ab und zu, now and then, from time to time, off and on

Whippet

New Member
English-England
Split from here.

"ab und zu" is like the English expression "off and on" meaning now and then.
 
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  • Whippet

    New Member
    English-England
    In British English, when we use the expression "it's off and on" it means something happens occasionally. "It's raining off and on"

    Etymologically speaking, both expressions have the same roots.
     

    Toadie

    Senior Member
    English
    In British English, when we use the expression "it's off and on" it means something happens occasionally. "It's raining off and on"

    Etymologically speaking, both expressions have the same roots.
    Perhaps we're getting off topic a bit, but rain seems more like a condition than an action. It's a continuous thing. I'm not extremely familiar with the small nuances of British dialects, but I would assume anyway that it would sound odd to say "I fell in that hole off and on".
     

    Whippet

    New Member
    English-England
    wie gesagt, ich meinte von der Etymologie her. Der moderne Spruch bzw die aktuelle Anwendung hat eine ähnliche Bedeutung.
     

    default_name

    Member
    American English
    Perhaps we're getting off topic a bit, but rain seems more like a condition than an action. It's a continuous thing. I'm not extremely familiar with the small nuances of British dialects, but I would assume anyway that it would sound odd to say "I fell in that hole off and on".
    Sorry, i had to post - this made me laugh.

    In american english we also say it's raining on and off, as to say the status of something is changing. "now and then (also 'every now and again') " implies not change, but variation aswell as "from time to time."
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Regardless of whether Whippet is right about the etymology, it needs to be made clear to non-native speakers of English that at least in American English, "off and on" is not interchangeable with "from time to time" or "now and then." "Ab und zu" generally means the latter. Other possible English translations are "now and again" and "every once in a while."

    "Off and on," in my experience, is generally used to emphasize that something doesn't happen regularly or consistently, or that it happens intermittently:

    1. I go to that gym off and on.
    (i.e. not regularly, not consistently)

    2. I've been having headaches off and on for the past two weeks.
    (i.e. intermittently)

    In #1, one of the other phrases could be used, but the nuance is not the same. "Off and on" emphasizes the irregularity of the action, whereas now and then et alia emphasize the infrequency of the action.

    In #2, the other phrases could not be used, as here, it is the intermittent nature of the headaches that is being emphasized. The same applies to the rain sentence.

    And in the hole sentence ("Loneliness is a hole into which everyone falls from time to time," repeated here because the original thread was split), "off and on" is not suitable because falling into holes isn't something most people do regularly or consistently. ;)
     

    Whippet

    New Member
    English-England
    The only reason I mentioned it is because it may help English speakers understand where the expression ab und zu comes from.

    Of course, the modern usage of the German expression differs slightly from the English one. I was speaking etymologically.

    In German, you can also say "ab und an"
    Ich bin kein Profifußballspieler, ich spiele nur ab und an Fußball.

    Ab literally means off' and 'an literally means on'

    Before you say anything.. Yes I know you can't say "I play football on and off" in English .
     

    default_name

    Member
    American English
    I think it could pass.

    One could say that on and off is a changing status, while now and then, once in a while, and others are on a sometimes basis. This is the most simple way i can express it, and elroy's is the most advanced and accurate way i could explain it. But what is simple is not always complete, so..
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Yes I know you can't say "I play football on and off" in English .
    Actually, I think it could work in certain contexts, if the speaker wishes to emphasize the fact that they don't play football/soccer on a regular basis.
    Ich habe immer wieder/regelmäßig Kopfschmerzen.

    immer wieder - often but not periodically regularly
    regelmäßig - often and periodically regularly
    "Periodically" doesn't mean "regularly." :)

    [...] the fact that sometimes a reworking of the original inspires a better translation.
    But your sentence was not a "reworking" of mine. The two sentences have two different meanings.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    I think it could pass.

    One could say that on and off is a changing status, while now and then, once in a while, and others are on a sometimes basis. This is the most simple way i can express it, and elroy's is the most advanced and accurate way i could explain it. But what is simple is not always complete, so..
    Things on a sometimes basis do change the status, too. So I do not unterstand the difference.

    Is it like the following?
    "Es regnet mal stärker, mal schwächer" - status change, but not on a sometimes basis.
    Es regnet manchmal/von Zeit zu Zeit/ab und zu. -> sometimes basis with status change.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Technically, "periodically" can mean "regularly," but in everyday usage, the most common meaning of the word by far is "every once in a while" ("ab und zu").

    Scroll down to the bottom of this page and read the "Usage Note."

