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A "Little" German Lesson

Let's talk today about the adjectives and adverbs we can use for the English word "small" and its synonyms. Everyone should already know klein, but there are also other similar words that are used with similar meaning in different idioms and contexts.

 

Der Prinz hatte nicht die geringsten Zweifel daran.

The Prince did not have the slightest doubt about it.

Caption 57, Märchen - Sagenhaft: Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse

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Der Enthusiasmus ist ein bisschen gering heute.

I notice that the enthusiasm is a little bit limited today.

Caption 50, Deutschkurs in Tübingen: Verben der 2. Kategorie

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So while you could perhaps replace the above contexts with die kleinsten Zweifel or ein bisschen klein heute, the adjective and adverb gering is generally used in contexts where something can't really be counted, such as "doubt" or "enthusiasm." And while you may say die Chancen sind gering ("the chances are low" or "the chances are small"), against all expectation you more commonly say its opposite as die Chancen sind groß ("the chances are great") rather than die Chancen sind hoch ("the chances are high"). The latter is acceptable, but less common.

 

Ich glaub, mein Ruhepuls ist schon sehr niedrig.

I think my resting heart rate is very low.

Caption 8, Generali fragt Angelique Kerber: Lieblinge

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The adjective and adverb niedrig is usually translated as "low," but you have to be careful, for though it may be understandable to native speakers, it would not be correct German to say die Chancen sind niedrig! But the word niedrig is usually associated with the height of things, such as low heart rate levels, or physical things such as low walls or buildings.

 

Let's take a look at some other words relating to "small." The adjective and adverb winzig is also sometimes translated as "diminutive," "minute," or "miniscule":

 

Das Mädchen war barfuß und hinterließ winzige Fußabdrücke

The girl was barefoot and left tiny footprints behind,

Caption 9, Märchen - Sagenhaft: Das kleine Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern

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You should be careful with the false friend schmal, since it resembles the English word "small"— but just because the windows are schmal does not necessarily mean that they are small:

 

Richtig. Meistens sind ja die Fenster dann auch noch recht schmal.

Right. The windows are also mostly really narrow.

Caption 57, Feuerwehr Heidelberg: Löschfahrzeug

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You'll find a "real friend" in mikroskopisch, however, as it does indeed mean "microscopic."

 

Further Learning
Go to Yabla German and look for videos containing the "small" German adjectives and adverbs gering, niedrig, and winzig. You may make up some sentences containing different English words for "small" and translate them to German, then have your teacher or tandem partner check your work.

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