Word of the Day – “die Decke”

decke-decken-entdecken-germHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will have a look at the meaning of

die Decke


And that means of course that we’ll cover (hint, hint) the whole  decken-family – “the Deckens”. Decke is just a nice icon for it, so that’s why I picked it.
The Deckens are probably some of the oldest words ever. Forget all those super ancient Indo European roots we see all the time. Those are like… recent. The root of  Decke dates back freaggin’ 160 million years to when it was the name of a Dinosaur… the Stegosaurus, also known as Stegstar or just Stegs. Those were just for friends though. The Stegosaurus was a cool dude who took it easy and he was widely known for his massive tile like spikes along his back that provided him with protection and extra awesome. The dinosaurs then “perished” because of “a comet”(yeah, right) but the other animals remembered them and passed on their story to mankind.
And so people started using the word *(s)teg whenever they wanted to talk about covering.
In Latin, they had the verb tegere, which meant exactly that…  to cover. Toga (covering the body) comes from it, as well as tile (covering the house)  and it’s also the core of protect (from: pro- tegere, which is sort of covering someone, and detect (de-tegere), which is quite literally to un-cover.
Other related words are to thatch and the deck as in deck of a ship, and on the German side we have all the variations of decken but also Ziegel (tile) and Dach (roof).
Now, the core idea of the decken-family, the covering, is pretty broad and ranges from a mere physical layer to abstract protection.
Decke is not that broad. But it’s usually wide. A wide, flat layer of something that covers something… that’s eine Decke, no more no less.

Blanket, ceiling, cover… they all share that they are wide and flat and covering something. The context will always make it clear I think, which is good because Decke is part of many, many compounds. Some are about what the Decke is covering like Bettdecke (blanket) or Zimmerdecke (ceiling), others like Picknickdecke or Kuscheldecke (cuddle blanket) talk about what the Decke is used for and some tell use what the Decke is made of… like Schneedecke (cover of snow), Wolldecke (woolen blanket) or Pferdedecke … what?! … oh my god, those poor poni… oh wait… it’s a blanket FOR horses… hahaha, phew, what a relief.
So… this is a Decke. Wide, flat, covering. But it’s not the only noun in the decken-family.
A variation of Decke for example, is the word der Deckel. A Deckel is much smaller, solid and it’s purpose is not s much the covering than the closing of something.

Now, both Decke and Deckel are really only about the physical aspect of covering. The more abstract parts are covered by Deckung.

Hmmm… “Get down!”… “Fire in the hole”… I don’t know…. is it just me or is that a little too “adult” for a day time German language show. But anyways… in the second example we can see that Deckung is also used when it comes to nounifying the decken-verbs. But before we get to those,let’s quickly look at some examples for the Deck-prefix. I almost forgot about it but it’s part of many many compounds and it spans the whole range of possible cover-meanings.

Hey, I wonder if concealer has something to do with ceiling. That would make a lot of sense actually. Anyway, time to get to the verbs.

“decken” prefixed

In English, there’s the verb to cover and that lives up to it’s name. It covers. A huuuuuuge swath of meanings.
German, with its bazillion prefixes, is a little more precise. In case of decken though… it has jumped the shark.
“What?! I did not jump him.”
Oh yes, you did German. You have not one, not two, not three, not four, not five but six different words for to cover. Half a dozen.
“But those are all 6 necessary nuan…”
Yeah, yeah, whatever… let’s look at this madness, shall we.
First, there is decken alone, and decken alone is used for abstract coverings. Things like covering costs or other “numeric” requirements…

or covering for someone

Besides that, there’s the phrase sich decken mit.  Literally, this means to cover itself with but the focus is not on covering in this case… it’s on fitting. Think of a blueprint the lines of which perfectly cover the lines of a copy… that’s pretty close to the real meaning … be in accord with.

Lastly, decken can also be used in the factual, physical sense of covering.

