Most Famous Gs

The pandemic stirred up our lives and—no surprise—our language too. It brought us a couple of new verbs and made three participles most famous. While the verbs leave our tongues to enter our day-to-day conversations, the participles appear as a single letter, the letter G, on the doors of restaurants, stores, trains, theaters and opera houses, unmovable like insignia of an omnipresent royalty.

The term 3G means:


Some places, e.g. opera houses and department stores, require only 2G:


In German, a participle is a word formed from a verb to mostly create the perfect tense and the passive voice. Coupled with a helping verb, it participates—as its name “participle” suggests—in creating the past tense and the passive.

The verbs that are the basis of 3G are:

impfen (to vaccinate)
genesen (to recover from an illness)

With most verbs we create the participle by adding the prefix ge-.

sagen (to say) → gesagt
spielen (to play) → gespielt
singen (to sing) → gesungen
trinken (to drink) → getrunken

The participle of verbs that never change their vowel, so-called regular verbs, like sagen, spielen, impfen, and testen end with a -t. The participle of verbs that change their vowel, so-called irregular verbs, like singen, trinken, or genesen, end with -en.

Some verbs, so-called non-separable verbs, form their participle without ge-. They have the privilege to carry the following prefixes:

ver– (e.g. verlieben = to fall in love), be– (e.g. bestellen = to order), emp– (e.g. empfehlen = to recommend), ent– (e.g. enttäuschen = to disappoint), er– (e.g. erleben = to experience), zer– (e.g. zerstören = to destroy), and ge– like genesen.

Separable verbs which cause many students of the German language great suffering take the prefix ge– into their midst.

vorsingen (to audition, recite) → vorgesungen

auftreten (to perform) → aufgetreten

So, why do impfen, genesen, and testen present themselves as participles? Do they express the past tense? No, because the person who wishes to enter a store cannot claim, Ich habe geimpft (I vaccinated). It implies he or she is a doctor who administered the vaccine. Neither does it mean he or she is protected against the virus.

These participles express the passive voice, more specifically the Zustandspassiv, the passive that describes a condition (Zustand) rather than a process (Vorgang).

If I am being vaccinated—by someone we do not want to mention in the sentence—we say, Ich werde geimpft, using the helping verb werden.

I want to present the condition, namely that I am vaccinated, we say, Ich bin geimpft, using the helping verb sein (to be).

3G means, ich bin, du bist, wir sind etc. geimpft, genesen, getestet.

However, a new verb has been threatening the fame of these three participles. Derived from the English “to boost”, the verb boostern hast began to dominate everyone’s conversation. Boostern has pushed aside it first version, the Auffrischung (auffrischen = to refresh, to revitalize), and is often used as participle in passive voice: Ich bin geboostert.

Another verb which I read in the newspapers the other day gets its novelty from its prefix frei (free).

When you are tested positive you have to go into isolation. You cannot eat in restaurants or shop and you cannot have contact with other people for a certain number of days unless—and this is a new rule in some parts of Germany—you test negative before the end of that period. You will be free, you set your self free by testing negative: freitesten. Ich bin freigetestet.

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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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