Word of the Day – “deuten”

deuten-bedeuten-meaningHello everyone,

and welcome. First I want to say a quick thank you to everybody for the language school thing. Your questions are great and I’m definitely gonna use them in some form. Thanks for taking the time. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about… you totally missed out ;).
With that said, let’s get to our German Word of the Day. This time we’ll have a look at the meaning of



And looking at deuten doesn’t only mean unlocking whole bunch of really cool and useful vocabulary like bedeuten or deutlich, it also means to learn about the origin of a word that is inseparably connected to learning German. And that word is: frustration.
Oh… hold on… I meant the other word, the one that is even more connecteterer  to learning German. The word for German itself… deutsch.

It all started with the super mega ancient Indo-European root tē̌u-. The meaning of that root was something along the lines of to swell and it’s the origin of words like thumb (looks swollen compared to other fingers), thigh (looks swollen after Christmas)  and thousand, which originally was just a word for large number, mass. Now, another spin off of the Indo-European root was the Germanic word þeuðō. No idea how to pronounce that but the meaning it had was kind of similar to the original idea of thousand: *þeuðō meant large number of people and later became one of the Germanic words for tribe, people, folk. The original meaning of deutsch wasn’t far from that – it meant  something like of the people, people-ish. With the people referring to the Germanic tribes as opposed to the Romans. One context it was used for was language. You could speak “fancy Latin” or you could speak “deutsch“. And in the early days that could refer to several Germanic dialects, including old English. And one evening in a tavern over a whole bunch of brewskies the people that would later become Germans adopted the word for themselves**…

“Hey, we’re kind of like one people…”
“Meh… not really”
“Well, anyways, we should pick a name for us. Anyone got an idea?”
“Uhm… we could call us … uhm… people.”
“Nice, and our language people’s. And our land peopleland.”

(**: might not have happened in a tavern, may have been a process of hundreds of years)

Not very creative.  English isn’t any better. They use the super generic word german and for the Germans and the german word for german for Dutch. Oh while we’re at it, the Finns say saksalainen, which is based on the Germanic tribe called the Saxons, in French german means allemand (Spanish, Turkish and many others use variations of that), which is based on the name of another Germanic tribe and the Slavic languages use something with the base niemi- (no idea where this comes from, I couldn’t find anything). Kind of crazy that there are so many different names for german across Europe. Anyway, time to get to our actual word of the day deuten.

We’ve learned that it comes from a word that meant as much as people, folk, usually referring to the Germanic people as opposed to the Romans. The verb deuten itself was to make clear for the common folk….  just think of it as the made up verb “to common-man

“Hey, care for some Roman wisdom?”
“Sure, bring it on.”
“Cogito ergo sum!”

“Uh..what? Can you ‘common-man’ that.”
“Oh, sure: I think therefor I am.”
“Yeah… uh… I still don’t get it. Can you ‘common-man’ that some more?”
“Ugh, barbarians.”

This original idea of deuten isn’t used or understood anymore but it still shines through in the two meanings deuten has today:  to point somewhere and to interpret. I mean… pointing at something is a very effective way of making something clear. And interpreting something is basically making something clear for yourself first.

Now, for both these meanings, German has alternative words that are more common. Zeigen is the more common choice for to point, deuten sounds a bit subtle, and in sense of interpreting it sounds less scientific than interpretieren or analysieren.
But still I’m sure you’ll see deuten used sooner or later. And I’m super mega sure that you’ll see all the related words. For the interpret-deuten, there is for instance umdeuten, which means to reinterpret and the noun die Deutung, which means interpretation, analysis… not in a strictly scientific sense but with intuition allowed.

For the pointing-deuten there are hindeuten, which unlike deuten can be used for abstract pointing, and the super common andeuten, which is just the beginning of pointing… or in other words: to hint, to insinuate

And these are not all.
Next up is the adjective deutlich and this one has actually preserved the original core of the verb because it means clear(ly), significantly

Very similar looking to deutlich is deutig. It’s not used as a stand-alone but it’s super mega common in combination with ein-.

