German is a language that, in a typical sentence, follows a S-V-O word order, as is English. For example: He (the subject) drinks (verb) a beer (object). This sentence In German is: Er trinkt ein Bier. The verb (trinkt) is in second position, after the subject (Er), followed by the direct object, the beer. Is that always the case? No. Typically, when we formulate questions in German, the subject slips behind the verb. While in English, most questions are formed using the auxiliary verb “to do”, (Does he drink a beer?”), in a German question, the verb is now in position one, turning the word order into “V-S-O”. Trinkt (verb) er (he) ein Bier? (object) which literally means: Drinks he a beer?  Is this the only time the word order changes? No.

For the purpose of emphasis, any part of a sentence, be it an object, an adverb of time or frequency or an adjective, can be moved to the beginning of the sentence. For example: “A beer, he drinks.”, putting the emphasis on “a beer!”. While in English, the verb remains behind the subject in this example, in German, something else happens: “Ein Bier trinkt er.” (literally, a beer drinks he.) Just like when formulating a question, we use an inverted word order, where the subject slips behind the verb. Any German sentence that starts with something other than the subject, will have inverted word order.

Ok, so what does this have to do with the Oktoberfest? Well, “O’zapft is!” is an abbreviated and contracted sentence in the inverted word order. Literally translated it would be “Tapped is!” “O’zapft” is a Bavarianized, contracted version of “angezapft”, which is the participle of “anzapfen” (to tap). It is a separable verb an-zapfen, which means the participle prefix of “ge-“, slips in between the prefix “an” and the base verb “zapft”. I tap, I tapped, I have tapped. Ich zapfe an. Ich zapfte an. Ich habe angezapft!

The completely spelled-out version of the sentence “O’zapft is” is: “Es ist angezapft!”, meaning “It is tapped.” However, Bavarians like to blend and merge letters and syllables together for efficiency sake, so “angezapft” became “o’zapft”. So, “Es ist “o’zapft”. But now, because we want to put emphasis on the fact that the keg is, in fact, tapped, we will put the participle in the beginning of the sentence, creating an inverted word order: “O’zapft ist es! (Tapped, it is!). And in the Bavarian spirit of merging letters and syllables, “ist” turned into “is”, and because everyone knows that “es” (it) refers to the keg, and we don’t like to waste time on unnecessary redundancies, it was left out as well. So, “O’zapft is!”

Now, did this help to give you a deeper insight into the intricacies of German beer culture? No. However, did it give you a better understanding of the complexity of German grammar? Maybe a little. If you wish to learn more out about either of those two, our language and cultural training may be perfect for you...



Interested in reading more about German culture? Check out our articles on Ascension Day and German Pretzel Buns.