I'm acquainted with many meanings and uses of bereits, gerade, schon and gleich; but sometimes some of these words are equivalents and sometimes not; and sometimes, too, they may entertain more than one meaning. For instance:

Als ich zur Party kam, waren die meisten Gäste bereits heimgegangen.

Does this mean: "... most of the guests had already left" or "... most of the guests had just left"? And, in German, which would be a more exact synonymous: "... waren die meisten Gäste schon heimgegangen"? or "waren die meisten Gäste gerade heimgegangen" or "... gleich heimgegangen"?

It seems to me that, in the case of Perfekt and Plusquamperfekt, gerade means the same as gleich and bereits (already with the addition of just a few seconds/minutes ago), and schon means just already.

Is my thought correct?

  • 2
    Du möchtest, dass wir jetzt 3 Vergleiche mit bereits machen, plus 2 mit gerade die wir noch nicht hatten, und einen zwischen schon und gleich? Gleich kann man hier gar nicht sagen. Man kann sagen sie seien gleich nach dem Essen gegangen. Bereits und schon sind hier untereinander gleich und bedeuten already während gerade just bedeutet, jawohl. – user unknown Oct 13 '13 at 6:06

In your examples and in almost all cases "bereits" and "schon" are interchangeable. You can simply replace "bereits" with "schon", as it means "already":

Als ich zur Party kam, waren die meisten Gäste bereits/schon heimgegangen.
When I arrived at the party most of the guests had already left.

There are however a few sayings where "schon" can't be replaced with "bereits":

Schon gut.
Never mind./All right.

Another one, where you could use "bereits" but it's not very common:

Das war schon immer so gewesen.
It had always been like that.

Let's take a look at "gleich". This doesn't make much sense:

Als ich zur Party kam, waren die meisten Gäste gleich heimgegangen.

But you could say:

Als ich zur Party kam, sind die meisten Gäste gleich heimgegangen.
As soon as I arrived at the party, most of the guests just left.

Which implies that they left because of your arrival.

Here is another example to show the difference:

Ich bin bereits/schon da.
I'm already there.


Ich bin gleich da.
I'm almost there.

You may say that "schon/bereits" describes something that is completed whereas "gleich" can have multiple meanings, like at that moment, almost or even equality:

4 + 5 ist gleich 5 + 4.
4 + 5 equals 5 + 4.

This is also an addition axiom. — but that's another topic, so nevermind. ;)

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