And by the way… one of the Grimm’s fairy tales is called “The Wishing-Table, the Gold-Ass, and the Cudgel in the Sack”… in German it’s commonly knows as

Tischlein deck dich.” (Little Table Set-Yourself)

With the exception of roofs and tables, the physical covering is NOT done by decken but rather by the prefix-versions, namely zudecken, bedecken and abdecken. 
Bedecken, literally “to inflict a cover/blanket on something”, is the most generic of the 3.

Zudecken first and foremost used in context of sleeping. You don’t abdecken or bedecken your child, any person for that matter. That would sound kind of creepy actually. Zudecken is what you do here, and the verb tells us that it’s done with care and that it’s for warmth.

The Bettdecke is also called die Zudecke sometimes. You can find it used in different contexts here and there, but the other verbs are better.
For example  abdecken. The difference between abdecken and bedecken is that abdecken puts more focus on the purpose…. you cover something so that others can’t see it, or so that it’s away from the air or the rain or something. You’d abdecken your plants  for example to protect them from frost. Or the veggies in the pan so the nutrients stay in the mix. Or your pimples by using an Abdeckstift (concealer) because you want your crush to think that you have super human skin…. all that is abdecken.

Abdecken also has a quite important abstract use, by the way… to cover for topics.

Bedecken wouldn’t work here, because it’s purely physical. And for the example with the baking tray… bedecken would be understandable but it sure sounds odd. I think bedecken has a notion of directly touching the thing that’s being covered… but I don’t want to go too much into detail.
So… bedecken, zudecken and abdecken can all mean to cover in sense of putting down a physical Decke.
So that makes 4 different German verbs for to cover. Two more to go. And of course one prefix  can’t be missing…

Ver® – always there. 
Prefix for a modern world. 

Seriously… there are so many ver-verbs in German, if you were to print them all out you’d get enough paper to cover moon. I mean by holding it in front of your eyes, of course.  The paper verdeckt the moon, it doesn’t actually bedecken it.

The ver adds its away-meaningto decken  so the core idea of verdecken is “using a cover in order to make something disappear”, be it by a physical cover or an abstract….verdecken is really versatile.

Finally, last but not least, there’s  überdecken. It’s similar to verdecken but not as “binary” if that makes sense. With verdecken it’s a bit like… either you verdecken something or not. Either it’s gone or not. Überdecken allows for shades. You can überdecken something a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong… this is not a clearly defined difference between verdecken and überdecken. Verdecken could work fine too in the first example. But in the second example verdecken would imply that the window really hides the scroll bar, while überdecken only tells us that they overlap… so maybe I can still see it.
All right.
So those were the 6 different verbs for covering and they all have their niche.
And after so much covering, it’s time to do the opposite. And the most important verb here is…. drum roll… entdecken which means to discover…. so in both cases we have prefix that expresses “undoing”.

The second example is the title of a quite famous book, by the way. Most know it as “Windows Vista User Manual”. But any..  …. …. … … … … ..
… … … …
… … … …
… …ways,  entdecken is not the only verb. Of course. There is also aufdecken and aufdecken is a very good match for to uncover. Just like entdecken it’s about removing a cover but while entdecken is more about finding something aufdecken is about revealing.

Finally, there is the verb abdecken which is more abou… wait a second. WHAT? I thought abdecken means to cover?? Now it means  the opposite all of a sudden?
German, do you realize how insane that is??
“Uhm… I… the thing is…  the ab-prefix… I … it’s a mess, I know. I’m really sorry for being so confusing. Tut mir echt leid.”
You better be, German!
So… luckily, abdecken in sense of removing a cover is pretty much limited to roofs. But there it is THE word

What about all the other physical “uncoverings”?  Well, I don’t really know… people instead say stuff along the lines of removing the cover/blanket

Yeah… that’s what I call balanced. Six different words for to cover and then using the dumbest generic stuff like wegmachen for the opposite. Well done German. Well done.
Oh and well done also to us, because we made it :). Hooray. That was our look at the meaning of Decke and the whole decken-family. And as a little goodie here’s one more Decke-idiom … can you guess what it means?

