Word of the Day – “das Bild”

Hello everyone

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we’ll take a look at the meaning of

das Bild


And Bild is really cool because not only does it say more than a thousand words, it is also part of more than a thousand words. Much more.
The online dictionary dict.cc  has 2.400 entries with bild in them. That is a LOT of words. So clearly, there must be more to a Bild than … ahem… meets the eye.
Anyway, let’s jump right in :)

I think most of you have guessed it… a Bild is a picture.

  • Was für ein schönes Bild!! Hast du das gemalt?
  • What a beautiful picture/painting!!! Did you paint that?
  • “Sag mal… du hast auf fast jedem Bild ein Bier in der Hand.”
    “Naja… Urlaub halt.”
    “Aber beim Schlafen??!!”
  • “Hey uhm… you’ve got a beer in your hand on almost every photo/picture.”
    “Well… that’s just how it is on vacation.”
    “But while sleeping??!!”

But not only that. It’s also the word for the more abstract sense of “mental image”.

  • Am Morgen nach der Party macht sich Maria ein Bild der Lage.
  • The morning after the party, Maria takes a look at the situation.
    (without sich, it would mean that Maria is actually taking a picture)


  • Ich hatte ein falsches Bild von der Stadt.
  • I had a wrong impression/imagination of the city.

And of course there are useful compounds with it.

  • Maria findet, dass Thomas manchmal ein komisches Frauenbild hat.
  • Maria thinks that Thomas sometimes has a weird image of women/perception of women.
  • Der Bildschirm von meinem Laptop flackert
  • The screen of my laptop is flickering.
  • Cinderella ist ein großes Vorbild für mich.
  • Cinderella is a big inspiration/role model for me.

Those were just a few examples, there are boatloads more.
And yet, it’s just the tip of the icebild, I mean iceberg. For the full potential, we need to look at the verb bilden.


The meaning of  bilden is … to form. 
And that’s actual closer to the noun than you might think. Because Bild actually used to be a somewhat broad concept. Like… it is not limited to the 2D picture. In fact, for Bild was used for any kind of “appearance”, anything that “you see”. The perfect example is the word der Bildhauer

  • Michelangelo war Maler, Bildhauer, und vieles mehr.
  • Michelangelo was a painter, a sculptor (lit.: image puncher) and much more.

The sculptor quite literally “forms an appearance”. That was the original sense of bilden and slowly, it shifted away the focus from the whole notion (copied) appearance notion and moved toward create, evolve.
By the way, you might be wondering if there are any English relatives. At first, I was like “This is probably related to to build“, because of the sound and the whole forming aspect, but nope. Bild was never part of the English strand of the Germanic languages and it’s also unknown where it actually came from. It was just kind of there one day.
Anyway, so bilden means to form, (in the sense of forming something new.)
Let’s bilden some Beispiele :).

  • Wie bildet man die Vergangenheit in Deutsch?
  • How to form the past tense in German?
  • Seit mein Chef beim Team-Building-Seminar war, müssen wir vor jedem Meeting einen Kreis bilden.
  • Ever since my boss was at the team building workshop we have to form a circle.
  • Ich muss mir dazu erst eine Meinung bilden.
  • I have to form an opinion (for myself) about that first.

In these examples, the bilden was done by someone. But stuff can also form by itself. And while English leaves it up to context, German will pretend like it doesn’t understand if you don’t put its beloved self reference into the sentence. German is OCD like that.

  • Wenn man in der Küche nie lüftet, bildet sich Schimmel.
  • If you never air out the kitchen mold will evolve (lit.: forms itself)
  • Gegen Abend bilden sich Quellwolken.
  • In the evening cumulus clouds will form.

Now, as far as nouns go there is das Gebilde which means something like “strange formation” in a physical sense

  • “Was ist das für ein Gebilde in der Küche?”
    “Das ist mein Strützenpritschlunkanchen.”
    “Oh, ach so. Cool.”
  • “What’s that strange formation in the kitchen?”
    “That’s my sandwhich.”
    “Oh, I see. Cool.”

But by far the more important noun is die Bildung.  It can mean formation in the sense of the process of forming.

  • Zucker beschleunigt die Bildung von Karies.
  • Sugar promotes the formation of caries.

But that’s not the main meaning of Bildung.
That meaning is…

“Sexy Pulled Pork Sandwich”

Yeah, nope :).
I got some milk, if anyone wants to skim something ;).
The most common meaning of Bildung is education. And the verb sich bilden can also mean to educate (oneself).
And that makes a lot of  sense actually. I mean, educating yourself is pretty much a way of “forming” your mind. And if that’s not convincing enough … just think of the word to information. It’s not the same, but just like Bildung it comes from form and is about knowledge.
Now, the verb is not all that common actually and only works for somewhat broad contexts. The noun however is incredibly common and there are many many compounds with it.

  • Bildung ist ein Schlüssel zum Erfolg.
  • Education is one key to success.
  • Thomas liest viel, um sich zu bilden.
  • Thomas reads a lot to educate himself.
  • Thomas trägt eine Brille, weil er denkt, er sieht damit gebildet aus.
  • Thomas is wearing glasses because he thinks he looks intellectual/educated with them.
    (it’s more than just having been to school)
  • Thomas hat eine gute Allgemeinbildung.
  • Thomas has a good general knowledge (knows a lot of stuff).
  • Maria macht eine Weiterbildung/Fortbildung zur Food-Yoga-Trainerin.
  • Maria does a vocational training as food yoga instructor.

