I had some text for an app translated for me, but since I don't speak german myself there is no way for me to know how accurate the translations are. I compared them to Google Translate just to see if they were very different, and it turns out they are.

I'm wondering about one phrase in particular, which can be interpreted slightly differently depending on context. In my text there is the phrase "Not really", in the meaning "Meh" or "Nah, not quite":

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Note: There's a point in not having "No" and "Yes" as alternatives here, since I only want people who really love the app to choose the right hand button. Others will be taken to another set of questions about what can be improved.

It's been translated into "Eigentlich nicht", which to me as a swede sounds a lot like the swedish "Egentligen inte", which has a slightly different meaning. Consider this conversation:

- Would you like to go out tonight?

- Not really, but I'll do it anyway.

Here, "Egentligen inte" would be a suitable translation of "Not really" in swedish.

Now consider this sentence:

- Do you like Star Wars?

- Not really.

In swedish, it would be unusual to answer "Egentligen inte" here (you'd usually use something like "Njae, inte särskilt").

So would you say that "Eigentlich nicht" is a good translation in the second example? If not, what is? (Google translate says "Nicht wirklich")


3 Answers 3


In your second example, the typical answer in German - at least in the social contexts I am familiar with - would be

Magst du Star Wars? - Nicht wirklich.

But contributor Tofro is right that this is a relatively recent americanism, translated from "not really".

Good alternatives are:

Magst du Star Wars? - Nicht so richtig.

Gefällt dir Star Wars? - Na ja, nicht so.

Findest du Star Wars gut? - Na ja. Eher nicht.

Magst du Star Wars? - Nicht besonders.

(The changing questions are just for variation; this does not influence the answer.)

However, also your

Magst du Star Wars? - Eigentlich nicht.

is in the range of possible answers. But your feeling is right that this is more likely to not be used here. Somehow, when you start by "Eigentlich nicht..." it is expected that you would continue with some "but..." as in

Magst du Star Wars? - Eigentlich nicht, aber ich gehe doch oft kucken, mit meinen Kindern, die mögen das halt.

(Actually not, but anyway I go often watch it with my children because they love it.)

After the target context was published in the question:

Now the context becomes much clearer.

Of course you have various ways to express this in German, one crucial factor being what speach register you want to have: formal language, informal language, speaking to the youth, speaking to a very general public, speaking in an environment where "Du" is common, or where "Sie" is preferred...

Here a number of solutions that are good (each in their environment)

Gefällt dir die App? / Geht so / Gefällt mir sehr

For my understanding, this translation would fit well your environment. "Geht so" is the answer for those who do not (!) like it and for those who are indifferent. "Gefällt mir sehr!" is for those who really like it. The expressions are slightly on the informal, youth side, but are acceptable for the general public as well.

The following variations have the same functionality, but are more on the youth side of language:

Gefällt dir die App? / Geht so / Ja, total

Gefällt dir die App? / Nicht besonders / Find' ich klasse!

Gefällt dir die App? / So lala / Super!

Gefällt dir die App? / Geht so / Klasse!

Gefällt dir die App? / Eher nicht so / Und wie!

And this is for a more conservative audience:

Gefällt Ihnen die App? / Nicht besonders / Gefällt mir sehr

Finally, a playful variation:

Hey, Alter! Ist die App cool? / Gähn... / Der Hammer!

This however is rather experimental, using stereotyped youth and comics expressions. There is a danger that this distorts the results of your poll or that it acts a as a deterrent to more mature users.

  • Danke! Nice explanation of "Eigentlich nicht" - it seems very similar to swedish, where "egentligen inte" would also be expected to be followed by a ", but...". So similar yet so difficult to understand :D
    – Magnus
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 13:14
  • Would you, as a german speaker, say that the translation I received (and paid for!) sounds like it's properly translated? The translation company had a one week deadline (even though the entire text is only 150 words!), and today was the last day. So I got suspicious that they might have just hurried through it to get it done before the deadline, possibly by a non-native speaker or even using Google translate...
    – Magnus
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 13:19
  • You probably did not pay them for this single sentence, rather for a larger piece work, I suppose? And the "Eigentlich nicht" was only a tiny part of it? I would then not complain about it. We are discussing here real intricacies and subtleties which not everybody would even notice. Or let me say it so: Would I complain? - Eigentlich nicht, außer da sind noch mehr solche Würmer drin. Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 13:35
  • By the way, perhaps you should give even more context (10 lines of this dialogue above, and ten below), and some information who speaks to whom and in what environment. We may end up judging that "Magst du Star Wars - Nicht besonders" would be the most "unmarked" and therefore best way of saying this. But this really depends on the context, including the social setting. Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 13:41
  • 1
    You could just find a native-speaker in German and ask him to check, whether the translation is ok for him (if yes, you can probably relay on this particular translation company, in case you have more texts that you need have translated), but... as long as he has no experience in translation business, he will not be aware of nuances and rules that apply to translators. You have to remember, that every translator has only the text given. He or she is often not aware of your intentions (that you see in your text, but your recipients may not see), so it would be reasonable for you, to always give
    – Marcia
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 14:38

"Eigentlich nicht" is the perfect translation for your first example.

We would rather use "Nicht besonders" in your second case.

The trend to use the literal translation to "nicht wirklich" is an often condemned modern cool-sounding americanism. "nicht wirklich" traditionally transports the meaning of "unreal" which doesn't make any sense as an answer.

  • While I'm ready to believe you that this is the origin of the phrase, I don't agree with the connotation you're giving, at least not among all (or not even most) speakers. As a younger person, I perceive it as a perfectly fine, natural phrase, with no "modern, cool-sounding" touch. Similar to "realisieren", which for me just has the meaning of "begreifen", in addition to "umsetzen", although I know some complain about this usage. Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 15:09
  • Also, we can analyze the construction differently: "Magst du Star Wars [wirklich]? -- Nein, [nicht wirklich]." In both positions, "wirklich" is fine for me, and it is not clear which one is an elliptic reference to the other. This seems to indicate that "wirklich" fits here "natively", not only as a calque. Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 15:15

"Eigentlich nicht", literally translates into "Really, not" and therefore is translatable as "not really." It's just that the order of the German and English are different.

The reverse isn't necessarily true, because "not really" can be translated back into German as "eigentlich nicht" (really, not), or "nicht besonders," (a little bit, not).

Within the context of a computer app or menu, the second is the more common, polite, translation. The computer is not asking you to say that the app is "terrible," but is willing to concede that you may find that it may not be the greatest.

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