Confusing Words Language Tips

Adjectives vs Past Tense Verbs

In English, some adjectives are spelled and pronounced exactly the same as past tense verbs (actions in the past). This is also true in Pennsylvania Dutch.

Some English examples:

  • Made can describe an action in the past, or the ingredients of something.
    • I made a cake. (past tense verb)
    • What is this table made from? (adjective)
  • Blessed can describe an action in the past, or your current condition.
    • God blessed them. (past tense verb)
    • We are really blessed. (adjective)
  • Scheduled can talk about an action in the past, or the condition of an event.
    • I scheduled the meeting last week. (past tense verb)
    • Our meeting is scheduled for next week. (adjective)

Why Does It Matter?

Knowing the difference between an adjective and a past tense verb helps make it clear whether someone is talking about the past, present, or future.

This is because both adjectives and past tense verbs need other verbs to go along with them in a sentence. These other verbs are different based on whether it is an adjective or a past tense verb, so you must know which ones to use.

  • With past tense verbs, these are called helper verbs: havva, voahra, and occasionally sei.
  • With adjectives, these verbs are a form of sei or vadda.

First of all; what are adjectives and what are past tense verbs?

What are Adjectives and Past Tense Verbs


  1. Adjectives describe a noun.
  2. Adjectives also describe someone or something’s condition or situation — what they are or could become.

For example, a person might be young (yung), hungry (hungahrich), tired (meet), or angry (bays). Something might be new (nei), old (ald), rusty (roshtich), or fast (shteik).

Past Tense Verbs

  1. Verbs are actions.
  2. So past tense verbs (past participles, PP) are actions done in the past.

Examples of past tense verbs are: ran (kshprunga), wrote (kshrivva), threw (kshmissa), thought (gedenkt), said (ksawt).

Many adjectives are placed right next to the nouns they describe. For example, fat cat, fast dog, big trees. But adjectives do not have to appear right next to the noun they describe.

When an Adjective and a Past Tense Verb Look the Same

It’s very easy to spot most adjectives. But some adjectives look and sound exactly the same as past tense verbs. Let’s look at just 2 examples where it might be hard to tell an adjective from a past tense verb.


As a Past Tense Verb

The dog destroyed the shoe. | Da hund hott da shoo distroit.

  • Destroyed is a past tense verb because it’s an action the dog has already done. So it needs the helper verb hott.
As an Adjective

The town will be destroyed by the storm. | Di shtatt zayld distroit vadda bei da shtoahm.

  • Destroyed is an adjective because it talks about the future condition of the town—what it will be. Here, it needs the verb vadda since it is an adjective.


As a Past Tense Verb

He found the book. | Eah hott‘s buch kfunna.

  • Found is a past tense verb because it is a something that happened in the past.
  • Clue: Notice the helper verb hott.
As an Adjective

It’s information that is found in the library. | ‘Sis information es kfunna is in di library.

  • Found is an adjective since it describes the condition of the information.
  • Clue: Note the is that follows it.

How to Tell a Verb From an Adjective

The easiest way to tell the difference is to ask yourself some questions.

Past Tense Verbs
  • Is it an action?
  • Did it happen in the past?

…then it’s a past tense verb (PP)

… then make sure it has an helper verb like sei or havva.

  • Is it describing a condition?
  • Is it something a person, place, or thing is or can become?
  • Is it happening currently or in the future?

… then it’s an adjective.

… and it needs a form of sei or vadda.

Also, when reading, look at clue words in the sentence.

Past tense verbs will have helper verbs — forms of havva are most common, but a few can also be sei.

Adjectives, on the other hand, will often have forms of sei or vadda.

To make it easier to spot, where possible, each word in the Words List is marked as either a past tense verb (PP) or as an adjective (adj).

Confusing Words

Ay, Ayn, Ayns, and Vann

Ay, ayns, ayn, and vann can all mean one. Yet they do not mean the same thing. Here’s when to use each.

Ay (a single item)

Use ay when talking about one of an item. For example, one person.


