The meaning(s) of – “bestehen”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: April 8, 2024

“To Bestand”

Hello everyone,

final stretch of this years Advent Calendar and today, behind door 20 is one last preview into the book I will be planning to start resuming working on in 2025.
seriously… good things take time.
But now, let’s take a look at the meaning of :


Stehen means to stand but we’d better get comfy cause this will take a while. Placement verbs are always a bit of a pain but this one is as rife with meanings as an apple tree in fall.
The best way to approach it is boring, dusty Latin. In particular the word “sistere”. “Sistere” expressed the idea to (take a) stand and the stem “sist” is part of many English words like insist or exist.
How does that help with bestehen? Well, bestehen, in combination with various prepositions, just happens to be a translation for not all but many of them.
Here they are:

bestehen exist, or better: be in existence
Works best with abstract things like organizations, regulations or friendships but can also be used for buildings. Not for small items like a car or a camera though. Those are just not massive enough.

bestehen aus to consist of.
Used mainly for material.

bestehen aufto insist, to make a stand
Note that you have to insist on something in German, you cannot just insist.

bestehen (+accusative) – to prevail for any kind of test or challenge.
The connection here is “to persist”. This meaning is especially common in context of tests and exams.
A more visual approach would be that old pose of triumph. The knight puts his foot on the slain dragon.
He literally “inflicts standing”. The knight is you, the dragon is the test on adjective endings.

Looking at all these, we can see that in German, it’s the preposition that defines the meaning, in English it’s the prefix. But the core idea is always standing in the sense of being in place.

  • Ich habe den Test bestanden.
  • I passed the test.
  • Ich bestehe auf einem Re-Fill.
  • I insist on a refill.
  • Okay, wenn du darauf bestehst.
  • Fine, if you insist.
  • Mein Pullover besteht zu hundert Prozent aus Stein.
  • My pullover is made a hundred percent from stone.
    (and this example clearly doesn’t “bestehen aus” sense ;)
  • Der Ponyverein feiert 100-jähriges Bestehen.
  • The pony club celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Related words:

der Bestand – the stock, the inventory, the continued existence; the idea is “What’s there”
beständig – steady, consistent, stable


Let me know in the comments, if you have any questions.
Have a great day and bis morgen :)

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