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How to say Nice in German — and what to watch out for

such a nice present
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When we want to express that we like something and the usual terms like “beautiful”, “wonderful,” or “awesome” are too much, we usually resort to the adjective “nice.”

It indicates liking and agreement, a feeling of comfort and coziness, but without too much excitement.

But how about the Germans? Which adjective in the German language carries the same message? How do you say nice in German?

Fortunately, the literal translation is exactly the word we need.

The German word for nice is “nett.” With a little caveat, I will tell you about in a minute.

But in general, all the things you express with “nice” in English, you can express in exactly the same way with “nett” in the German language.

By the way, the nice noun “niceness” can be translated as “Nettigkeit” in German.

Examples for Nice in German

  • Sie ist ein wirklich netter Mensch. — Translation: She is a really nice person.
  • Wir hatten einen wirklich netten Abend. Erst waren wir essen und dann im Theater. — Translation: We had a really nice evening. First we had dinner and then we went to the theater.
  • Es war wirklich sehr nett von meiner Nachbarin, mir selbstgemachte Hühnersuppe zu bringen, als sie hörte, dass ich krank bin. — Translation: It was really nice of my neighbor to bring me homemade chicken soup when she heard I was ill.
nice view
Nice view! – Schöne Aussicht! — Image by kordula vahle from Pixabay

The Pitfall for Nice in German

When you describe an event as nice to one other person, you will generally be fine. But when you use it to describe something pleasant to a group of Germans, one of them will inevitably utter the words “Nett ist der kleine Bruder von Scheisse!” At least, if there’s someone in the group who’s grumpy and doesn’t care for manners. Or someone who wants to be seen as witty.

These German words literally translate as “nice is the little brother of shitty.”

The Germans use this phrase to express that “nett” is a word that is very arbitrary and carries little meaning. Or is often used when you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. For example, when your friend asks you what you think of her new dress. You think “awful,” but you say “nice.”

Of course, native speakers know that the word “nett” is often used as a kind of emergency aid to avoid embarrassment. Which is why the person who asked your opinion may get upset and belt the phrase above in case your reply is simply “nett.”

If you want to avoid this, you should 

a) increase the emphasis

You do this by combining the word “nett” with some adverb that increases the meaning, like in these examples: 

  • sehr nett — Translation: very nice
  • wirklich nett — Translation: really nice
  • echt nett —Translation: genuinely nice

Sometimes these are even combined when you want to stress that you really mean “nett” in a positive way, eg. “sehr sehr nett“, or “wirklich sehr nett.”

b) use a different adjective instead

Avoid the word “nett” and replace it with another adjective. Other German words you may use instead of “nett” include:

  • schön — beautiful
  • wundervoll — wonderful
  • lieb — dear
  • angenehm — pleasant
nice in german - nice girl
She’s such a nice girl! — Sie ist so ein liebes Mädchen! — Image by Jan Steiner from Pixabay

c) be honest

Of course there’s also the option to give the questioner your honest opinion. But gently, please! Typical phrases are 

  • mein Geschmack ist es nicht direkt — not my taste directly
  • für mich wäre das nichts, aber Hauptsache, dir gefällt’s — for me it is not really something, but the main thing is that you like it
  • nicht mein Stil, aber du kannst so etwas tragen — not my style, but you can wear something like it
nice car
Netter Wagen! – Nice car! — Image by Michael Kauer from Pixabay

Difference between “nice” in English and “nett” in German

Although the two words carry the same meaning, there is a subtle difference between the two languages. While nice in English can be applied to just about anything, the German “nett” is reserved for living beings or events and experiences that are associated with (positive) emotions.

Germans rarely use “nett” when referring to objects. And if they do, they often try to downplay something.

  • Netter Wagen. — Nice car. (thinking: But do you really need an SUV in a city?)
  • Nette Hütte. — Nice hut. (when referring to a really grand house, with an equal amount of admiration and envy in your voice)
  • Netter Versuch. — Nice try. (in exactly the same triumphant tone as in English)

For this reason, for English expressions such “nice flowers” or “nice holiday” Germans often use the word “schön” (which translates as “beautiful.”)

And if you are looking for the translation for “naughty or nice” for next Christmas in Germany, that’s usually referred to as “unartig oder artig” by German Santa Clauses.

Examples

  • We had a nice time with the people we met during our holidays. — German Translation: Wir hatten eine schöne Zeit mit den Leuten, die wir im Urlaub kennengelernt haben.
  • It was nice to meet you! — German Translation: Es war schön, Sie kennenzulernen!

Conclusion

The adjectives “nett” and “nice” are two very similar expressions, with some minor differences. I hope we could improve your vocabulary and you’ll carry on learning German.

Anyway: It was nice to meet you and I hope to see you soon! — 
German translation: Wie auch immer: Es war schön, Sie kennenzulernen, und ich hoffe, Sie bald wiederzusehen!