  • Ay mann un ay fraw.
  • Lann vass hott ay mann kolfa haebbi sei.
  • Sell is ay reesin.

Ayns (one of; with funn)

Use ayns when talking about one (of) something. It is only used before funn.


  • Ayns funn sei friends voah da Amos.
  • Sell is ayns funn di reesins es miah shaffa missa.

Ayn (a number)

Ayn means the number one and is used only when counting or as part of a number.


  • Ayn, zvay, drei…
  • Gukk moll vass’s sawkt do in Markus gabiddel ayn.
  • Miah henn drei geil: zvay sinn brau, un ayn is shvatz.

Vann (pronoun)

Vann is sometimes a pronoun meaning a person. For example, he is the one.

You can recognize when vann is used as a pronoun because it will have da or di right in front of it.


  • Da Andy is da vann es ‘s haus gebaut hott.
  • Di Donna is di vann es ‘s broht gmacht hott.
Language Tips

Signals of Thought Changes

A sentence can be simple. But they can also be complex — having more than one thought. Below is a list of Pennsylvania Dutch words (mostly prepositions) that signal a change of thought in a sentence.

  • es (that)
  • vann (when)
  • fa (for)
  • funn (from/of)
  • zu (to)
  • mitt (with)
  • veyyich (about)
  • in (in)
  • eb (before)
  • zvishich (between)
  • un (see below)

There may be other words, but these are the most common in Pennsylvania Dutch.

Why is this important? Just as in English, Pennsylvania Dutch is a V2 (verb-second) language. That means that the second word in a sentence tends to be a verb.

Ich gleich broht. (I like bread.)

However, when a sentence contains more than one thought, the first verb in the new thought jumps to the end of the thought. The Deitsh words listed above make it easier to spot the start of a new thought. Knowing this will help you put the verbs in the second and any following thoughts in the correct order.

un (sometimes)

Un also signals a change of thought.

But not when simply separating multiple items (as in: mich un dich (me and you)).

Remember when it comes to un and verb order:

  • When un glues 2 separate sentences together that could stand on their own that are within a single sentence…
    || EN: It has been a long week and I am looking forward to a break.
  • … the first thought after un starts the verb order over again as if it were a new sentence.
Confusing Words

Past Tense Verbs that Use “Sei”

In Pennsylvania Dutch, past tense verbs (past participles; PP) need a helper verb when speaking about the past. Most of the time, that helper verb is a form of havva (to have). However, there are some past tense words that use a form of sei (to be). Which ones?

When To Use Sei

The general rule for when to use sei (to be) is when the past tense verb is talking about a change in condition or location.

Note, what is explained here is not the same as when sei is used with adjectives that look like past tense verbs We’re only talking about verbs that happened in the past.

Past Tense Verbs That Use Sei as the Helper Verb

To make things easier, here is a list of the most commonly used past tense verbs * that use the sei helper verb.

became = vadda
Eah is ald vadda. (He became old.)

came = kumma
Du bisht zrikk kumma. (You came back.)

died (animals) = doht-ganga
‘Sis doht-ganga. (It died.)

died (humans) = kshtauva
Eah is kshtauva. (He has died.)

fell = kfalla
Geshtah, is da bohm kfalla.

fell asleep = eikshlohfa
Si sinn eikshlohfa. (They fell asleep.)

flew = kflowwa
Deah raven is zrikk un faddi kflowwa.

grew up = ufgvaxa
Ich binn ufgvaxa in Ohio. (I grew up in Ohio.)

left = falossa
Si sinn falossa. (They left.)

ran = kshprunga
See is fatt kshprunga. (She ran away from home.)

resurrected / stood up / got up = uf kshtanna
Eah is uf kshtanna free. (He got up early.)
Da Jesus is uf kshtanna funn di dohda. (Jesus was resurrected from the dead.)

stayed = geblivva
Eah is datt geblivva. (He stayed there.)

walked = gloffa
Eah is vekk gloffa. (He walked away.)

went = ganga
Miah sinn haym ganga. (We went home.)

