In the answer to another question it was discussed what kind of word "los" is in the following sentence:

Etwas ist los.

The poster argued that it is an adjective, that can only be used predictively. Going by the mere structure of the sentence, that makes sense but I don't think it captures the nature of the word.

1) "los" does not work with the other copula "werden"
2) "los" cannot be quantified in any way (*sehr los, *ein bisschen los)
3) The structure effectively only works for a small number of subjects (wenig, viel, etwas, nichts...)
4) "los" has no comparative/superlative

While there are plenty of adjectives that have some shortcomings here and there, I find this to be too big a list of lack for it to be called an adjective. Strictly logically speaking "weg","da", heck even "ein Pferd" would be an adjective, too, then, because they show quite the same qualities as "los"... well, apart from the article of course.

Ich bin weg.
Ich bin da.
Ich bin ein Pferd.

So my question is:

  • Does calling it an adjective really do the word justice?
  • Is there any "official" source on this?

To make sure:

Things are different for sentences like

Der Hund ist los.

But even though both constructions have the same origin, I think "los sein" has come into it's own and should seen as an intransitive phrasal verb rather than the copula "sein" with a random adjective.

  • In the sense as used in the other question, it's kind of a phrasal verb for me and in that respect I think the answer is wrong. Same is true for, e.g., "weg sein". Can't find any reliable sources for "los sein", though.
    – Em1
    Apr 1, 2015 at 8:05

2 Answers 2


Duden deems it to be an adjective.

I tend to agree that it should be regarded as an intransitive phrasal verb. The copula argument, however, is not quite right:

  1. It can be used with "werden" and with "bleiben": "Pass auf, sonst wird der Hund los!" or "Egal was Du sagst, mein Hund bleibt los, den lege ich nicht wegen Dir an die Kette!"

"bleiben" sounds a little awkward to me, however.

  • 2
    "Pass auf, sonst wird der Hund los!" ist aber doch kein Satz, oder? Was soll denn das heißen? Das klingt für mich einfach falsch, im Gegensatz zu einem Satz wie "... sonst wird der Hund losgelassen!" Auch "mein Hund bleibt los" klingt äußerst merkwürdig. Mar 28, 2015 at 16:03
  • Not that I have a clear cut answer to the actual question, ie adjective or not, but: "sonst wird der Hund los" can work, if it for example was tied to a pole. The more obvious example for me would be "Den werden wir nie los!" (but that might be a separable verb as well, so who knows.) Finally: "mein Hund bleibt los" sounds predominantly funny to me as "bleiben" and "los" don't go together logically - I dont see a major problem from a grammatical point of view.
    – Gerhard
    Mar 28, 2015 at 18:06
  • 1
    @Gerhard: Maybe that's a regional use, as to me "sonst wird der Hund los" still sounds totally wrong even within the context of the dog being tied to a pole. "sonst kommt der Hund los" sounds somewhat natural, though in that case - just like in the case of "jemanden/etwas loswerden" you mentioned - "los" is a separable verb prefix, and thus is unrelated to the "los" in "jemand/etwas ist los". Mar 28, 2015 at 19:36
  • 1
    Das Hundebeispiel ist zumindest meinem Empfinden nach aber ein anderes "los". Das von "Der Hund ist los." Das würde ich als Adjektiv bezeichnen, denn es sagt wie der Hund ist. Aber in "Hier ist etwas los." sagt mir das nicht wirklich was über "etwas" zumindest nicht auf dem gleichen Level (hoffe, du weißt, was ich meine)
    – Emanuel
    Mar 28, 2015 at 21:52
  • Noch was, der Duden listet es sowohl als Adjektiv als auch als Adverb, aber bei keinem der Einträge ist die Phrase "los sein" dabei, insofern weiß ich nicht, ob die wirklich auch gemeint ist.
    – Emanuel
    Mar 28, 2015 at 21:55

The thing to note here is that "los" in your example means "being loose". Which makes your sentence translate as follows

Etwas ist los. Something is going on

The four points you make I can answer as follows:

1) "loswerden" is a verb, meaning to get rid of something. It's not the same as the adjective.

2) You can't quantify "dead" either (a little dead? much dead?), nevertheless it's an adjective.

3) You can say "Die Hunde sind los" which means the dogs are on the loose rather than just "The dogs are loose"

4) Same argument as dead, (more dead?)

The adjective translates to both to being loose as in "not tied" and to "being on the loose". Your first sentence means the first translation, and the second sentence means the latter.

  • 1
    Etwas ist lose (loose) and etwas ist los (something's going on) are different from another, easily distiguishable by context and most people I know would emphasise lose in that sentence to make sure it's not mistaken for los
    – Jan
    Apr 1, 2015 at 10:02
  • The reason why I think it's not an adjective is not because it doesn't behave like one in one of the 4 points I listed... It's because it doesn't behave like an adjective in all 4 respects. Also, "dead" can be quantified "fast tot, halbtot". That doesn't work with "los" ... "Etwas ist fast los." nope. Not in sense of "Going on". That would be "Fast ist etwas los."
    – Emanuel
    Apr 1, 2015 at 13:10

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