In an IM, I just wrote:

Ich hab ihr halt eine unverfängliche Frage gestellt. Das ist alles! <schwitz>

I sometimes use "schwitz" like this -- in place of its corresponding emoticons: 😅, 💦, ^^; -- to express the idea of "breaking out in a nervous sweat".

I've always wondered why, even though it is the speaker him/herself, namely I in this case, who is sweating, you need to use the 2nd Person Singular Imperative "schwitz" instead of the seemingly more logical 1st Person Indicative "schwitze" or the 3rd Person "schwitzt"?

The same goes for the 2nd Person Singular Imperative "zwinker", which I use when I make a funny or ironic remark. In this case, too, why not use the 1st Person Indicative "zwinkere" or the 3rd Person "zwinkert" instead?

And the list goes on and on...

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user9551
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 16:49

4 Answers 4


Not imperative:

Knutsch mich ab!

The form looks like an infinitive with the ending -en removed and has been given the jocular name Erikativ after the woman who translated Disney comics into German, Erika Fuchs, and the not so jocular name Inflektiv by Oliver Teuber in a 1998 paper that is unfortunately not available online.

One difficulty when talking about this form is that its use has changed heavily over time. Wilhelm Busch is famous for using single words looking like Erikative to denote sounds:

Ratsch!!, Puff!!, Knacks!!, Schwapp!!, Ruff!! (source)

These words are supposed to have come about by way of onomatopoeia and have been classified as interjections. But note that Ratsch and Puff are also masculine nouns. Knacks has an ending -s that a few similar nouns have, e.g. Bums, Plumps, Knips, Rums. Of the quoted words, only ruff is a new coinage as far as I can tell. (Busch also uses some forms that are indubitably verbal such as knusper.)

The forms we encounter in modern-day electronic communication are different in that they are not limited to denoting sounds and can be extended into verb-like phrases:

*arbeit_wegleg* und […] jetzt beide daumen ganz fest drück!!! (source)

As I see it, these forms seem to have developed along three dimensions, with Busch being (nouns, sounds, atoms) and modern-day usage being (verbs, actions, phrases).

  1. nouns vs. verbs
  2. sounds vs. actions
  3. atoms vs. phrases
  • 1
    "jocular" -- right, it is meant as a joke. You could add that the true name is "inflective". The form was known long before Erika Fuchs. Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 8:25
  • 1
    @rexkogitans I haven't read Teuber's article since it's not available online. In Germany, the term he coined seems to have established itself. However, in English the term inflective is likely to be interpreted as inflecting, i.e. flektierend.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 9:02
  • Ok, then at least its German name, Inflektiv. Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 9:18
  • The Busch example from Inflektiv – Wikipedia is better than yours: «Und geschwinde, stopf, stopf, stopf! Pulver in den Pfeifenkopf.» The words on the line you have cited are arguably true interjections that can be transformed into verbs. The word «stopf», on the other hand, is a true verb that is being used as an inflective.
    – mach
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 11:48
  • @mach The forms I quote fit the point I was trying to make better. (Note that I do not dispute Busch used verbal forms as well, but not as frequently and he did definitely not extend them into phrases as we can do today).
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 12:19

Indeed, as David Vogt writes, this is not the imperative form.

I am writing separately to address the question of why that particular form is used. I am not quite sure I follow David's suggestion here that the reason may be to "try to parallel the difference between to plus infinitive and a bare infinitive" because - at least for the most part (see below) - the inflective simply is the bare verb stem: abknutsch-, zwinker-, lauf-, trief-, stöhn- etc. This behaviour is preserved when complements are added (*traurigsei*, *schweißvonderstirnwisch* etc.).[1]

It should be added that a few particular verbs seem to behave differently, e.g. sein (also realised as *bin*) and, perhaps most importantly, wollen (which only occurs as *will*, never *woll*). However, it is generally believed that these first person singulars are replacement forms. The debate on why they are used has not been settled yet and there may be different reasons from case to case. (Teuber would point out, for example, that woll- is not productive anymore and therefore speakers perceive it as "wrong".)

[1] See Teuber, fasel beschreib erwähn – Der Inflektiv als Wortform des Deutschen, Germanistische Linguistik 141/142, 1998, 7-26; Hentschel/Vogel, Deutsche Morphologie, 2009.

  • I replaced that bit you commented on in your second paragraph by some new speculations.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 16:59
  • 1
    "perhaps most importantly, wollen (which only occurs as will, never woll" - citation needed. It seems to me like both forms are equally in use. Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 9:31

My prosaic approach to interpreting the





form, introduced in D. Vogt's answer as correctly as jocularly as Erikative, would be:

This is actually simply the root of the verb.

See here:




zuschlag/-en, schlage zu, schlägst zu, schlägt zu, schlagen zu...

So this would be the rule for creating for new such expressions. In my opinion, it is productive.


As an addendum to David Vogt's excellent answer, there are a few German verbs where the Erikative and the Imperative singular are different, an example of such a verb is nehmen "to take".

A quick Google search for the two phrases indenarmnehm and indenarmnimm shows a clear win for the Erikative (581:20).

  • I consider this as comment to David Vogts answer. It is not entirely convincing, since nehme can also be considered a colloquially formed imperative (even if not correct).
    – guidot
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 15:51
  • You provoked me to Google for the alternative imperative *indenarmnehme*—it is on par with the real imperative with 28 Google hits. Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 16:40

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