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Why is there a difference between sehr ernsthaft vs sehr ernst? In English it both means very seriously.

When do I use which?

E.g. from the same document:

  1. Und wir halten solches Streben für sehr ernst.

  2. Diese Zusammenkünfte sollten meiner Ansicht nach sehr ernsthaft genommen werden

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Die Frage hat doch mit dem sehr nichts zu tun, das kann man doch überall rauskürzen? – user unknown Nov 18 '13 at 14:41
up vote 4 down vote accepted

While both also mean serious, ernsthaft has some other meanings than ernst, and they are mostly not interchangeable.

Example for when you can not use ernst:

Willst Du mir ernsthaft erzählen, dass ... (are you really trying to tell me ...)

Example for when you can not use ernsthaft:

Meinst Du das ernst? (Are you serious?)

Generally, you should be able to replace ernstaft by im Ernst, while you can for the most part not exchange ernst with im Ernst (with one exception maybe being Meinst Du das ernst/im Ernst?, where the im Ernst variant is in my experience used rarely, mostly in spoken German).

DWDS tells us:

ernst: not in a light mood, threatening
ernsthaft: haunting, grave, sincere

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Meinst du ernsthaft, dass man ernsthaft nicht verwenden kann, wenn man jemanden ernsthaft fragen will, ob er etwas ernsthaft so meint, wie er es ernsthaft gesagt hat? Ernsthaft? Da stimme ich dir ernsthaft nicht zu. – Em1 Nov 18 '13 at 17:08
Dang it... I've been writing on my answer the last 2 hours (traveling through town), just to find your good answer here that you'Ve written in the meantime. +1 from me – Ben Nov 18 '13 at 18:03
Ich glaube ernstlich, dass es einen Unterschied in der Bedeutung gibt, ob jemand etwas ernst sagt oder ernsthaft. Etwas ernst sagen heißt, etwas in nicht lustiger Weise zu äußern. Etwas ernsthaft zu sagen, heißt, es mit Wohlbedacht zu sagen (Gegenfrage wäre "Nein! Das hat er doch nicht ernsthaft [im Sinne von tatsächlich] gesagt?" – Thorsten Dittmar Nov 18 '13 at 23:03
Example for the above comment in German: I can say ernst that I hate dogs (i.e. in a serious tone). I can not, however, say it ernsthaft, because it is a plain lie. – Thorsten Dittmar Nov 18 '13 at 23:07

As you already pointed out ernst can be translated as serious(ly) and in this sense also as severe, truly, heavily or dangerous etc. depending on the context.

If you split ernsthaft into its two parts ernst-haft, you would translate it as ernst-like or in a ernst manner.

So, ernster Professor would most likely be a stern person, while ernsthafter Student would be (most of the times) a diligent person.

Answering your question: Diese Zusammenkünfte sollten meiner Ansicht nach sehr ernsthaft genommen werden is at least uncommon, if not wrong. It rather would be ernst genommen werden or ernsthaft wahrgenommen werden. The first one meaning the gatherings should be taken seriously (not lightly), the later one that the meetings should be used earnestly.

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IMHO: sehr ernsthaft makes no sense


ernsthaft is used to enforce something.

seriously you have to do this! => ernsthaft, du musst das machen!

i promise! seriously! => versprochen! ernsthaft!


das ist ernsthaft => no valid german sentence!

you have to say this

das ist ernst => this is serious

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... but das ist ernsthaft schwer (this is realy heavy) again would be a valid sentence, as well as ich bin ernsthaft (i am an earnest person). – Ben Nov 18 '13 at 17:57
i would say das ist schwer, ernsthaft oder das ist echt/wirklich/sehr/außerordentlich/unerwartet schwer but ich bin ernsthaft davon überzeugt.. is valid i agree – Alex Tape Nov 18 '13 at 18:00

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