Na ja meaning.

Hey Everyone. I have a bit of a strange question today. But first let me tell you why I am asking this question. I have a German book I got for free. It was going for free so I thought I'd get it. I don't understand alot of it as my German is not very good. However my biggest question mark is the continual phrase in the book of 'Na ja'. It keeps being used over and over again. Google translate translates it as 'Oh well'.

Is 'oh well' correct and if so can you use it whenever you would in English or are there some differences?

Thanks cluney

March 1, 2019


I think it's best translated to well ... or hmm ..... It's just there to fill a gap in your train of thought.

Sometimes one would use na ja for expressing that you think something is a quite mediocre idea. It's often a bit condescending. But there's a special intonation to that – hard to describe. Imagine this dialogue:

  • "I have the best idea how to catch fish: we use TNT!". "Na ja, I don't really think that this a workable and safe solution. Your idea may create more problems than it solves."

Sometimes one would use na ja for expressing your resignation (in the sense of uncomplaining acceptance) or frustration. Example:

  • The general commands: "Everyone is obliged to do what he is told". The private: "Na ja, that's the normal way of treating us lower ranks, but what can we do? Nothing!"*
March 1, 2019

Thanks for that .That does help although it is a difficult concept to grasp it seems.

March 1, 2019

Hi Cluney,

another 'fillword' we use a lot but can hardly explain. Robert already told you in which cases it is used.

You can also use it to put something into perspective. A child has a bad mark at school and is crying. So the mother could say: 'Na ja, ist (doch) nicht so schlimm. Nächstes Mal lernst du mehr und hast eine bessere Note.'

You can also use it in a sarcastic way. 'Na ja! (with a hard voice) Die Note ist ja nicht so toll!'

best regards, Angel

March 1, 2019

Yes, na ja can express doubt or resignation.

March 1, 2019

... and sometimes it is just the beginning of a lengthy explanation: "Na ja, das kann man so nicht sagen. Es ist eher folgendermassen..." (Oh, well, that's not exactly what I mean. It is more like this ...)

March 1, 2019

German is not my mother-tongue but I spent several years in Germany and come to the conclusion that they take a pause of rethinking speaking this way.

March 1, 2019

English isn't my mothers language , but - na ja - I want to explain that... You have a little break with the phrase (not really temporal), you have thought, you are thinking about something.

March 1, 2019

Interesting. Is this sort of how we would go 'um' or 'ah' or is it not really like that?

March 1, 2019

It isn't really like that. na jacan have different positions in sentences. In the beginning of the sentence normally you give a break for thinking about something. In the last position you leave things unanswered and open for you and your opposite person. And in solo position one means often that he / she is in other opinion.

March 1, 2019

Na ja, das ist nur teilweise richtig.

March 1, 2019

Well, let me put it like this: in Germany people use "Äh" or "Öhm" as an equivalent for "ah" and "uhm".

Translation: Na ja, lass es mich so sagen: in Deutschland nutzen die Leute "Äh" oder "Öhm" als Äquivalent zu "ah" und "uhm".

However, "Äh" and "Öhm" are disencouraged, just like in English, because a speaker who uses them might seem unsure or might even be come across as less intelligent than a speaker who does not use them. So when practicing to speak for an audience, you will be trained not to use the two and just take a breath or a half-second pause.

March 12, 2019
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