By accident or on Purpose? Expressing Intent in German

German can be a tricky language. But even if you’re not always able to express yourself perfectly at the beginning, it’s good to be able to clarify your intentions. So for those awkward moments in German – and in life! – here are a few different words and phrases to have handy.

Talking about a coincidence or accident in German

accident in German

Where English speakers would use the words “accident” or “accidentally,” Germans have many different words:

The first term used to describe an accident in German is der Unfall. This word refers to physical accidents, like falling off of a bike.

The next word for accident in German is der Zufall, which implies a sense of coincidence. The adverb zufällig is sometimes translated as “accidentally,” but more specifically it means “at random” or “by chance.”

There’s also a phrase used to describe something that has happened unintentionally or by mistake: aus Versehen.

Here’s an example:
Jetzt bin ich aus Versehen zu weit gelaufen und muss den Bus nach Hause nehmen.

“Now I’ve accidentally walked too far and have to take the bus home.”

How to express doing something intentionally

Now how would you tell someone you did something intentionally?

A phrase that has the same meaning as aus Versehen is ohne Absicht. (Die) Absicht means “intention,” “aim,” or “purpose.” Here’s what you’d say if you wanted to express that you did something intentionally:

Das war Absicht.
(That was on purpose.)

You can also use mit Absicht or absichtlich. Here’s how that would look:

Ich konnte ja nicht wissen, dass du Max mit Absicht belogen hast.
(I couldn’t have known that you lied to Max on purpose.)

Jemand hat Janek Sternberg absichtlich vom Gerüst geschubst.
(Someone intentionally shoved Janek Sternberg off the scaffolding.)

For further practice, try creating sentences using this list of nouns and verbs. Form sentences for hypothetical scenarios where your intention (or lack thereof!) might need clarification:

die Mail / weiterleiten
dich / anrufen
seinen Kaffee / trinken
die Tasche / zu Hause lassen

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