A Closer Look at schon
in German and English
First of all, if you are laboring under the delusion that schon (or any word) only has one meaning, get over it! Second, I'm sure by now you know the difference between schon and schön. (Yes, the umlaut is important!) Although we mentioned some uses of schon in our previous article on 'Doch' and Other Tricky Words, here we'll go into schon in much more depth.
Sometimes schon doesn't mean anything at all - at least not anything that can be simply translated by a single English word. (It may add emphasis, indicate impatience, or just be a filler.) But in general the German word schon has over a dozen different meanings - in German or English. Translated into English, schon can become any of these English words: already, as early as, before, even, just, now, okay, quite, really, very, yes-but, yet. Let's look at the many meanings of schon.
SCHON 1 (bereits - already)
This is the most common meaning, and the one that beginners usually learn first. But even in the basic meaning of "already," schon is often not translated into English. In some of the following examples, English either ignores schon or uses a word other than "already":
Ich hab' dir das schon zweimal gesagt.
I've already told you that twice.
Haben Sie das schon gelesen?
Have you read that already?
Sie ist schon da!
She's here (already).
Schon im 15. Jahrhundert...
As early as the 15th century...
Ich warte schon seit Wochen.
I've been waiting for weeks now.
SCHON 2 (schon einmal/schon mal - before)
This expression with schon usually means "before," as in "I've heard that before."
Ich hab' das schon mal gehört.
I've heard that before.
War er schon einmal dort?
Has he ever been there (before)?
The phrase schon wieder ("again") works in a similar way:
Da ist er schon wieder.
There he is again./He's back again.
Was? Schon wieder?
NEXT > schon - Part 2 - Ten more meanings of schon