One of the most common mistakes in German is to literally translate from English that something is fun. Why? Because the German equivalent of the English adjective “fun” is the German noun “Spaß”. So in this post I explain how to translate it correctly into German.
You cannot say something is fun in German because Spaß cannot be used in combination with the word sein. That’s because “sein” can only be used with the Nominativ cases and always compares two equals.
e.g. “Ich bin ein Lehrer“ is correct because I and the teacher refer to the same person.
So if you said literally translating from English “Tennis ist Spaß“, you suggest that tennis and fun are equivalent, which logically doesn’t make sense.
So to say that something is fun you have to use the verb “machen” instead. In other word words, the German understanding is that something does (in the sense of “causes”, “brings about”) fun to person. Or to put it in German, etwas macht jemandem (dative case!) Spaß.
e.g. Tennis macht (mir) Spaß (Tennis is fun for me)
Mir macht Kochen keinen Spaß. (Cooking isn’t fun for me)
Vokabellernen macht vielen meiner Kursteilnehmer*innen keinen Spaß (Learning vocabulary isn’t fun to many of my students)
You cannot say people are fun, though, only that something is fun for someone or that someone is having fun (see below). If someone says “ich mache Spaß”, they’re saying they’re joking. So to express that someone is fun, you have to use adjectives like "unterhaltsam" (entertaining), "lustig" (funny) etc.
e.g. Sie ist locker und unterhaltsam (She is relaxed and fun/entertaining).
Like in English, If you want to say you’re having fun, you use the verb "haben" in German.
e.g. Ich habe gerade viel Spaß, denn ich bin im Urlaub (I'm having a lot of fun because I'm on holiday).
On our German Language Blog "Auf Deutsch, bitte!", you also find posts on tricky false friends between German and English like the English schmuck and its German translation and become vs. bekommen, as well as articles on many grammar topics- from adjective endings in German, the cases in German, the passive in German, to German word order. We also warn you about the top 5 mistakes in German and tell you how to avoid them, and we have blog entries that are of interest to language learners more generally, such as a review of online dictionaries Linguee, dict.cc, dict.leo, and Collins, and a comparison between Duolingo, Memrise, Babbel, and Busuu.
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