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Schnappi - Das Kleine Krokodil

It doesn't take long for a student of German to run into Schnappi, the undeniably cute crocodile with the song that crawls into your head and plays even when you sleep. To save myself from the fate of singing to myself "Ich bin Schnappi, la la la la..." over and over, I learned the song, and here I'd like to discuss some of the grammar and aspects of the language that tripped me up or caught my eye in the process.

Hopefully this will be useful to other students trying to figure out what Schnappi is saying. I may not have much experience with German (very little, in fact), but I have studied a good deal of linguistics, and more importantly, I had the patience not to give up even when it really seemed like "da krieg ich nicht zu viel" meant Schnappi doesn't war too much. ...though I'm sure he doesn't.

The language

For reference, the original lyrics and my translation are available at the bottom of the page.

In terms of vocabulary, this song is naturally not particularly challenging, but there are plenty of interesting grammar points to trip up learners. One such example is the dropping of the -e that one usually finds on the end of first-person verbs. So we have ich komm instead of ich komme, hab for habe, schnapp for schnappe, also schleich, zeig, and schlaf. And yes, krieg is kriege "I get/receive", not Krieg "war". Now I just have to listen to find out if this e-dropping is the norm for casual conversation, or if I'm going to wind up sounding like a crocodile child.

This song is also full of great examples (or disheartening harbingers of the horrors which lie ahead, depending on your perspective) of the fun that is German cases, which deserves a whole section to itself.


An egg is ein Ei, but if you're in an egg, you're in einem Ei. Say that you're in ein Ei and people will laugh at you just like you laughed at the foreigner who told you "I like you sweater", you critical jerk.

For those of you unfamiliar with the idea of cases, here's a briefer: the case of a word is the form it takes to indicate its role in a sentence. English, which used to mark case and gender but eventually got rid of most the interesting grammar after we lost half our soul to the French, now only has examples of case in the personal pronouns. It may be useful to think of I, me, and my as different forms of the same word - they all refer to the person using them, but they're in different cases:

If for some reason you don't want to learn to drop great phrases like neuter nominative in conversation to impress the dudes and make the ladies swoon, German also calls them respectively Werfall, Wenfall, Wesfall, and Wemfall, named after the forms that the word for "the" takes for masculine words in those cases (der / den / des / dem).

(Ah, yes, that's another thing. In German, often a noun itself doesn't change when in different cases, but the articles ("the", "a") do. Also adjectives. Have fun!)

As for how case shows up in the song, two good lines to look at are schnappte ich mich frei and ich schnapp mir was ich schnappen kann. Ich, the doer of the schnapping, is nominative. When he schnaps himself free, that puts him in the accusative, mich. (And it doesn't even matter that the words are after the verb here, because case makes the meaning clear! Take your small victories...) When he schnaps things toward / at himself, that's the dative, mir. A line that's a bit trickier is ich beiß dem Papi kurz ins Bein. Ins is a contraction of in das, "in the". Since the leg (Bein) is being bitten, it's in the accusative case - though the word for "the" is mercifully the same in the nominative and accusative case for all but masculine singular nouns, so it doesn't stand out much. The dad, on the other hand, is dem Papi, in the dative case. One might think it should be accusative (den Papi), and I believe it actually could be, but in this case, I guess having it be dative conveys that Schnappi isn't really biting his dad (that would hurt!) so much as directing a playful biting of the leg at him... aren't cases fun?

And of course, case is also affected by what preposition comes before a word, and often it really doesn't "make sense", especially if you try thinking about it in English. My suggestion: don't worry about it much. Get these phrases in your head until they just come out as second nature. Trust me, even if you think you want to cram them all now, just have a look at the adjective declension tables... if you dare...

Separable verbs

Another remarkable aspect of German is the phenomenon of separable verbs. Imagine if common prefixes regularly got cut off of verbs in English, so you got to say things like "I ob to that ject!" or "I don't think I'm co what I'm trying to say very well mmunicating very well." Yes, somehow, it was decided in German that this would be a great way to do things. The result can be a lot of fun, that's surely full of expressive potential which I'll notice as soon as I'm done cursing it and feeling like an idiot because I can't find ran in the dictionary.