Eindeutig actually ties in with both the current meanings of deuten. You can see it as “pointing at just one thing” or offering “just one interpretation”. And of course, there’s also the opposite: uneindeutig. And zweideutig. And mehrdeutig. Oh, and vieldeutig. Looks like German is quite precise as to how unclear something is :)

Now, these were already some really useful words. But they didn’t have their own headline.  The next one does…


When a word gets its own headline that means it must be very significant.
Hold on, let me say that again, this time in hint mode.
That MEANS that it must be very SIGNIFICANT. 
Yep, bedeuten means to mean, to signify

How did this meaning come about? Well, I think it’s kind of a mixture of pointing and making clear. Like in this use of the word, which is rare nowadays:

But I always think of it purely as the pointing-deuten. The fact that I got 80% in the exam “points at” (“inflicts pointing”) at the fact that I passed. The word German word Tisch “points at” the concept of a table. It “means” table.  Don’t know if that makes sense. Anyway, let’s look at some examples:

And now it’s time for a huuuuuuge pink but:
Bedeuten means to mean BUUUUUUT


Let’s examplain® that … get it… I mixed explain and ex… never mind.

  • What does that mean?
  • Was bedeutet das?…. correct
  • What do you mean?
  • Ich bedeute später…. WRONG!!

The second is WRONG because there’s though involved. Bedeuten does not work that way… like.. .not at all. I’m not sure if people would even understand the second sentence. So far is bedeuten from thought. If you say

  • Thomas bedeutet A.

you’re NOT NOT NOT saying

  • Thomas means A…. in sense of
  • Thomas has A in mind.

That would be meinen. The version with bedeuten means that the fact that Thomas exist means A. Like, say, Thomas is real party pooper…

  • Thomas means boredom.
  • Thomas bedeutet Langeweile.

So even though bedeuten will often be a translation for to mean, maybe it’s better to think of it as to signify since this verb has the same usage pattern. And to signify is related to signal and sign and these are awfully close to pointing, which is one of the meanings of deuten. Tadah… everything nicely falls into place. Thank you languages, for being so orderly.
Now, this would be the perfect time to wrap up but instead let’s ruin the moment with a few random examples of words that are related to bedeuten and that are very commblah blah blah blah…

Yeah… the other moment would have been bedeutend better to wrap up. Anyway, we did it. This was our German Word of the Day deuten.The original idea was to make clear for the people and all the versions of today kind of orbit that idea in one way or another.
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.

Oh, if you feel like a dose of German romanticism and heavy-heartedness to really drive the autumn home… here’s the perfect song.
The first line has bedeuten in it and it’s quite famous, that’s why I thought of it.
It’s a poem by the German poet whose name sounds like a super hero alias, Heinrich Heine, which was later congenially turned into a song by Silcher. It’s about the Loreley, a famous mystical, beautiful woman that sits on a rock next to the river Rhine combing her golden hair thereby distracting skippers from their skipping duties… well.. Heine’s version is a bit more poetic :)

(click here for the lyrics)

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** vocab **
(for the AnkiDeck click here … download from Google drive)

deuten – to interpret, to point
die Deutung – the interpretation
die Traumdeutung – dream analysis

auf etwas hindeuten – to point to something (abstract only)

andeuten – insinuate, suggest, imply, hint
die Andeutung- the insinuation, the hint (can be positive and negative)

umdeuten – reinterpret (not for pieces of music)

bedeuten – signify, mean (NOT for thoughts)
die Bedeutung – the meaning, the significance
bedeutungslos – meaningless, without any significance
bedeutend – significant(ly) , important (for people)

deutlich – clear (easy distinguishable)
die Deutlichkeit – the clarity (as in “understandability”, not claritiy of mind)
verdeutlichen – illustrate, make clear

eindeutig – clearly (as in “no doubt”), unambiguous, unique (in math) 
zweideutig – equivocal, ambiguous, with two meanings suggestive (sexually) (two-fold)
mehrdeutig – equivocal, ambiguous, with a few meanings (several-fold)
vieldeutig – with many meanings

for members :)

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Great piece! Auf etwas hindeuten would sound better as “to point to something”, not point at. So in your example “Empty champagne bottle, underwear everywhere, burnt down incense sticks… everything points to Thomas not having spent the night alone.” Thanks.


