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Don’t Let It Confuse You: The German Words All and Sämtlich Posted by on Mar 11, 2022 in Language, Vocabulary

When you see the German word All, you might easily see the English word all – however, this appears to be a false friend! So, what does All mean? And how do you say all? And what’s with sämtlich? There are multiple answers to these questions, so let’s have a look at the German word All and all.

Click here to read more posts in the series Don’t Let It Confuse You!

Universe

sämtlich all alle don't let it confuse you false friends

Photo by Guillermo Ferla on Unsplash

The German word das All means “universe” or simply “space”. So you can say: das All ist riesig (the universe is enormous), but also die ISS schwebt im All (the ISS floats in space). A more accurate translation of “space” would be der Weltraum (“world space”), but in German, All is also used as a synonym in cases like this.

But like the English “universe”, the German All is related to the world all and “all” (think of universal, which also exists in German with the same meaning). More generally, German uses allgemein (general, universal) as a translation of “all”.

Alle or sämtliche?

sämtlich all alle don't let it confuse you false friends brexit

Photo by Dolapo Ayoade on Unsplash

To say “all” can get a little complicated. Let’s look at the following sentences:

Sämtliche Lieder des Sängers wurden nach seinem Tod veröffentlicht.

(All songs of the singer were published after his death.)

To me, sämtlich always seems confusing. It feels like “some” or “many”, not like a synonym of:

Alle Lieder des Sängers wurden nach seinem Tod veröffentlicht.

(All songs of the singer were published after his death.)

But that’s what sämtlich means! It comes from the German word gesamt (total). If you’re wondering how gesamt is different from insgesamt, it’s pretty simple. Think of gesamt as “total” and of insgesamt as “in total”.

But back to sämtlich. It’s weirdness becomes perhaps more clear in other sentences:

“Der Ausstieg aus der Istanbul-Konvention ist in konservativen Teilen der Gesellschaft so aufgefasst worden, als würden damit sämtliche Rechte der Frauen gestrichen.”

Tagesschau.de

(In conservative parts of society, the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention was interpreted as if all rights of women would be abolished.)

“Fünf Jahre Brexit: Sämtliche Vorwürfe perlen an Johnson ab”

Zeit.de

(Five years Brexit: All allegations roll off Johnson)

In both of these sentences, the German reads in the same way as if we put “some” or “many”:

“…als würden damit manche/einige/viele Rechte der Frauen gestrichen.”

(as if some/several/many rights of women would be abolished.)

“Fünf Jahre Brexit: Manche/einige/viele Vorwürfe perlen an Johnson ab”

(Five years Brexit: Some/Several/Many allegations roll off Johnson)

 

So how are alle and sämtliche different?

The difference is pretty subtle, but it’s an important one. While alle is a rather neutral, general termsämtliche emphasizes that it’s really ALL. In German terms, sämtlich means ausnahmslos alle (all, without exception).

So in the above example, the Zeit-article emphasizes that really ALL allegations roll off the British PM – without exception!

 

To me, sämtlich still feels weird, even as a native speaker. And it seems like I’m not alone. The fact that it doesn’t only mean all, but really all throws me off!

Just remember that sämtlich relates to gesamt, and you should be fine.

Are there words that confuse you, throw you off? Do you also find sämtlich a weird one? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.


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