And no, it’s not about adult things ;). As always, if you have any 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 time.

for members :)

Leave a Reply

newest oldest
Notify of

Big fan of today’s post! It’s my last day in Germany today after two months here, and so much makes sense after reading this! Silly me, I had no idea before now that half of these words were part of the happy Decke family :)

Thanks for a great word of the day.


Hello Emanuel,
The detail of your blog continues to astound, educate and entertain me – vielen dank! You asked for help to tweak the weather translation- I would say:
“The weather today will be cloudy with a chance of light showers for this evening.”


Agreed – it’s always a singular “chance” with the weather.

A lot of the time the language in weather reports is a little more clipped than Lea’s version:

– Today’s weather: cloudy with a chance of light showers in the evening.” (or even “light evening showers”)


That’s a great word and the explanations of the nuanced prefixes were really helpful. I had a long, witty comment written, using some of those words you “covered” but I accidentally deleted the comment and the “undo” feature failed me. Probably prevented a lot of sighing and eye-rolling in the long run!

By the way, do you come up with the sketched drawings that accompany each article? They’re clever and well-drawn with a distinctive style. A man of many talents!

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

You did not recognize Linus van Pelt? For shame! ;)


Ha ha. Of course I recognize Linus, but these drawings are always original and related to the “word”, so I wondered if Emanuel drew those interpretations himself — they’re quite good. I’m still at the stick-man level! ;-)


Also, ich habe mein Kind zugedeckt. Da ihm bald zu heiß geworden ist, musste ich seine Bettdecke wegmachen.
Gibt es ein anderes Wort für wegmachen hier? Passt abdecken?!


The actual opposite of “zudecken” is “aufdecken”.


De-deckt-ive… coincidence!?!? I don’t think so! :) Great post.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Das “Deck”-Präfix ist ein gutes Beispiel dafür, wie sich Nominalkomposita aus einem Verbalstamm und einem Substantiv zusammensetzen können.

Mal sehen, ob folgende von mir ausgedachte Wörter Sinn machen:

Deckgeschichte (z.B. eines Geheimagenten).
Deckstoff (der Stoff, aus dem eine Deckschichte (üblicherweise) besteht).
Deckklappe (eine Klappe, die ausgerechnet fürs Decken benutzt wird).
Decksymptom (ein Symptom, das tieferliegende Krankheitsursachen “verdeckt”).
Deckerscheinung (z.B. vermeintlich gütige Erscheinung, die absichtlich das böse Innerste verbergt).


Thomas steckt mit Maria unter einer Decke – means Thomas and Maria are doing something behind someone’s back (like planning a coup for instance).. I tried using it the other way with a German friend of mine.. and it just didnt work! So its definitely not ‘adults stuff’ that Thomas and Maria are upto :)

Btw Great post!! Keep them coming!


Warum steht “mit dem” statt “damit” in diesem Beispiel? “Deine Story deckt sich mit dem, was Thomas erzählt hat.”
Und auch wenn das Kind fragt, ob ihre Mutter es zudecken kann, dann soll es nicht sagen, “Kommst du noch, um mich zuzudecken?” statt “Kommst du mich noch zudecken?”
Dieses Beispiel verstehe ich auch nicht
Die Grammatik ist für mich immer am wichtigsten…

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Der zweite Fall ist vermutlich Folgendem analog: “Ich gehe einkaufen / Tee trinken / das Kind zudecken”. Aus der Sicht des Kindes wäre es dann nicht “gehen”, sondern “kommen”, weil die Mutter zu ihm *kommt*.
Warum “mit dem”? Ich vermute, dass beides eigentlich geht. “Was Thomas erzählt hat” ist anscheinent spezifisch genug, um darauf mit “dem” zu verweisen.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

anscheinend * – Tippfehler


Sehr hilfreiche Infos, wie immer! Ich bin jedoch sehr verwirrt über (oder vielleicht eine andere Präposition; immer schwierig!):

“Ich stelle das Blech mit Frischhaltefolie abgedeckt und auf den Balkon gestellt.”

