1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email

German Adverbs

Erst and Nur

By

What is the difference between the following two sentences?

Meine Schwester hat erst zwei Kinder.
Meine Schwester hat nur zwei Kinder.

The two German adverbs erst and nur resemble close in meaning and is sometimes used interchangeably when in reality, it shouldn’t be. Doing so changes the meaning of your sentence as the translation of the above sentences demonstrates:

Meine Schwester hat erst zwei Kinder- My sister has two children at the moment.
(The speaker’s sister is expected to have more children in the future.)

Meine Schwester hat nur zwei Kinder – My sister has only two children.
(That’s all the sister has.)

Erst and Nur in Context
First, some more details on the meanings of these two adverbs.

  1. Erst:

    Temporal definition: only, not until

    Such a definition is used when the context suggests a restriction to a point in time or when the speaker’s expectations for a point in time has been changed.

    • Mein Mann kommt erst am Samstag – My husband is coming only on Saturday.

    • Es sieht so aus, dass mein Mann erst am Samstag kommen kann – It now looks like my husband won’t be coming until Saturday.
      (The speaker’s expectation of her husband’s arrival time has been changed.)

    • Es ist erst neun Uhr - It is only nine o’clock.
      (The speaker thought it was later than nine o’ clock.)

    Quantitative definition: no more than

    Such a definition is used when the context suggests a provisional restriction of a quantity or of time. For instance:

    • Magst du den Übeltäter des Buches? - Do you like the villain of the book?
      Ich kenne ihn noch nicht. Ich habe erst fünf Seiten dieses Buches gelesen – I don't know him. I’ve read but five pages of this book.
      (The speaker is going to read more.)

  2. Nur

    Definition: only, just

    Nur serves to pinpoint a definitive point in time, a quantity or action that isn’t expected to change.

    • Mein Mann geht nur am Samstag zur Konferenz – He is going only on Saturday to the conference.
      (That’s the one and only day that he is expected to go.)

    • Sie bleibt nur eine Stunde – She is staying only one hour.

    • Ich bin müde, deswegen habe ich nur fünf Seiten dieses Buches gelesen – I am tired, that is why I have read only five pages from the book.
      (The speaker is not going to read more than five pages.)

    • Sie will nur schlafen – She wants to just sleep.
      (That’s all she wants to do now.)

    • Compare that with:
    • Sie wird erst schlafen wenn sie heimkommt – She is going sleep only when she comes home.
      (Only then will she sleep.)



Exercise: Nur oder erst?
Fill in the following sentences with either nur or erst: Sometimes both are possible, depending on what you want to say. (See answers next page)

  1. Meine Tante ist _______ heute abgefahren.
  2. Ich habe _______ zwanzig Euro in meinem Porte-monnaie.
  3. Sie ist _______ seit drei Tagen abgefahren.
  4. Unser Sohn kommt _________, wenn er uns braucht.
  5. Meine Nachbarin kommt _________ für zehn Minuten.
  6. Es ist ________ acht Uhr.
  7. Ich werde ________ Fernsehen gucken, wenn ich mit meiner Hausaufgabe fertig bin.
  8. Ich will _________ Fernsehen gucken.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.