* Note 1: There may be other past tense verbs that also use sei as their helper verb. However, these are some of the more common ones that you might use in conversation.

Note 2: Some adjectives are spelled like past tense verbs and may use a form of sei or vadda. Don’t get these adjectives confused with past tense verbs. They’re not the same.

Confusing Words

Shtill vs Alsnoch vs Noch vs Doch

Shtill, alsnoch, noch, and doch all mean still. But each word means something different.


Shtill (adj) = quiet (as in “be still”)

Shtill is an adjective, so it always describes something. It is not to be confused with something that’s continuing.


  • ‘S meisli is shtill.
  • ‘S kind is nett shtill — eah is laut.
  • En goodah hund is en shtillah hund.

Shtill is never used to talk about time. The next two words, alsnoch and noch, are used when talking about time.


Alsnoch = still (as in ongoing and continuing)

Alsnoch is used to talk about something that started in the past, or that is already happening and may continue.


  • Miah sinn alsnoch in di ald veld.
  • Bisht du alsnoch am shaffa an dei haus?
  • “Dess is alsnoch unsah land…” (2 Chronik 14:7)


Noch = yet (for the future), after, another

Noch is used to talk about:

  1. something that will happen in the future (ie still to come)
  2. something that will happen after (but not necessarily immediately).
  3. something additional.
  4. as of yet.


  • Vass gebt noch dee zeit? (as in in the future)
  • … awl mensha kumma noch een. (as in after)
  • Noch aynah is da Sam. (as in another)
  • Vass noch musht du du ebdihand? (as in yet or what still needs to happen)
  • Noch nett. (as in not happened yet.)


Doch = still, even so/nevertheless, after all

Doch can mean:

  1. still (as in will or is happening despite difficulties or unlikely situations)
  2. even so / nevertheless / after all (as in the final result)

Doch is used to talk about something that is true, continues to be true, or is happening even when this is surprising. Doch is almost always used when talking about something that has already been mentioned.


  • Unsah boss is en importandah mann mitt feel responsibilities, eah is doch immah goot zu uns. (as in still)
  • Leit henn iahra questions kshikt zu iahra boss. Doch, si feela es iahra questions sinn nett gensaht. (as in even so)
  • Di Mowrey’s zayla doch pizza macha. (as in after all.)

Note: In the last example, if the Mowrey’s plans to make pizza had never been called into question, doch would not be used. You would instead simply say, “Di Mowrey’s zayla pizza macha.”

Confusing Words

Nee Nett vs Selayva Nett

Basically both nee nett and selayva nett mean never.

Nee Nett → Selayva Nett

Both phrases mean never, and using either one interchangeably should be understandable to a native speaker. So don’t get too worried about which to use.

As with many similar words that mean the same thing, it’s often a matter of picking which sounds and flows better in the sentence.

Nee Nett = Never


  • Di batteries zayla nee nett shtauva koss si sinn rechargeable.
  • Favass sedda miah nee nett unsah family lossa unsah meind tshaynsha?

Selayva Nett = Never


  • Du kansht shuah sei es Gott zayld dich selayva nett frohwa fa may du es du du kansht.
  • Eiyah baybi is selayva nett zu yung fa en anri language lanna.
Confusing Words

Eb vs Vann

Eb → before, whether

Use eb for the words before and whether.

Before = eb

PG: Eb di Laura kshtauva is hott see kshvetzt mitt fiah funn iahra kinnah.
EN: Before Laura died, she talked with four of her children.

    ?Remember: Use Eb and before as you go out the door.

Whether = eb

Eb can mean whether (as in, when talking about which of 2 possible options).

PG: Di Donna vill vissa eb du hinkel-flaysh adda fish vitt. 
EN: Donna wants to know whether you want chicken or fish.

?Remember: Eb and whether go together. 🙂

More Examples

  • Vass sett ma du eb ma shteaht en haus bauwa? (as in, before)
  • Es zayld haebna eb du’s gleichsht adda nett. (as in, whether)
  • Yaydah vann muss diseiyda fa sich selvaht eb si fisha vella adda nett.​ (as in, whether)

Vann → when, if

Use vann for the words when and if.

