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Something people do (as if giving a command or describing a habit) vs. something people are doing?

OK, so I haven't been doing the German lessons for too long. But there's been something that's been confusing the heck out of me for a while... unless I am completely missing something, it seems as if there is no difference in how you say someone is doing something versus simply saying that they do it (as if a general behavior). Let me give an example:

If I wanted to say "you drink" (as if to command the person or to describe a general habit of theirs) I would say "Du trinkst". I would imagine then to say "you are drinking" (as a current action) I would say "Du bist trinkst". However, in my lessons, "Du trinkst" appears to be both "You drink" and "You are drinking". This happens with other verbs as well. In fact, in one lesson it asked me how to type "We eat pasta" and I typed "Wir essen nudeln" and got it right and then in a later lesson it asked me how to type "We are eating pasta" so I typed "Wir sind essen nudeln" and it told me this was incorrect (but I accidentally hit next before I saw what the correction was)... I must be missing something, right? There must be someway in this language to differentiate between a command/habit and an ongoing action? Does this differentiation come in later more advanced lessons? Or is there a present participle/gerund form of verbs that I somehow missed in the early lessons? This is really confusing me.

July 15, 2017



There is no present progressive in German, and there are no such things as "du bist trinkst" or "wir sind essen" which are completely ungrammatical.

Instead, "du trinkst" can mean both "you drink" and "you are drinking" and you simply have to rely on context to know which one it is (though since duolingo sentences have very little context, both translations are usually accepted, but in real life it won't be the case).

Good luck with German, and keep in mind that calquing a sentence from English into German usually won't work out, especially when you'll reach more advanced lessons. For instance you'll see that German has a way to form perfect tenses and subordinate clauses which is quite different from English.


Thank you for the reply. But is there really no way to tell other than context. I mean, in speech it should not be much of a problem, but what about in writing. What if an author is describing a character of theirs and says "Du trinkst" and the preceding or following sentences do not give much context. How would a reader know if the character is currently drinking at this point in the story, or if the author is revealing an ongoing habit of drinking? Maybe "drinking" is not the best verb to think about this with, but there must be some pretty confusing ambiguities in written in German, even for native speakers/readers, if there really is no other way to tell than context.

Also, where did I go wrong with "we are eating pasta". In my original post I mentioned that I put "Wir sind essen nudeln" and was told by duolingo that it was wrong, but clicked continue before I took time to read the correction. How would I properly say that? Just "Wir essen nudeln"? Or "Wir sind nudeln essen" (that is a translation I got from google just a few minutes ago, and it doesn't make sense to me because it would literally mean "we are pasta eating", but like you said, you can't just calque English into German). Thanks!


There's no way to tell apart from context. It's not as confusing as you think- I've come across no instances where I've been confused as to what's meant. Any complete sentence will have enough information to decide whether the action is being carried out as we speak or it's a habitual action.


Disclaimer: If you don't want to read all of my BS about what's going through my head and the imaginary very rare scenario I came up with in which context may not immediately resolve the situation, skip to the third paragraph in which I get to asking my question. Sorry, I like to type my thoughts out in detail

Okay, so I have another question. But let me start off by saying first that I understand what you guys are saying in response to my first question(s) and it does actually make sense to me. I find it hard to imagine never coming across a situation in which it would be confusing despite context, but I suppose it would not be a functioning language if that happened a lot, right? My new question is with regards to some phrases I would like to know regarding how to clarify what I mean if I were to ever wind up in such a situation in which context may not (at least immediately) let the person to whom I am speaking know what it is I meant to say regarding a person's current actions vs. a habit (and I didn't want to Google it... you know Google Translate, it would be enough to survive off of, but not always grammatically correct). Anyway, for the sake of having a hypothetical to work with here (for me to imagine and for you to plug your responses into), I am going to type out a situation. Again, I realize as Mr_Eyl said, any such situation would be extremely rare as context would resolve the issue, especially for fluent speakers. But just imagine this setup in which I am a non-fluent speaker speaking to someone who probably is (and this is going to sound more like a crappy cable cop drama than a real conversation, but bear with me for the sake of the question).

Here's the imagined scenario: A friend of mine goes missing while he and his girlfriend, and I and mine, are vacationing in Germany together. She reports him missing (because she panicked as soon as he didn't come back to the hotel room) and the Police come to ask me if I know anything (as if his girlfriend by this point had not already checked to see if I knew where he was... and also as if the Police of any city actually took "Tourist lost in a foreign city for less than 24 hours" as an actual worthwhile investigation). I mention in response to their question that "Er trinkt". For the sake of this scenario, I mean that "He drinks" as in he has a habit of drinking, as if to suggest a possible location of where he is. I do not know for a fact that is where he is though. As you guys mentioned, context should resolve this situation, but since they're currently looking for him, they take it to mean that I am saying "He is drinking", as if I know his actual current location and current activity with some level of certainty. Now I think I have suggested a habit of his that may lead them to start looking in certain areas but they think I know where he is.

Now, of course, the issue in the scenario above only occurred due to the fact that I am not fluent. It would also be resolved in the very next sentence in which they ask me which bar he's at and I clarify that I don't actually know, I just don't speak German very well. But my question is about words or phrases which would avoid this situation to begin with. What is the word for "habit" as in a habit which a person possesses. For example, how would I say "He has a habit of drinking (or other verb)/He has a drinking (or other verb) habit"? What about how to suggest an action someone might be doing without expressing certainty. For example, "He might be/may be drinking" or "He might be/may be at a bar" (or "could be" or "is possibly/possibly is" or "may very well be" or... I am not looking for a translation to all of these, just one or two common terms to express a possibility of something without expressing certainty of it)?

I appreciate your help (and thanks for reading the whole thing if you did, I know it was a lot, but when I type questions I type a lot so there is (hopefully) no doubt as to what it is I am asking). Danke!


If he was a habitual drinker, you could use 'er sauft' for 'he drinks'. If he'd vanished completely, you'd just say that you didn't know where he was.

The thing is, there's enough context in your hypothetical situation for the police to know what you meant. Your friend has already been reported missing, so the police won't take 'er trinkt' to mean you know for a fact he's drinking right now.

There's also nothing to stop a less-than-fluent speaker from saying 'I don't know ' before 'er trinkt' to avoid sounding cryptic. :)


I know, that's why I admitted before I even laid out the scenario that it was going to sound like a crappily written cable cop drama lol. When you said context will solve this issue all the time and you never experienced a situation when it didn't, I sort of felt like "Challenge Accepted" to try and think of one. But the one I thought of was dependent on a non-fluent speaker being involved and even then, like you said, due to context they probably would not interpret it the way I implied in the scenario.

I get that context is going to be enough basically 100% of the time, but really, the point of me asking that question today was to try and figure out what the word(s) for Habit/Habitual are? I thank you for giving me "sauft", that's good to know, but drinking is just the verb I chose as an example. Is there a more general term for Habit or Habitual when describing a person's actions? Maybe not a direct translation, but maybe some word like "trend" or "pattern" that when used in German can indicate that there is a habit?

Also, regarding the other part of my question, how do you say "might be" or "may be" to refer to an action you believe is possibly being done by someone or something, without conveying certainty to the person to whom you are speaking. "She may be taking classes"? "They might be going to school"?

Again, thanks for your responses!


It would be "Wir essen Nudeln".

Suppose your friend called you and asked "What are you guys doing?" It would be kind of weird to reply with "We eat noodles". Try to think of a dialogue where it would be ambiguous.

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