with “eventually”, “one day” or “someday” as it means that something will/might happen in the future (OR has happened in the past; I’m not sure whether this meaning isn’t just colloquial, though). Another example:

Irgendwann stirbt jeder (Mensch).

Eventually, everybody is going to die.

But beware: “eventually” can also mean „letztlich“/„letztendlich“.

The Duden explains it quite well using „zu irgendeinem Zeitpunkt“ as an explanation.


I just saw in your profile that you are from Paris so I assume you speak French? I checked a dictionary German->French:

irgendwann --> « un jour ou l'autre »

manchmal --> « des fois », « parfois », « quelquefois », « à l'occasion », « par moments»

While my French doesn’t go much further than knowing what Je cherche une chambre means, it might be helpful for you. Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with the information of which translation of „manchmal“ is the right one.


„irgendwann“ means “at an uncertain point in time/some time”

„manchmal“ means “sometimes”

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i think i begin to sense the difference: irgendwann, one possibility in the time. Manchmal, several possibilities in the time. – Stephane Rolland Nov 7 '12 at 2:47
@StephaneRolland I added some additional pieces of information. Especially the Duden link should help you. – PattaFeuFeu Nov 7 '12 at 2:55

Sometimes it helps to look at the question a word can answer.

Irgendwann answers to when?. It is the most vague answer possible and the temporal equivalent to irgendwo.

Manchmal answers to how often? One might say that it is an answer to when? but that is a misconception. Examples:

When do you drink a beer.


This would pass as a successful communication but only so because the question itself is rather vague and ambiguously phrased. A computer would answer with a list of points in time. Manchmal is just a replacement for a rather short list. So... the context helps out here. Now, let's try a "real" when-question.

When did you buy this book?

Manchmal. (sometimes, occasionally)

This doesn't work. But this does:

Irgendwann. (at some point)

So... manchmal is a measure of quantity and is to be seen as the little brother of often. Irgendwann is an indication of a point in time and serves the same function as things like today, later or last Wednesday.

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