In English you can use the word thing if you don't know the word you're looking for, or if you want to be inexact.

For example, if I forgot the word for key in German (Schlüssel), I might want to say something like "You know that thing you used to open doors, what's it called?".

Or I might say:

  • I need something to help me get better.
  • something has to happen
  • That thing over there.
  • It's one of his things.
  • One of my favourite things about German is...

We even have a slang word called "thingamajiggy" to replace a complicated or unknown word or phrase.

If there is a German equivalent is it used commonly?

  • Related: german.stackexchange.com/q/6391/1224
    – Em1
    Dec 29 '15 at 8:45
  • Note, you won't find a word like "thing" that also is part of "something". But you can say "some thing" or "thing", e.g. "(Einige) Dinge müssen geschehen", "Ich brauche eine Sache, die mir hilft"
    – Em1
    Dec 29 '15 at 8:50
  • The closest equivalent to thing-a-ma-jig would be Dingenskirchens. However, the German one is used more when you forgot the person’s name, e.g. the agent on the phone’s.
    – Jan
    Dec 29 '15 at 12:39
  • I've seen "was" being used in a sentence to mean "thing" before. But I didn't understand how it was "what" and "thing", so I came here to find out. "Was ist das unerzogenste was sie jemals germacht haben"
    – WORMSS
    Jul 7 '17 at 6:56

There are several equivalents to this. Thing is quite commonly used in English for several (very) different things. (See what I did there?)

  • "something has to happen"
    "Etwas muss passieren", meaning some undefined action or thing, you don't know exactly what.

  • "That thing over there"
    "Das Ding dort drüben" defined in a way, that you know exactly what you mean, but don't know the name.

  • "It's one of his things"
    (I'm not sure about the context here (important in German), so i leave it out.)

  • "one of my favourite...[]"
    "Eins meiner liebsten Dinge...[]", but here it is very contextual and depends on the thing that actually is your favourite.
    Another word that would fit is Eigenschaft (feature, property etc.).

    Also, you would probably phrase the whole sentence different in German (e.g. "Die Sprache ist wohl eine der Eigenschaften, die ich an Deutschland am meisten mag.").

  • "thingamajingy"
    "Dings/Dingsda/Dingens/Dingsbums" as in "Reich mir mal den Dingsda/Dings/Dingens da" or "Der Dingens/Dings (if you forget the name of a person) ist heute mal wieder krank".

Please consider that the use of Dings is a bit sensitive, because it is considered to be bad German by some people. If possible, try to work around it but don't stress it, as you are no native speaker.

  • Thanks, "thing" is considered bad or lazy language in English too. It's seen as you not being bothered to say the proper word for an object or learn the name for it. But it could be a really useful word, I thought, while my German vocabulary is still limited.
    – JamieB
    Dec 29 '15 at 9:38

It would be das Ding as in

Das Ding, das man benutzt, um Türen zu öffnen. (That thing you use to open doors.)

Das Ding dort drüben. (That thing over there.)

Es ist eines seiner Dinge. (It is one of his things.)

Another thing (haha) would be something, which would translate to etwas:

Ich brauche etwas, damit es mir besser geht. (I need something to help me get better.)

etwas muss passieren (something has to happen)

As for thingamajiggy, I would suggest translations as

  • Dingsbums
  • Dingens

Ding is OK for material things, but use Sache for concepts.

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