Is Umgangssprache the Same as Slang?

If you’re learning German, you might have notice that the terms “Umgangssprache” and “slang” are often used interchangeably – wrongfully so. Although the two spoken forms of German may use informal vocabulary, the most important thing about them is that they both refer to different language types. Read on to explore the main differences between colloquial German and German slang!

What Is Slang?

Slang refers to words and phrases that are considered very informal, often limited to certain contexts or particular social groups. You may also want to know that slang is used more in speech than in writing.

Slang comes in all shapes and sizes: its different types are spread across a wide range of social groups, including student slang, sports slang, military slang, and many other variations – some of which are potentially vulgar or offensive.

What Is Colloquial Language?

Colloquial language, also referred to as “colloquialism,” implies informal communication, often specific to a place or a region. Put differently, colloquialisms are the spoken forms of a language that vary from place to place.

Colloquial forms are mainly understood only in the region or place where they occur and are the forms that are typically used. People from other locations may not necessarily comprehend this colloquial language. It takes time to get used to colloquialisms and begin to understand what is meant.

One of the main differences between slang and colloquial language is that slang has the tendency of spreading very quickly, whereas colloquial terms rarely become viral and are slow to be grasped by the people from other regions.

Colloquial language is an integral part of communication that has claimed its place in the field of linguistics.

Learn about colloquial German and German slang

The Differences Between Colloquial Language and Slang

Let’s sum up the distinctions between colloquialism and slang:

  • Slang refers to very informal words and phrases that are often reserved for certain contexts and social groups.
  • There are different types of slang, like college slang, medical slang, etc.
  • Sometimes the word “slang” also refers to vulgar and offensive language.
  • Colloquialism refers to the use of language in a particular region or place.
  • Colloquial forms of a language are understood only in a specific region or place.
  • Slang words and phrases can become viral, whereas colloquial language doesn’t spread quickly.
  • Colloquial expressions are more often studied and researched than slang words.

The Grammatical and Syntactical Peculiarities of Colloquial German

Now that you know the underlying differences between slang and colloquialism, we will dive deeper into the grammatical and syntactical peculiarities of spoken German.

The Preterite

Colloquial German is characterized by the limited use of the preterite used to describe past actions, or even its virtual absence, for example, in southern Germany, Austria, or Switzerland.

The German preterite is a simple past tense, formed only of one part. It is typically used in formal written documents – as you can guess, its usage can appear overly formal in everyday speech. Interestingly, Germans use the perfect tense in about 90% of cases in speech.

The Konjunktiv I and the Genitive Case

Another peculiarity of spoken German is the absence of the Konjunktiv I and the rare use of the genitive case.

The Konjunktiv I (Subjunctive I) is a German grammatical mood. Widely used in indirect speech, the Konjunktiv I is most frequently found in texts like news reports. Again, Konjunktiv I is too formal to be used in daily communication.

The genitive case is also mainly avoided in spoken German. In many cases, von + dative is used instead of the genitive.


Der Regisseur des Films ist sehr berühmt.

von + Dative:

Der Regisseur von dem Film ist sehr berühmt.

Are colloquial and slang German the same?

Pronominal Adverbs and Sentence-Initial Pronouns

The splitting of pronominal adverbs that commonly occurs in colloquial German – especially in northern and central Germany – is considered “bad manners” in Standard German. The splitting largely applies to the so-called DA-words, e.g., dafür, darauf, darum, etc.

Da freuen wir uns schon lange drauf (darauf). – We’ve been looking forward to that for a long time.

Just as in English, German doesn’t tend to drop pronouns. However, the elision of sentence-initial pronouns is frequent in both languages in colloquial speech.

(ICH) Weiß nicht. - (I) Don’t know.

The Definite Article with Personal Names

The use of the definite article with personal names in spoken German is very curious – and unaccepted in Standard German. Geographically, it occurs more frequently in southern Germany and is barely present in the north of the country.

Hallo, ich bin DER Alex. - Hi, I’m THE Alex.

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