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I did a Google search for this and all of the hits related to checking one's e-mail. Can anyone tell me how to say "to check the mail" correctly in German? I think I've seen prüfen used for "to check" before, but it doesn't sound right to me in this context.

Thanks!

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I always use the English word: "E-Mails checken". Alternatively I guess most people tend to say that they will "read" emails. Ex.: "Ich muss noch meine (E-)Mails lesen." I've never heard "prüfen" in this context. Probably also possible is "abrufen". Ex: "Kann ich mal eben meine E-Mails abrufen." –  Em1 Jun 2 '13 at 20:03
    
I use emails prüfen - but this does no mean to read the emails. An example: I'm talking to somebody on phone and he is sending me a document via mail. I say Ich prüfe meine emails - ahh, ich sehe die email kam an. I don't use Postfach prüfen for this kind of action. –  knut Jun 2 '13 at 20:39
    
Thank you but I am wondering about checking regular mail. I guess I should've made that more clear but I thought it was when I mentioned I had checked google but only got results related to e-mail. –  kokirii Jun 3 '13 at 1:27

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I hope I understood you correctly in that you are not asking about electronic mail here, but rather traditional paper mail.

Typically, you would use “nach der Post schauen/sehen”:

Hast du heute schon nach der Post geschaut? – Ja, aber es war nur Werbung dabei.

But you often refer to the mailbox (Briefkasten) as well:

Hast du heute schon in den Briefkasten geschaut?

Ich war schon zweimal am Briefkasten, aber die Post scheint heute spät dran zu sein.

Ich muß nachher noch zum Briefkasten, das habe ich vorhin vergessen.

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Thank you! What does the "vorhin" mean in your last example? –  kokirii Jun 3 '13 at 21:51
    
Approximately “earlier”. Very useful vague word. :-) –  chirlu Jun 3 '13 at 22:11
    
Haha ok, and is that different from "zuvor" or "vorher"? –  kokirii Jun 3 '13 at 22:11
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They are very similar. “Vorhin” refers to the present only (earlier than now), while “zuvor” and “vorher” can refer to any mentioned or implied point in time: “Mach das, aber sag vorher noch X Bescheid” – here, both actions are in the future, and you couldn’t use “vorhin”. “Zuvor” is elevated and possibly obsolescent, apart from that it is the same as “vorher”. –  chirlu Jun 3 '13 at 22:49
  • die Post durchsehen
  • die Post durchgehen

kommt gleichermaßen in Frage, ob für Email oder klassische Post.

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“Die Post durchgehen” in particular makes it sound like there is a lot of mail, so the term is especially appropriate for companies etc. –  chirlu Jun 2 '13 at 22:44
    
By the way, for both verbs the “durch-” is separable, thus also stressed: “Ich gehe jeden Morgen zuerst die Post durch.” –  chirlu Jun 2 '13 at 22:46
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To my understanding "durchgehen" is used when we read through something step by step, like an exam, records or other documents. This is very different to just "checking" (= durchsehen) the mail. –  Takkat Jun 3 '13 at 7:10
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I agree with the step-by-step interpretation: You look at each letter in turn, deciding whether to throw it away, read it immediately, save it for later, etc. I don’t see a problem in that each step may only take a few seconds. –  chirlu Jun 3 '13 at 7:19
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@kokirii: Note that both, the quick "durchsehen" and the more thorough "durchgehen" apply only to a situation where you've already been to the letterbox and emptied it. You're now sitting at your desk and sort through the envelopes. If you're talking about checking the letterbox, you need to use chirlu's answer. –  Mac Jun 3 '13 at 8:02

In this context, "Prüfen" is possible but uncommon. It means more like "to inspect". More common ways to say it are:

  • "E-Mails lesen" (read mail) (as Em1 pointed out)
  • "E-Mails abrufen/abholen" (fetch mail)
  • "Nach E-Mails sehen/gucken/schauen" (look after mail)
  • "E-Mails checken" ("checken" is a colloquialism commonly used in youth language)

Note that unlike in English, German people say "E-Mails" when using the plural form and "E-Mail" when referring to a single mail. Additionally, "E-Mail" is often abbreviated with "Mail" in spoken and informal language.

"Prüfen" or "überprüfen" is more common when you want to say "check your inbox". "Prüfen" or "überprüfen" in this context is more closely defined as "to validate" or "to verify":

  • "Das Postfach prüfen/überprüfen" (check the mailbox/inbox)
  • "Ins Postfach schauen" (look into your inbox)

This variant is used in more formal contexts, when dealing with customers, in business language or in manuals. For example, if you order something at an online store and they want you to check your mail, they'd say: "Bitte überprüfen Sie Ihr Postfach" (please check your inbox).

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One of the common ways to say this in German for e-mail, as realized in last year's easy-listening hit Nur noch kurz die Welt retten by Tim Bendzko:

Muss nur noch kurz die Welt retten 
Danach flieg ich zu dir 
Noch 148 Mails checken
Wer weiß was mir dann noch passiert

But you were asking about paper mail. "Nach der Post sehen" and the other variants offered by chirlu are all good.

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