    PS: The latter just sounds a bit more mathematically. :)
     

    dec-sev

    Senior Member
    Russian
    @erloy: I don’t quite understand the necessity of stressing this intermittently of headaches. When I say “I’ve been having headaches for the past two weeks” it doesn’t mean that I suffer every minute. I would understand it as there are periods of pain combined with those when pains calms down. Or I’m mistaken?
     

    default_name

    Member
    American English
    you have made me look more closely at this..

    I suppose more accurately, on and off expresses how things have been happening in the past, while it rains from time to time would explain how things are currently (and so implied how the future will be)
     

    default_name

    Member
    American English
    @erloy: I don’t quite understand the necessity of stressing this intermittently of headaches. When I say “I’ve been having headaches for the past two weeks” it doesn’t mean that I suffer every minute. I would understand it as there are periods of pain combined with those when pains calms down. Or I’m mistaken?
    I thought about that, too, but suppose you are consulting with a doctor because of your head pain. If it is a brain tumor, it could be possible that you've had non-stop for the last two weeks.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I suppose more accurately, on and off expresses how things have been happening in the past, while it rains from time to time would explain how things are currently (and so implied how the future will be)
    Well, "off and on" can be used to refer to the current situation. It doesn't have to refer to the past.
    I thought about that, too, but suppose you are consulting with a doctor because of your head pain. If it is a brain tumor, it could be possible that you've had non-stop for the last two weeks.
    Right. And that may not have been the best example anyway. Here's another one: "I've been writing e-mails off and on for the past ten hours."
     

    Whippet

    New Member
    English-England
    Hutschi, For me basically the difference is that we use "on and off" for actions that have been going on for a long time but which are intermittent, For example a relationship. My relationship with Peter is off and on. Although the relationship in itself is ongoing, it means I sometimes see him and sometimes I don't.
    It is raining on and off-- implies that the weather has been bad for a while and there are intermittent periods of rain.

    "Now and then" is just an action that takes place at certain times. It rains now and then means it may rain once a month. It does not imply it has already been raining or that it will rain in the near future.
     

    default_name

    Member
    American English
    with emails, i would say back and forth, for obvious reasons, but both my example and yours do imply constantly being/doing something...
     

    default_name

    Member
    American English
    perhaps it is better explained that now and then and time to time imply that it has happened and surely or most likely happen again (sometime, at an unknown time), while on and off implies that it is unclear whether or not it will happen again, only that it has before
     

    Whippet

    New Member
    English-England
    yes it means there is a break, but it is clear that I have just been writing e-mails, I have had a break and I will soon be writing emails again.

    If you used "now and then" it doesn't imply that you will be writing emails in the near future, just one day
     

    Whippet

    New Member
    English-England
    I thought about that, too, but suppose you are consulting with a doctor because of your head pain. If it is a brain tumor, it could be possible that you've had non-stop for the last two weeks.
    If it was a constant headache, then you would surely say you have had a headache not headacheS for the past two weeks
     

    default_name

    Member
    American English
    unless it was the same headache that has been hurting on and off. Sometimes you get these headaches that if you sit just right you can't really feel but the headache hasn't really gone.
     

    dec-sev

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Hutschi, For me basically the difference is that we use "on and off" for actions that have been going on for a long time but which are intermittent, For example a relationship. My relationship with Peter is off and on. Although the relationship in itself is ongoing, it means I sometimes see him and sometimes I don't.
    It is raining on and off-- implies that the weather has been bad for a while and there are intermittent periods of rain.

    "Now and then" is just an action that takes place at certain times. It rains now and then means it may rain once a month. It does not imply it has already been raining or that it will rain in the near future.
    I think I've got the idea.

    If it was a constant headache, then you would surely say you have had a headache not headacheS for the past two weeks
    Exactly!!!
    Besides, if a person has a constant headache he says "continuous" or "uninterrupted", whatever to emphasize the continuity. I've never head anybody emphasize intermittence of the headache. I mean: "Doc, I have been suffering from interrupted headaches". Putting the word in plural is enough, I guess.
    Another example: My friend has got a cold. The doctor told him to take medicine and to dring hot tea with honey. I go and see my friend in the evening and remind him about his tea. He says:"Come on, man! I've been drinking it since morning!" There is no "off and on" or something like this, but it's clear that drinking tea was not the only thing my friend did that day.
    Back to German :)
    Seit zwei Wochen hat er Kopfschmerzen.
    Versteht ihr Kopfschmerzen als was Kontinuierliches oder nicht?
     
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    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    I do not know an equivalent expression to "on and off" in a short form.
    It has to be in this case:
    Es wird wahrscheinlich wieder ab und zu/von Zeit zu Zeit regnen.
    or
    Es wird wieder ab und zu regnen.
    I added "wieder" to give the connection to the past.

