German words expats should know: Prima
“Prima!” is probably one of the first words you picked up out and about here in Germany and one you’re likely to hear a lot, as people like to use it when something good happens. The word means so much more than just good or nice, it’s simply prima - it’s great! Let's take a look.
In short, prima translates to “great” or “super”, but can be used in a casual, breezy way. For example, when you obtain a good grade at school, or even in a German language course, you can expect to find the word prima scrawled across the top of your exam paper.
You can also use the word when you receive good news in general, such as hearing a friend has got a new job, or that you won a competition!
Prima in English
While prima doesn’t translate directly into English, the word can be understood as meaning something positive like great, super, fantastic, neat or dandy!
Prima can also be used as a noun in German to refer to the last two years of secondary school. This translates to something like sixth-form in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, or 11th and 12th grade in US-like education systems.
Origin of the word prima
The etymology of the word prima is simple enough to follow: coming from the Latin word “primus”, meaning first or premier, the German word prima still has a similar meaning today. In modern Italian, "prima sorte" is used to refer to high-quality products, and the German word has the same suggestion: it implies the best of the best.
However, among some circles the word's meaning over time has changed, and younger people particularly sometimes consider it old-fashioned. You might then hear people use the word sarcastically. A “Na prima” or a sarcastic-sounding “prieh-ma” can be used when something is indeed “not very good at all” - so be careful to listen out for those differences in conversations!
Prima in German
But nonetheless many people in Germany still do use prima whenever something good happens! So, when you're ready, let's go: Alles prima!