When = vann

Vann is used when you’re wanting to say when something happens.

?Remember: Vann and when are like chicks and hens.

If = vann (as in, if this, then that)

PG: Vann miah greeni paint uf di vand doon, zayld’s goot gukka.
EN: If we put green paint on the wall, it will look good.

?Remember: With if and vann, it won’t take long.

More Examples

  • Vass gebt mitt uns vann miah shtauva? (as in, when)
  • Vann du’s gleichsht, ich kann’s viddah macha. (as in, if)
  • Vann du en mann bisht… (as in, if)
  • Vann du goodi decisions machsht, zaylsht du haebbi sei. (as in, if or when—depending on the context)
  • Vann miah sell doon dann macht’s uns haebbi un si aw. (as in, if or when—depending on the context)
Whether is used in English for which of at least 2 possible things might happen — as in, which one?If is used in English when talking about if something happens, then something else will happen.


Occasionally, vann can also be used as a pronoun (as in one).

PG: Eah is da vann es alles gmacht hott. (as in, one)
EN: He is the one that made everything.

? When used as a pronoun, vann will always have da or di right in front of it — depending on whether the noun that’s being replaced is masculine or feminine.


  • PG: Di Donna is di vann es ‘s broht gmacht hott.
  • EN: Donna is the one that made the bread.
  • PG: Da Andy is da vann es ‘s haus gebaut hott.
  • EN: Andy is the one that built the house.
Confusing Words

Een, Eem, and Eena

Both een and eem mean him. But the RTO only uses een for simplicity. To make things easier, it’s perfectly acceptable to simply use een anytime you would use him in a sentence.


Een is used to refer to him.


  • Vass hott da Billy gedu es een kolfa hott?
  • No vitt du alles du es du kansht fa dei leevi veisa zu een.


Eem means him. Used only in The Heilich Shrift.


  • “Eah kumd an sei end, un nimmand zayld eem helfa.”
  • Hayvet oh zu eem.


Eena is used when talking about them (dative case). Used only in The Heilich Shrift.

Instead of eena, use si for them or they.


  • “Ich selvaht zayl gay sucha fa mei shohf un nohch gukka noch eena.”
  • No hott Jesus eena grawt raus ksawt, ‘Da Lazarus is kshtauva.’
Confusing Words

Thank, think, thinking

Though different words, thank, think, and thinking sound similar in Pennsylvania Dutch. How do you keep them straight?

To Thank

To thank someone, say thanks, and to be thankful are all different words. See the examples below.

To Thank (v) = danka
(ex: Miah danka een fa awl sei shayni promises.)

Thanks = denki (notice the spelling change)
(ex: Miah sawwa denki fa awl eiyah haddi eahvet.)

Thankful (adj) = dankboah (always used with a form of sei)
(ex: Miah sinn so dankboah fa alles es du gedu hosht.)

To Think

To Think (v) = denka
(ex: Vella denka veyyich da future.)

  • Think (v) = (ich) denk (also used in commands)
    (ex: Denk veyyich dei nochbah.)


Thinking, as in the way a person thinks. This is a noun, not a verb.

Thinking (n) = denkes
(ex: Di veld iahra denkes is letz!)

Confusing Words

Need, Must, and Should

Need / Braucha

Braucha is used when someone needs something (item, “product”).

? Tip: Can you buy it, gain it, or possess it?


  • Miah braucha ess-sach.
  • Miah braucha encouragement.
  • Ich brauch en pen.

Missa and Sedda

Both missa (must) and sedda (should) are used when someone needs to do something.

? Tip: Are you talking about an action that needs to be done?

Examples (missa/must)

  • See muss zu da shtoah gay.
  • Si missa gay breddicha.
  • Eah hott missa sei haus butza.

Examples (sedda/should)

  • Miah sedda gay si encouragement gevva.
  • Eah sett sei hoah sheahra.

Note: braucha, missa, and sedda are the unchanged verbs (infinitive form). Like any other verb, they will need to be changed based on who is doing it.