    By the way, analogous to the time there is an expression: "hier und da" which includes the meaning "von Zeit zu Zeit" implicitely: "es wird wahrscheinlich hier und da regnen". But literally, this defines only the place.
    Versteht ihr Kopfschmerzen als was Kontinuierliches oder nicht?
    Nicht unbedingt.
    Beim Arzt würde ich schon unterscheiden, ob es ununterbrochene Kopfschmerzen, zeitweilige Kopfschmerzen oder intermittierende oder pulsierende Kopfschmerzen sind. Davon hängen Diagnose und Behandlung mit ab.

    Wenn ich aber sage: Ich hatte dauernd Kopfschmerzen, bedeutet es meist (umgangssprachlich) "häufig". Das ist eine seltsame Redewendung.
     
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    ABBA Stanza

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    Back to German :)
    :thumbsup:

    I've never head anybody emphasize intermittence of the headache. I mean: "Doc, I have been suffering from interrupted headaches".
    Doch, "intermittent" oder "sporadic" (dt. sporadische) Kopfschmerzen gibt's allemal. "Interrupted" passt allerdings eher weniger gut in diesem Kontext.

    Putting the word in plural is enough, I guess.
    (...)
    Seit zwei Wochen hat er Kopfschmerzen.
    Versteht ihr Kopfschmerzen als was Kontinuierliches oder nicht?
    Der Plural (Kopfschmerzen) lässt hier leider keine Rückschlüsse zu, ob die Kopfschmerzen mehrfach aufgetreten sind, da die Singularform (Kopfschmerz) sowieso nicht gebräuchlich ist. Ich glaube, man bräuchte hier einfach mehr Information, damit der Umfang des Leidens klar wird. Zum Beispiel:

    Seit zwei Wochen hat er ständige/(an)dauernd Kopfschmerzen (= permanent oder fast permanent)
    Seit zwei Wochen hat er immer wieder Kopfschmerzen (= oft, aber nicht kontinuierlich)

    Cheers,
    Abba

    P.S. Bin nicht sicher ob dauernd oder andauernd richtig ist (siehe oben). Muttersprachler? ;)
     

    default_name

    Member
    American English
    perhaps it is better explained that now and then and time to time imply that it has happened and surely or most likely happen again (sometime, at an unknown time), while on and off implies that it is unclear whether or not it will happen again, only that it has before

    Vielleicht, es besser erzählt wie "now and then" and "from time to time" (Zeit zu Zeit) implizieren dass etwas passiert ist, und wird höchstwahrscheinlich wieder passieren. (Aber, vielleicht Keine wissen wann). Dagegen, "on and off" (an und ab) implizieren dass etwas pasierte, aber könnte vielleicht oder nicht wieder passieren. So, es unklar ist, ob etwas wird wiederpassieren. Entschuldigung für schrecklich Deutsch ich hab gesprochen geschrieben.
     

    default_name

    Member
    American English
    :thumbsup:


    Doch, "intermittent" oder "sporadic" (dt. sporadische) Kopfschmerzen gibt's allemal. "Interrupted" passt allerdings eher weniger gut in diesem Kontext.


    Der Plural (Kopfschmerzen) lässt hier leider keine Rückschlüsse zu, ob die Kopfschmerzen mehrfach aufgetreten sind, da die Singularform (Kopfschmerz) sowieso nicht gebräuchlich ist. Ich glaube, man bräuchte hier einfach mehr Information, damit der Umfang des Leidens klar wird. Zum Beispiel:

    Seit zwei Wochen hat er ständige/(an)dauernd Kopfschmerzen (= permanent oder fast permanent)
    Seit zwei Wochen hat er immer wieder Kopfschmerzen (= oft, aber nicht kontinuierlich)

    Cheers,
    Abba

    P.S. Bin nicht sicher ob dauernd oder andauernd richtig ist (siehe oben). Muttersprachler? ;)
    ständige und dauern sind selben, wie permanent, aber andauern bedeutet wie konstant, ich glaube.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    Wir müssen hier zwischen "dauernd/andauernd" (Adverb) und "andauernde" (Adjektiv) Kopfschmerzen unterscheiden.
    "Andauernde Kopfschmerzen" sind anhaltende Kopfschmerzen, die einen längeren Zeitraum einnehmen.
    "Ich habe dauernd Kopfschmerzen" bedeutet dagegen umgangssprachlich auch: Ich habe immer wieder Kopfschmerzen, wobei die Unterbrechungen relativ kurz sind.
     
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