Also about the idea of education, though somewhat more narrow is the prefix version ausbilden, which means something like to train in the context of a profession. So… you can ausbilden someone to be a fireman for instance.  But you can’t ausbilden for a marathon. That would be tranieren. The noun die Ausbildung makes it more clear, I think, because that is the German word for apprentice ship.
The words are pretty common in Germany, much more than apprentice is in English, no idea why.

  • Marias Kumpel Janis macht eine Ausbildung als Tischler.
  • Maria’s buddy Janis has done an apprenticeship as a carpenter.
     (In German it’s the standard way of saying this, but I feel like it’s not  idiomatic in English.. native speakers please help)
  • Wir bilden aus.
  • (companies who take apprentices have this on their website, to tell people that you can make an official apprenticeship there… is that even translatable?)
  • Viele gut ausgebildete Fachkräfte gehen ins Ausland.
  • Lots of well trained professionals go work abroad.
  • Als Auszubildender verdient man extrem wenig Geld.
  • As an apprentice you earn very little money.

The word Auszubildender is actually kind of a nightmare to pronounce. That why people in more colloquial contexts say Azubi. That’s Japanese and stands for  “the flower that blossoms under an old tree.”
Okay, it’s of course not Japanese. But it was a nice image.
Anyway, of course there are what realists would call “more prefix versions”.
Nachbilden  and umbilden, for example, which are both based on the forming-bilden. The former is about the idea of copying the latter about reshaping, but they’re both super niche-y and only work in a few contexts.
Then, there’s  abbilden,  which is actually based on the Bild-idea and means something like “capture in pictures” (and also to transform in a mathematical sense).

  • Der Dokumentarfilm bildet das harte Leben in den Favelas ab.
  • The documentary depicts /captures on screen the harsh life in the favelas.
  • Die folgende Abbildung (Abb.) zeigt den Anstieg der Mieten in den letzten drei Jahren.
  • The following figure shows the increase of the rents over the last three years.

This one is more common than the first two, and if you have to write academical papers in German, you will need the noun a LOT.
But the most useful prefix version is sich einbilden.

I’m really good in bed

And what’s really cool about sich einbilden is that it kind of merges all three ideas – the image, the forming and the knowledge.
Because sich einbilden is about forming an image of reality (knowledge) in your mind… you “form, depict something to yourself”.
A bit like to imagine, but not quite the same. The crucial thing about sich einbilden is that you take whatever you’re imagining as reality when it actually isn’t. Kind of like to hallucinate, just more subtle and not as crazy sounding. We could call it  self deceiving imagining. The word for this hypothetical imagining is sich vorstellen.
Let’s look at a few examples…

  • Thomas stellt sich vor, ein guter Liebhaber zu sein.
  • Thomas imagines how it would be to be a good lover.
  • Thomas bildet sich ein, ein guter Liebhaber zu sein.
  • Thomas thinks he’s a good lover (implied: “but he isn’t.”)
  • “Da war ein Geräusch in der Küche.”
    “Das bildest du dir ein.”
  • “There was a noise in the kitchen.”
    “You’re imagining things.”
  • Was bildet der sich ein?
  • Who does he think he is. (lit.: What is he imagining?”)

Oh, in case you’re wondering why it was dir and not dich in the example with the noise….  you’re imagining the thing TO yourself, you’re “receiving”. So we need Dative. An accusative would mean that you are the thing being imagined.
Anyway, the noun for einbilden is die Einbildung.

  • Ich dachte kurz, da ist meine Ex-Freundin, aber das war nur Einbildung.
  • For a moment I thought there’s my ex girlfriend but it was just figment of the imagination.
  • “Mein neues Profilbild ist sooo gut… ich seh mal wieder super heiß aus.”
    “Naja, Einnbildung ist auch eine Bildung, wa.”
  • “My new profile pic is sooooo good… I’m super hot looking yet again.”
    “Well, big head and egg head sound similar after all, right?”
    Lit.: “Illusory imagination is a form of education, too

The last one is actually a quite common idiom and it’s a great transition to the last word for today… eingebildet.

  • Der Kellner in dem Restaurant ist total eingebildet.

Technically, eingebildet is the ge-form of einbilden, so the sentence above could mean that the waiter is totally imaginary. But based on this whole notion of having a wrong self image, eingebildet has become THE German word for conceited, stuck up.

  • The waiter at the restaurant is super stuck up/conceited.
  • “Wie fandst du Marias Schwester?”
    “Ganz nett, aber ein bisschen eingebildet.”
  • “How’d you like Maria’s sister?”
    “She’s nice, but a little stuck up.”

And that’s it for today :).
This was our look at das Bild and bilden. It was quite a range of stuff actually… pictures, education, forming, hallucinations… but I hope you could see how they all share the core idea of image and form.
As always, if you have questions or suggestions or if you want to try out some examples just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next week.

** vocab **

das Bild – picture, image, impression
bildlich – figuratively, visually
das Vorbild – the role model
der Bildschirm – the screen
das Blutbild – the blood count (medical)

das Bühnenbild – the scenery (theater)
bebildern – add pictures to some text

bilden – to form, make (create)
sich bilden – to form, educate oneself (general) 
die Bildung – the formation, the education
die Allgemeinbildung – general education/knowledge
die Weiterbildung – advanced training, further erducation (super common in job contexts)

abbilden – depict (capture in pics, sounds somewhat formal)
die Abbildung – the graphic (pictures and so on in books)

ausbilden – educate , train (on the job) , formation
der Azubi (Auszubildender) – the apprentice
die Ausbildung – apprenticeship 

sich einbilden – imagine (negative tone)
die Einbildung – the imagination
eingebildet – imagined (but not real), conceited, stuck up


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