The fun part of separable verbs in this song is that you (or I, at least) really don't notice them until you're on the brink of giving up making sense of it, because the verbs affected are perfectly good verbs without the prefix. For instance, dann schlaf ich einfach means "I sleep easily", but then you get an ein at the end, because it rhymes. I sleep... one? I sleep one sleep? As it turns out, einschlaffen means "to fall asleep".

This also accounts for ich schleich mich an die Mama ran, as it seems ranschleichen is a verb... it doesn't show up in my dictionary, but I'm just going to assume ran- is a prefix you can stick on various verbs to imply approaching or something. Ranscheichen has over 20,000 hits on Google and that's good enough for me. Separable verbs also account for ich schnapp zu, which is zuschnappen "snap at, snap shut", and not "I schnap... to.", it seems.

Other notes

Lieblingsspiel! My first encounter with the fun German practice of treating nouns like Legos made of Play-Doh. That's Liebling "darling, favorite" making good friends with Spiel "game". I look forward to the day I'll be able to conjure mighty, vivid noun amalgamations longer than the alphabet.

I've seen ganz schön viel translated as "they're very pretty", but I don't think schön is being used to mean attractive, but rather as an adverb just like in English's "pretty good". Especially since it doesn't have any ending, and if it were an adjective it would be taking every opportunity to perplex me with some shapeshifting suffix.

I couldn't figure out the line da krieg ich nicht zu viel, but it was helpfully explained to me that the "can" seems to be omitted for the purpose of the rhyme, leaving a construction of kriegen nicht zu viel, "to not get too much". The idea, in any case, is that he really loves to schnap.

Ultimately, for a first song to start learning German with, I suppose I might have been better served picking something with more than one non-proper noun per verse (and perhaps one with a chorus containing words). But I had a lot of fun with this terrifically catchy song, and I've dipped my toe in the ocean of case declensions. I hope this document will prove useful to someone, and if not, I hope at least someone got a kick out of me singing about being a little crocodile.

This song is one of several works in translating or arranging foreign language music; others can be found here. If you have any suggestions or comments, by all means let me know. Thanks for reading.


The original lyrics of "Das Kleine Krokodil", along with my translation

Ich bin Schnappi, das kleine Krokodil
komm aus Ägypten, das liegt direkt am Nil
Zuerst lag ich in einem Ei,
dann schni- schna- schnappte ich mich frei
I am Schnappi, the little crocodile
I come from Egypt, which lies right on the Nile
At first, I was inside an egg,
then I schni- schna- schnapped myself free
Ich bin Schnappi, das kleine Krokodil
hab scharfe Zähne, und davon ganz schön viel
Ich schnapp mir was ich schnappen kann,
ja ich schnapp zu, weil ich das so gut kann
I am Schnappi, the little crocodile
I have sharp teeth, and a whole lot of them
I schnap myself whatever I can schnap
Yeah I schnap, because I can do it so well
Ich bin Schnappi, das kleine Krokodil
Ich schnappe gern, das ist mein Lieblingsspiel.
Ich schleich mich an die Mama ran,
und zeig ihr wie ich schnappen kann
I am Schnappi, the little crocodile
I schnap gladly; it's my favorite game
I sneak up on my mom
and I show her how I can snap
Ich bin Schnappi, das kleine Krokodil
und vom Schnappen, da krieg ich nicht zu viel
Ich beiß dem Papi kurz ins Bein,
und dann, dann schlaf ich einfach ein
I am Schnappi, the little crocodile
and I can't get enough of schnapping
I bite my dad a bit in the leg,
and then, then I fall right asleep
Schni- schna- Schnappi
schnappi schnappi schnapp
Schni- schna- Schnappi
schnappi schnappi schnapp