Today I opened a dictionary to find that in German there is an irgend-version of most question words (wie, was, wer, wohin, etc.) that basically means a non-specific thing that the question word refers to – like someone, something, somehow, etc.

However, two words have caught my attention, as they seem to fall out of the picture and, actually, appear completely redundant. These words are irgendjemand and irgendetwas. According to dictionary, these mean exactly the same thing as jemand and etwas without the prefix irgend.

Are irgendjemand and irgendetwas some obscure and/or obsolete words that are rarely used? Do they imply even more ambiguity than the “normal” jemand and etwas? Or are they just synonyms?

Also (if they‘re different), I’m curious whether there are any cases when one would rather use irgendjemand and irgendetwas than just jemand and etwas.

As I stated in the first paragraph, I understand what other irgend-words mean and when to use them, this question is only about irgendjemand and irgendetwas and how (and if) they are different from "normal" irgend and etwas.

  • 2
    In some contexts, irgendjemand and irgendetwas are the "i don't care about this bit"-variants. "Jemand hat etwas gesagt" is rather neutral "Irgendjemand hat irgendetwas gesagt" is more like "there was some noise, i did not care for it". In general, they are stronger, which may seem strange for foreign speakers: "Ist da jemand?" is again rather neutral "Ist irgendjemand hier?" is desperate (again with the notion that you dont really care who shows up). In some ways it is similar to somebody/anybody in englisch – Bort Jan 12 '16 at 15:48
  • @chirlu not at all. Edited my question to clarify. – Alexander Revo Jan 12 '16 at 15:54
  • Despite your clarification, this question is a duplicate. Quote from one of the answers to the other question: “Note that irgend- is sometimes redundant. There is no fundamental difference between Hat jemand angerufen and Hat irgendjemand angerufen or between Hast du ein Taxi gesehen and Hast du irgendein Taxi gesehen; irgend- just stresses the idea of "I don't care who/which" which is already expressed in the base word.” – chirlu Jan 12 '16 at 18:10
  • @Bort if you would re-post your comment as an answer, I would like to accept it as one. – Alexander Revo Jan 13 '16 at 14:11
  • @chirlu you are right in that there is an answer to that other question that glances over what I'm asking here. I am, however, specifiсally looking for differences between irgendjemand, irgendetwas and their irgend-*less counterparts, and trying to figure out reason to what appears to be redundancy, while the other question is pretty much "what does particle *irgend- mean?". The answers here, given by Bort and addy2012, answer my question better than the one quoted. – Alexander Revo Jan 13 '16 at 15:01

"Irgend-" is an empathic prefix that expresses the arbitrariness or indefiniteness of the pronoun or the companion.


"Gib mir ein Buch" vs. "Gib mir irgendein Buch."

In two sentences is clear that it is not about a particular book, but in the latter is expressly pointed out with "Irgend-," that it is absolutely not care what book will be given again.

The same is with "jemand" & "irgendjemand"


Irgendjemand, irgendetwas etc. can not only be seen as a substitute for jemand, etwas etc. It is often used in a sense that would translate to "anyone", "anything" etc. or even "anyone at all" etc. in english. For example:

Ist irgendjemand hier?

Is anybody here?

Is anyone here at all?

Noone would translate that to Is someone here? if he wanted to preserve the intention.

  • Ist jemand hier? has the same meaning of Is anybody here?. – chirlu Jan 13 '16 at 15:04
  • @chirlu not to argue, but to understand: if Ist jemand hier? means Is anyone here?, how do you say Is somebody here? in German? – Alexander Revo Jan 15 '16 at 21:45
  • @Alexander Revo: There is no similar way in German to express via the pronoun whether you are expecting a positive or negative answer. – chirlu Jan 15 '16 at 22:11

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