I have read in DW news:

Präsident Donald Trump hat die US-Amerikaner vor einer weiteren Zuspitzung der Pandemie gewarnt. "Es wird wahrscheinlich leider schlimmer werden, bevor es besser wird", sagte Trump wörtlich bei seinem ersten Corona-Briefing im Weißen Haus seit Ende April

What does "wörtlich" mean here? Is it some kind of intensifier, as mentioned in 'Wörtlich' unwörtlich? The usual translation "literally" does not make sense to me, as I see no ambiguity in the quoted sentence. I often see this word used with quotes in various contexts in German news.

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    – Olafant
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 13:11
  • @Olafant -- I'm confused about that; Google Translate translates it as "verbatim", is that wrong?
    – RDBury
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 15:25
  • @RDBury No. That's not wrong. That's as close as you can get, I think.
    – Olafant
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 16:20
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    @Olafant -- In that case, since this is (as pointed out below) the transcript of an audio program where you can't see quotation marks, it seems like wörtlich is completely appropriate here and has nothing to do with hyperbole or intensifiers or the like. In English you'd say "Quote (the quote) unquote", so apparently this is just how you do the same thing in German, though I gather Zitat: is used more often.
    – RDBury
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 18:42
  • @RDBury Well, yes. It's a translation though.
    – Olafant
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 19:12

2 Answers 2


The intensifier you are suggesting in German is probably:

buchstäblich, see DWDS.

Wörtlich (English: verbatim) would mean an actual citation. Considering that Trump spoke in English, a translation had tobe applied, so I consider it a bit of a stretch to the meaning of wörtlich. It restricts here to the meaning, that the sentence was not paraphrased but closely translated.

Update: this leads to more likely explanation (than stretched meaning) : Deutsche Welle is originally a radio broadcaster, the link is a transcript of a radio news broadcast. Wörtlich is the counterpiece of quotes on the audio channel, it is also frequently used in TV news.

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    The quotes already imply that the sentence was closely translated, so using an additional word to express it seems redundant. That's why I see "wörtlich" as an intensifier in this context. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 10:24
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    @AlanEvangelista, redundancy is a normal part of human communication. Of course you can always consider it an intensifier if you so choose. Also, quotation marks are not present in speech.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 12:00
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    +1 This, the use of "wörtlich" in this quote should be translated with "verbatim". It is not an intensifier (at least I, as German native speaker, do not understand it like this). In contrast to this, "literally" (as intensifier) may be better translated as "sprichwörtlich" or "regelrecht", or less metaphoric, just "(genau) so". Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 12:02
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    Sorry for the down vote, but from my point-of-view the question is not focused on the fact that there was a translation from English to German. It is rather related to the question when wörtlich is used in German. And it is necessary to explain the difference between wörtlich used by German speaking people and literally used by English speaking people which is now also widely used to mean the same as "bildlich" in German. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 13:16
  • Thanks for pointing out that "verbatim" is a more precise translation of "wörtlich" and that quotation marks are not present in speech. Even in the case of speech, I still see "wörtlich" as redundant in the aforementioned text because it is clear that the sentence is a quote when a narrator says "Ich sage etwas, sagte X". A proof of such assertion is that several other quotes from the same news website do not use "wörtlich" or any synonym of it. Nevertheless, redundancy is indeed common in natural languages, as mentioned by @CarstenS. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 13:41

In English literally has been used to emphasize something for quite a long time. Although it originally was meant to be used differently and this kind of usage is often referred to as wrong in literature it has until now been widely accepted. E.g. to say

This literally broke my heart into tiny pieces.

would mean, if you follow strict grammar rules, that my heart really broke into tiny pieces (which would have killed me). But everybody knows that literally was just used to express the significance of the situation and how sad it made me feel.

In German language wörtlich, wortwörtlich or also buchstäblich, although translated to literally in dictionaries, is used to express that someone really means it exactly the way they said it or wrote it down. For instance, when quoting someone correctly just the way they said it.

So in your example the journalist wants to express that Trump really said this with these exact words. See also https://www.wortbedeutung.info/w%C3%B6rtlich/

If you wanted to express the opposite in German language, which would by strict rules refer to metaphorical in English, you would use the word bildlich. E.g.

Die Politiker haben dieses Gesetz, bildlich gesprochen, geradezu kopflos beschlossen.

This does not mean that the politicians decided to pass the legislation without having their heads on their shoulders but without thinking it through very well.

The embedded sentence bildlich gesprochen may also be omitted and often is when well known phrases are used.

So if we now reconsider the previous example when following strict rules it should rather be something like:

This broke my heart into tiny pieces, metaphorically speaking.

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    Since the hyperbolic usage of literally is already so common and wide-spread, I think it's wrong to call it wrong. The term just has acquired an additional meaning (or rather, function). Similar to how billig went from "appropriate" (positive connotation) to "cheap" (bad connotation). Otherwise you're totally correct. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 6:58
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    You're right, I rephrased the explanation at the beginning a little bit. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 7:05
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    " ... if you follow strict grammar rules ... " I think this has nothing to do with grammar.
    – Olafant
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 10:07
  • Sorry for the downvote; you give a pretty good explanation, how and why wörtlich could mean an emphasis without questioning that assumption; as you can see in my answer, I don't agree with it.
    – guidot
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 11:38

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