nun vs jetzt, von vs vor, ein vs das, When “it” isn’t “es – Quick Questions with Herr Antrim

Hallo, Deutschlerner! Today’s lesson is going to be a deviation from the usual German lessons I create. Today I’m going to be answering some questions I have had in the comment sections of videos in the past, but haven’t answered. These questions are generally good questions that merit an answer, but answering in a comment would be too long and answering in a full video would be too short.

So today I’m going to answer these quick questions that some viewers have had about a variety of topics in German. You can jump to any of the questions via the table of contents below to skip to what you want to know most.

The Difference Between Nun & Jetzt

The words “nun” and “jetzt” both translate as “now” and they are mostly interchangeable. You can always replace “jetzt” with “nun”, but the other way doesn’t always work. “Jetzt” is the more common of the two in spoken language. It is better translated as “right now”. “Nun” is more general and abstract and is better translated as “presently”. This allows it to be attached to a circumstance.

Jetzt kaufen wir neue Schuhe. –
Now we are buying new shoes.
Nun kaufen wir neue Schuhe. –
Now we are buying new shoes.

Let’s say you get a flat tire on the Autobahn and you have to pull over. Your friend leans over and says

Was machen wir nun? –
What are we gonna do now?

“Nun” would be “in this current situation”. It doesn’t mean “right now”. You aren’t technically talking about time, but rather the circumstances surrounding the time. You could use “jetzt” there, but it wouldn’t carry with it the situation.

What about “nun jetzt”?

Fun fact: You can use both together and say “nun jetzt” to mean both “in that situation and at that time.

Wenn du nun jetzt über die Wörter “nun” und “jetzt” nachdenkst, kannst du dich entscheiden, welches Wort zu benutzen ist. –
Now, if you think about the words “nun” and “jetzt” you can choose which word to use.

Nun as an Interjection

Due to the abstractness of “nun” it can be used more generally, which is why it is often used as an interjection or filler word. When used as an interjection “nun” can be translated with the English word “well”.

Nun, wir können ins Kino gehen. –
Well, we could go to the movies.

If you are familiar with the word “also”, you can use that instead of “nun” for the same effect.

Also, wir können ins Kino gehen. –
Well, we could go to the movies.

Nun Mal

You can also combine “nun” with “mal” to make “nun mal”. This usage is translated as “just”, as in

Ich trinke nun mal kein Alkohol. –
I just don’t drink alcohol.

There is also a pinch of “I don’t drink alcohol, leave me alone!” in that phrase, however, so be careful. When you use “nun mal” like this it is turned into a modal particle, a completely different word type.

Jetzt verstehst du die Unterschiede zwischen “jetzt” und “nun”. Nun, geh und lern Deutsch! –
Now you understand the differences between “jetzt” and “nun”. Now go and learn German!

The Difference Between vor & von

Many students struggle with the difference between von and vor. The differences can be subtle at times. Let me try to explain. “Vor” is kind of like “in front of” or “before”. This can be literal like in “vor dem Geschäft” (in front of the store). It can also be more figuratively like “vor drei Wochen” (3 weeks ago).

von generally translate as “from” in English and answers the question “woher” (from where). This can be a location of origin like in “von der Schule” (from school) or a less literal origin “von meiner Suppe” (from/of my soup).

The problem with these two prepositions comes up when they aren’t used in such literal senses. When you are afraid of something, for example, you use the phrase “Angst vor etwas haben”. Why do you use “vor” in this instance? I would argue that it is a figurative “in front of”. I am afraid of spiders. I am afraid when I am in front of spiders. “Ich habe Angst vor Spinnen.”

When to use ein, eine, einen & der, den, die, das

I could spend all day explaining this idea, but let’s try to break it down to the simplest parts. The so-called “ein-words” are words like ein, eine, einen and so on. These all translate as “a” or “an” in English. If you mean to talk about some noun, but you don’t need to specify exactly which one of them, you can use an “ein-word”.

The “der-words” are words like der, die, das and den. These all translate as “the” in English. They specify exactly which of the objects we are talking about.

Der Hund steht vor dem Haus. –
The dog is standing in front of the house.

In this sentence we know which dog it is and which house it is. The words “der” and “dem” tell us that it isn’t just any dog and it isn’t just any house, but it is that dog and that house.

Ein Hund steht vor einem Haus. –
A dog stands in front of a house.

This sentence doesn’t specify which dog or which house. This could be a general statement about the world. Somewhere in the world there is a dog standing in front of a house, but I don’t know which dog or which house. I didn’t specify, because I used an ein-word.

As for the ein vs einen vs einem or der vs den vs dem part of things, I will have to refer you to my series of videos about the German case system. There are four cases: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. Each of them have their specific uses and list of articles (ein-words and der-words). I have links in the description to playlists about these cases. There is way too much there to unpack in a single video.

When is “es” not the correct “it” to use?

In English we use the pronoun “it” to refer to anything that doesn’t have an intrinsic gender. There is no such thing as a grammatical gender in English. This becomes a problem in German, because there are three grammatical genders and they don’t necessarily follow intrinsic gender. The word for a horse, for example, is neuter (das Pferd), so you use the neuter pronoun, es, to refer to it. Of course, a horse has a gender, so we tend to use the pronoun he or she in English instead of it.

The real problem for English speakers comes up when we find an inanimate object that has a grammatical gender of masculine or feminine. Then we say “it” in English, but “er” or “sie” in German. This means that technically in German there are three its: the standard neuter one, es, that most English speakers assume works for all inanimate objects; the masculine one, er, that English speakers only remember to use when it is a person or animal that is masculine and the feminine version, sie, which English speakers only remember if there is an intrinsic gender to guide them.

A New Way to Look at Grammatical Genders in German

What is a better way to look at this all? Ignore the word “gender” and ignore the idea of masculine, feminine and neuter. Think instead in the form of English has the word “the” to refer to all nouns. German ones have der, die, and das to express the same thing. Remember which of these words accompanies each noun you learn.

The last letter of that word must match the last letter of the pronoun you use to replace the noun.

der -> er
die -> sie
das -> es

While the grammatical gender does generally line up with the intrinsic gender of people and animals, it is not a perfect guide and doesn’t work at all for inanimate objects. Just remember that the pronoun must match the article and not necessarily if the noun in question has an intrinsic gender or not.

Learn More About German Prepositions

Accusative Prepositions
Dative Prepositions
Two-Way Prepositions (Wechselpräpositionen)
Genitive Prepositions
Verbs with “Fixed Prepositions” Don’t Exist
Verbs Commonly Used with Dative Prepositions
Verbs Commonly Used with Two-Way Prepositions & the Dative Case
von vs vor
German Prepositions Songs
Download all of Herr Antrim’s materials about Prepositions here!