German orthography: “Widder”, “wieder” or “wider”?

Imagine reading a German book or article, and all of the sudden you notice a word that occurs again and again, but each time with a slightly different spelling – as it is the case in the following passage:

Schon wieder Weihnachtszeit! Annika widerstrebt das ganze Theater rund um Weihnachten und den damit einhergehenden Einkaufsrausch. Schlecht gelaunt fährt sie im Tram durch die überbeleuchtete Altstadt und blättert in einer Gratiszeitung, in der sich ebenfalls alles um Weihnachten dreht. Letztlich bleibt ihr nichts anderes übrig, als ihr Tageshoroskop zu lesen und zu erfahren, was sie – und alle anderen mit dem Sternzeichen Widder – wohl heute erwartet…

Believe it or not, each of these words – “wieder”, “wider” and “Widder” – has its own meaning. And with that, I welcome you to another blog post about a challenge of the German language, that is: How to use “Widder”, “wieder” and “wider”?

Let’s start with the simplest: “Widder”

Widder” is a masculine noun, which is why the word is always capitalised. The plural is “Widder”. In fact, the German term has various meanings, but we will limit ourselves to the two most common ones:

  1. A “Widder” is an animal, more specifically, a ram (male sheep).
  2. However, in German, “Widder” is also a sign of the zodiac, namely Aries (born between 21 March and 20 April).

“wieder” – spelled with <ie>

Wieder” is an adverb and is written in lower case except at the beginning of the sentence. The word expresses a repetition or return. Some German synonyms are “nochmals”, “erneut” and “wiederholt”. Examples:

  • Schon wieder Weihnachtszeit! (Christmas time again!)
  • Ich will dich nie wieder (I never want to see you again.)
  • Wann wirst du wieder nach Hause kommen? (When will you come home again?)
  • Ich bin wieder (I am fit again.)

Wieder”, in some cases, is part of a compound word:

  • Kannst du das bitte wiederholen? (Can you please say that again?)
  • Die PET-Flasche ist wieder (The PET bottle is reusable.)
  • Sie arbeiten am Wiederaufbau des Tempels. (They work on the rebuilding of the temple.)

Sometimes it is also possible to write the compound words as two words:

  • Ich habe dich kaum wiedererkannt / wieder erkannt! (I hardly recognised you.)
  • Hast du deinen Schlüssel wiedergefunden / wieder gefunden? (Have you found your key again?)

“wider” – spelled with <i>

Wider” is a preposition and is also written in lower case except at the beginning of the sentence. The word expresses an opposition. Examples:

  • Wider Erwarten fing es an, mir Spass zu machen. (Contrary to expectations, I started to enjoy it.)
  • Sie handelte wider das Gesetz. (She acted against the law.)

Here too, “wider” can be part of a compound word:

  • Annika widerstrebt das ganze Theater rund um Weihnachten. (Annika dislikes all the fuss around Christmas.)
  • Das ist ein Wider (This is a contradiction.)
  • Esel gelten als störrisch und widerständig. (Donkeys are considered stubborn and recalcitrant.)
  • Ich muss dir wider (I must disagree with you.)
  • Die Sterne widerspiegeln sich im See. (The stars are reflected in the lake.)

In a nutshell

While “Widder” is a noun and in most cases means ram or Aries, the distinction between “wieder” and “wider” is not always so simple. Basically, “wieder” means again while “wider” means against/contrary.

Similar-sounding words that have different meanings may be challenging, but they are by no means a peculiarity of the German language. Examples from English are: their / there, who’s / whose and hear / here. Examples from French are: aux / eau and verre / vert.

Do you know other examples? How do you remember the differences? Can you tell us your mnemonic devices? I look forward to your feedback and hope to see you again – wieder – soon on this blog. 😉

Nelly Müller – Sprachen Akademie

next to part 2