7 Meanings of ‘Bitte’ [The Most Versatile German Word]

bitte meanings

The German word bitte probably the most versatile word in German. In this post you’ll learn all the different meanings of bitte, and in which situations they apply.

Before we get started, let’s discover how this sweet little word actually sounds:

Bitte
bitte meanings

Please

Easily the most common meaning of bitte. German speakers are known for their politeness (höflichkeit) so you will hear this a lot, and hopefully you will use it at lot yourself when you visit a German speaking country.

Ich hätte gern ein Stück Kuchen bitteI would like a piece of cake please

When bitte means ‘please’, generally it appears either at the end of the sentence or in position 3 after the verb or subject:

Könnte ich bitte noch einen Tee haben?Could I have another tea please?

May I help you?

Sometimes you’ll sit down in a café or restaurant, and hear from the waiter or waitress: bitte schön? This is a short way to say ‘can I help you?’ in German.

Kellner/in: (comes to table) Bitte schön?Waiter/ess: (comes to table) May I help you?
Du: Ich hätte gern ein Schnitzel bitteYou: I would like a schnitzel please

Here you go

Next up: Bitte can mean ‘here you go’ in the context of handing something over. You will hear this a lot when you speak with customer facing staff, such as waiters and waitresses.

Sometimes you’ll hear bitte on it’s own, and sometimes you’ll hear bitte sehr. This is one of these phrases where you’ll do yourself no favours if you try to translate it. Sehr means ‘very’ so we could end up with ‘here you go very’.

Just remember it as a chunk and listen out for it next time you visit a café or restaurant.

Du: Ich hätte gern ein Schnitzel bitteYou: I would like a schnitzel please
Kellner/in: (brings meal) Bitte sehrWaiter/ess: (brings meal) There you go

You’re welcome

Closely related to the previous meaning for bitte, is ‘you’re welcome’. Let’s use the previous scenario again:

Du: (receives meal) DankeYou: (receives meal): Thank you
Kellner/in: BitteWaiter/ess: You’re welcome

German speakers like to adjust this phrase to match what you say to them. So if you were to say: danke schön (thank you kindly), your waiter/ess would respond with: bitte schön.

If you said: danke sehr (thank you very much), their response would be: bitte sehr. Look out for this next time you visit a German speaking country.

So far you have learned that bitte can mean ‘please’, ‘may I help you?’, ‘there you go’ and ‘you’re welcome’. Because of this you may encounter a lot of uses of bitte in one conversation, so we end up with a crazy exchange like this:

Kellner/in: Bitte schön?Waiter/ess: May I help you?
Du: Ich hätte gern ein Schnitzel bitteYou: I would like a schnitzel please
Kellner/in: (brings meal) Bitte sehrWaiter/ess: (brings meal) There you go
Du: DankeYou: Thank you
Kellner/in: BitteWaiter/ess: You’re welcome

Pardon

The next meaning of the word bitte is ‘pardon?’ or ‘excuse me?’ It is said with an upper inflection at the end because it is a question.

It is used when someone doesn’t hear or understand something that another person has said:

Kennst du, dass mein lieblingswort auf Deutsch ist Geschwindigkeitsüberschreitung?Did you know that my favourite German word is Geschwindigkeitsüberschreitung?
Bitte? Ich verstehe nicht!Pardon? I don’t understand!

You can also say wie bitte? which means the same thing, but it often shortened to a simple bitte?

Go ahead / After you

Yet another meaning for bitte is ‘go ahead’ in the context of letting someone go through a door or to speak first etc.

For example if you are speaking to your language partner, and you both go to say something at the same time, one of you can say bitte, as in ‘go ahead, you go first’.

Beide: Wie geht es dir?Both: How are you?
Du: Bitte.You: Go ahead

You can also think of it as ‘after you’ in the context of letting someone go ahead of you, or holding a door open for someone.

To ask / beg

In German we also have the verb bitten which means ‘to request’, ‘to plead’ or ‘to ask’. This is conjugated in the usual way and used with the first person accusative (dich, euch or Sie). It can be used to express more emotion or even desperation than a simple ‘can you?’

Here are some examples:

Er bittet sie zu bleibenHe’s begging her to stay
Herr Schmitt, ich bitte Sie, lassen Sie mich meinen Job behaltenHerr Schmitt, I‘m begging you, let me keep my job (formal)
Ich bitte dich, mir zu glaubenI’m asking you to believe me (informal)
Ich bitte euch nochmals zu gehenI’m asking you guys again to leave

So now you know 7 different meanings for the word bitte. Since there are so many possible meanings, be sure to listen out for it used in different contexts. Check for different tones or inflections to see if you can detect whether it is being used as a question, statement or just general politeness.

The most common use for the word bitte is ‘please’, so next let’s learn how to say ‘thank you’ in German.

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