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GetTING it right
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Today in Rosie’s GETTING  IT RIGHT Blog: Birthdays – Dates – Question Tags

Rosie Norman

‘False friends’ are never good!

This is one of the articles in our ‘Get it right’ which focuses on helping you (and Hans) to avoid typical mistakes made by Germans when speaking English.

Hans exclaims:

“Maria has a birthday on Tuesday, or? It says on the list that she has her birthday on the 11.2.2000. Funny, I always thought her birthday was at the end of the year.”

Well, Hans would be right, but his language was not. He has made three mistakes. Do you know what they are?

Today we are looking at how to say birthdays, writing the date so there are no misunderstandings and how to attach a question tag.


Here we go:

Maria’s birthday IS at the end of the year but because Maria is a US citizen, she writes the date the other way round.

It actually led to her getting two bouquets of flowers last year as half of the team thought her birthday was in February and the other half thought it was in November.


Writing the date:

For Americans: 11.2.2000 would mean the second of November, 2000.

For Europeans: 11.2.2000 would mean the eleventh of February, 2000.

Sometimes you will even see it written like this: 2000-2-11
This actually doesn’t cause so much confusion.

Tip: If you think there might be misunderstandings and before Maria does not get any flowers at all, try writing it out, i.e. November 2, 2000.

Note that in German you can write ‘2. November’. This is not possible in English, although ‘2 November 2000’ is possible.
(see next blog post No. 3 for tips on ordinal nos. (1st , 2nd, 3rd, etc. and how to say figures).


Saying it is someone’s birthday

In German, someone ‘has’ a birthday. That means that Hans would normally translate ‘Sie hat am Samstag Geburtstag’ to ‘she has a birthday on Saturday’, which sounds a bit strange in English. Most people would understand what is meant, but he should actually be saying:

It IS my birthday on Tuesday.

My mother’s birthday is in March   NOT    My mother HAS a birthday in March.


If Hans wants someone to confirm something he has just said, in German he would just pop an ‘oder?’ at the end. Quite simple really. Not quite so simple in English.

The so-called ‘question tags’ we use for this purpose in English are taken from the auxiliary verbs used. You can see this here:

Example 1

German mistake: This is the right one, or?

Correct English: This is the right one, isn’t it?

Example 2:

German mistake: She doesn’t have access to the new system, or?

Correct English:  She doesn’t have access to the new system, does she?

Example 3:

German mistake: She hasn’t met him yet, or?

Correct English: She hasn’t met him yet, has she?

Tip: Notice that when the first auxiliary (helping) verb is in the affirmative (positive) form, the question tag is normally negated (negative form). There are, however, a few exceptions to this.

Join us again for the next ‘Get it right’ blog article.

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