Warum “stelle”, statt “habe”? Ich glaube, dass es vielleicht nur ein Fehler ist, aber ebenso könnte ich ein sehr wichtiges Stück grammatikalische Kenntnis nicht kennen. Ich dachte, dass mein Wissen des Perfekts zwar perfekt war!


Ach so, vielen dank! Ich meinte “und zwar” oder ähnlich, aber alle diese “flavouring” Wörter finde ich immer noch mühsam.

Vielleicht soll ich eine der anscheinenden Lieblingswörter der Deutschen (ach, Flexion-Albtraum!) öfter nutzen: “tatsächlich”!

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

An- und Verkauf.
… an- und verkaufen …
Ich nehme jedoch an, dies wäre unmöglich: [*… an- und verkaufte Waren …], weil bei “an” auch “ge” hinzukommen muss. Oder?


When will more grammar notes be coming out? I’ve been waiting for Time 5.2 for some months now, and it’d also help to show how to say some phrases in German which can’t be directly translated, e.g. how to say “I am good at swimming/eating/maths”, “some”, the use of einige und wenig,”that took ages”, “to take something seriously/well/badly”.


Also z.B. eine Augenklappe deckt ein Auge ab? (Das ist für mich nützlich zu wissen, denn mein Sohn muss zwei Stunden am Tag eine Augenklappe tragen.)

Es gibt auch im Englischen “bedecked” (ich glaube, dass “to bedeck” auch existiert aber das kommt eher selten vor). Das Wort wirkt ein bisschen altertümlich aber man sieht es manchmal geschrieben. Es hat fast immer mit Schmuck/dekorative Sachen zu tun, wie z.B. “bedecked with jewels.” Das Beispiel mit Wetter finde ich deswegen ziemlich komisch: “bedecked sky” würde wie “Himmel mit Wolken geschmückt” oder sowas klingen. :)

Ich musste mich dann fragen, ob “decorate” etwas mit “Decke/n” zu tun hat aber laut etymonline.com stammen die “decor”-Wörter vom indoeuropäischen *dek statt *(s)teg.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Also, nochmal zur Nicht-Stellung.

(falsch) Ich interessiere mich dafür nicht.
(richtig) Ich interessiere mich nicht dafür.

Und nun:
(?) Ich bin daran nicht interessiert.
(?) Ich bin nicht daran interessiert.

Gehen beide Sätze? Nur einer davon? Wie kann man das begründen?

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Gibts untrennbares “umdecken” im Sinne von “ummanteln”?


Great blog! I like it but I have not found RSS. How to get your updates by E-mail? Does “Notify me of new posts via email” work?


I am wondering how it would be if all of your posts are published as a book of compendium…. I mean the contents are so robust! Du deckst fest alles ab. Danke für deine gute Arbeit.


Well, everybody knows about “deck the halls” at Christmas. Guess that’s pretty much the same idea as in deck out and bedeck, as was mentioned above. Thanks again for the blog. It’s the most fun language learning experience I’ve ever had. The comments are great, too. Just curious. Have you ever studied any Celtic languages such as Gaelic, Irish or Welsh? Wish there were something like your blog for that. Thanks again for the time and effort you put into this and especially for your humor and patience.


I think you forgot one often used verb in the “Decken”-family. “eindecken” to buy sth. to cover your need.
For example: Die Leute decken sich vor dem Hurrycane mit Massen an Lebensmitteln ein.

I really like your way of turning the learning experience into fun.


Thanks a lot for this post! Again it was the better online explanation I found about this subject.

I have a question. If “decken” is usually used for “covering a roof” (eg “Der Dachdecker deckt das Dach mit Stroh.”) and “bedecken” is usually used for “covering by snow” (eg “Schnee bedeckt das Land”), how would I say “The snow covers the roof” ? “Schnee deckt das Dach” or “Schnee bedeckt das Dach” ?