Ginn, ginn, ginn... how can one word have so many meanings?

  1. Ech ginn heem. I’m going home.
  2. Ech ginn dir e Kaddo. I’m giving you a present.
  3. Ech gi schwéier. I’m becoming heavy.
  4. D’Croissante ginn an der Stad gemaach. The croissants are made in the city.

A quick look at the online dictionary immediately shows how many meanings and expressions this simple word has (I counted 120). In his 2010 book De Sproochmates, the linguaphile Alain Atten alludes to the fact that not even scientific research currently fully understands the many usages of ‘ginn’ since we have not yet been able to track its development over time.

It is therefore not my intention to give you all of the meanings and workings of this word since that might discourage you from ever learning another Luxembourgish word again (and it might discourage me from ever writing about a Luxembourgish word again). However, I would like to give you a short and useful introduction to some of the more important usages of ‘ginn’ that someone starting out to learn Luxembourgish might come across.

goen - to go, to walk

goen - to go, to walk

Let’s consider example 1 ‘Ech ginn heem.’ (I’m going home), which actually comes from the verb ‘goen’ (to go or to walk). It just so happens that the conjugated forms of the verb ‘goen’ in the present tense for the first-person singular and plural (ech, mir) and third-person plural (si) are the same as the unrelated verb ‘ginn’ (to give or to become).

Have a look at the conjugated verb ‘goen’ below. You will see that the persons ech, mir and si  (in bold) are all conjugated as ‘ginn’. 

conjugated verb goen.png

In contrast, example 2 ‘Ech ginn dir e Kaddo.’ (I’m giving you a present) and example 3 ‘Ech gi schwéier.’ (I’m becoming heavy) are part of the actual verb ‘ginn’ (to give, to become), which is conjugated the following way:

conjugated verb ginn.png

The good news is that the conjugation of these two verbs ‘goen’ and ‘ginn’ is almost identical in the present tense, differing only for the second- and third-person singulars (‘du’ and ‘hie(n)/si, hatt/et’) marked in bold above. This will make it easier to learn these verbs, but it will make it trickier to know which meaning the verb has in a given sentence.

Usually, context helps a lot when trying to figure out what ‘ginn’ means (to go, to give or to become). For example, you can always count on a location word (answering to the question ‘where?’) when ‘ginn’ means ‘to go’: Ech ginn heem. I’m going home. Where are you going? Home.

Ech gi schwéier.

Ech gi schwéier.

When ‘ginn’ means ‘to become’, it is followed by an adjective, such as ‘schwéier’ (heavy), ‘schéin’ (beautiful) or ‘grouss’ (big), as in example 3 ‘Ech gi schwéier’. (You will have noticed that the double ‘n’ of ‘ginn’ is dropped in this example due to the n-rule)

Ech ginn dir e Kaddo.

Ech ginn dir e Kaddo.

When ‘ginn’ means ‘to give’ it is followed by a pronoun, either a reflexive pronoun if people are giving whatever it is to themselves, or a personal pronoun if people are giving it to someone else. The latter example is illustrated by example 2 ‘Ech ginn dir e Kaddo.’ (I’m giving you a present). Personal pronouns and reflexive pronouns are almost the same, they differ only in the third-person singular and plural (shown in bold below).

reflexive versus personal pronouns.png

Finally, the verb ‘ginn’ is an auxiliary verb used to build compound tenses and the passive voice, just like in example 4 ‘D’Croissante ginn an der Stad gemaach.’ (The croissants are made in the city).

I know if I don’t say it, you will ask, so I will just whisper the following before ending this post:

You will have noticed in the columns above that some pronouns are in the nominative case and others in the dative case. Just like German, Luxembourgish has a certain amount of grammatical cases and without getting into the details, just remember that the nominative case answers to the question ‘who?’ (You are giving me a ball. Who is giving me a ball? You are) whereas the dative case answers to the question ‘whom?’ (You are giving me a ball. Whom are you giving a ball? Me).


So, what do you think? Was that easy or difficult? 

Ps: *The brackets () are used to make you aware of words that are subject to the n-rule, meaning, the final ‘n’ (or ‘nn’) of those words has to be dropped except when the next word after that starts with n, d, t, z, h, i, u, e, o, a.