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A translation of "[something] tastes bad"

German Language Asked by user45924 on August 20, 2020

The first thing that comes to mind is:

Das Essen schmeckt schlecht.

But I don’t think that’s exactly right, because the translation from "schmecken" would be "to savor", which is always associated with good taste.

One Answer

„Das Essen schmeckt schlecht“ is absolutely correct and probably the most common way a native speaker would express the thought.

Intransitive schmecken describes the taste of something; you can also say:

  • Das Essen schmeckt scheußlich. – The food tastes awful.
  • Das Steak schmeckt wie Gummi. – The steak tastes like rubber.
  • Der Kuchen schmeckt wie selbstgemacht. – The cake tastes like it's homemade.

And then there is schmecken nach which means “taste of,” like so:

  • Die Kekse schmecken nach Zimt. – The cookies taste of cinnamon.
  • Das Steak schmeckt nach Gummi. – The steak tastes of rubber.
  • Das Essen schmeckt nach nichts. – The food tastes of nothing, bland.
  • Küsse, die schmecken nach See, nach Salz und Teer.Kisses that taste of the sea, of salt and tar.

It is true that intransitive schmecken without any qualifier means “taste good” (or at least acceptable!). Therefore you have:

  • Schmeckt's? – Does it taste good? (Infamous question presumably asked by annoying waiters, though in reality they tend to say Alles in Ordnung?)
  • Das Essen schmeckt nicht. – The food does not taste good. (That is to say, it tastes bad.)

Bonus fact: Riechen (to smell) has the same duality of a transitive and intransitive use; plus, it can also be used with nach just like schmecken. Except that without any qualifiers, it does not mean “smell good,” quite on the contrary: Das Essen riecht is not a compliment.

Answered by Sebastian Koppehel on August 20, 2020

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