Hey, erstmal Danke.
Es ist mir aufgefallen, “nahelegen” und “hinweisen” werden oftmals im Sinne von “suggest” und “allude to” gebraucht. Was für Unterschieden gibt’s dazwischen.


Was wondering the same re andeuten vs. hinweisen.


First, thank you for the terrific blog. Super enjoyable and informative reading. I’m late to the party so going through your words of the day and learning more than from any book/course I’ve come across.

Second, as a native Russian speaker perhaps I could help with the Slavic root of neme- (Nemetski yazyk = German language; Ukrainian “Nemecchina” = Germany). I believe it comes from “Ne Moy” (not mine), referring to the Germanic tribe being a different, though neighboring, tribe. Would be curious to know otherwise.

Again, thanks Emmanuel for your fantastic work.


The Russian word немец (nemets) for German comes from a Proto-Slavic root *немъ (nem’), which meant “mute”. That is, it’s related to немой. It’s pretty common for one group of people to call another group of people who speak a completely unrelated language by something along those lines. As another example, the classical Greeks called the Persians “βαρβαροι” (barbaroi), because to them that was what the stereotypical Persian sounded like (“They just say ‘bar bar bar’.”).


Interesting, thanks. Actually, in addition to mute, the root nem’ had another meaning that never made it into modern Russian – muttering, not speaking clearly or comprehensively. That makes a clearer connection to a foreign language.

Also learned the origin of “barbarian”. I knew it referred to some kind of foreigner, didn’t know it was Persians to Greeks.

Nikolaus Wittenstein
Nikolaus Wittenstein

“The former star sank into insignificance.”
This works fine. I might say “obscurity” though.

Would somebody actually say “eindeutig zweideutig”?


Yeah, “obscurity” is more idiomatic for what former stars sink into. When you’re comparing things, something can “pale into insignificance”.


At least for me, “fade into insignificance” would be more idiomatic than “pale,” which I mostly see (as a verb) in the phrase “to pale in comparison.” For that matter, I think you can “fade into obscurity” as well as sink into it.

I do think “insignificance” or maybe “irrelevance” feel like closer equivalents to “Bedeutungslosigkeit” here, though. “Obscurity” feels more like “Vergessenheit” or similar. Not to say that any of them would be inappropriate to the situation, of course, but I’m just thinking about translating the German sentence as given.

But yeah, “obscurity” would be what an English speaker would think first to use to describe the situation of the once-famous.


Oh yes, I prefer “fade into insignificance” for the meaning you describe. But I was thinking of the comparative use: “it pales into insignificance in comparison”, which to me is just a more emphatic form of “pales in comparison”.


Great, thanks!! A small correction:
5 dollar 50 is clearly, definitely to expensive for my taste -> 5 dollar 50 (for half a pint), is clearly, definitely **too** expensive for my taste


Hello, how can you be contacted, for questions regarding the post? Thanks


Hi Emanuel, danke für die sehr interessante Post. Ich fragte mich, über diese ähnliche Worter Deutsch, bedeuten, deutlich.
Übrigens wurde/verändert zu das Datum dieser Post “22 September” (seltsam!)…

Ein paar Korrekturen…. Als Lynn sagt, “points to” bedeuten hier “hindeuten”. “Points at” ist ein gut Übersetzung für “deutet auf”.
Also for “Mein Chef hat dahingehend Andeutungen gemacht”, I think the most direct idiomatic translation would be “My boss has made hints to that effect”; “make implications” isn’t idiomatic. You could also say: “been hinting at it” or “implied it”, or more colloquially, “dropped hints [about it]”. (Note: an action or event can “have implications”.)


Bah my comment about the date is all grammatically messed up… something like: Das Datum dieser Post verändert geheimnisvoll zu “22 September” (Did I say that right? The date of this post has mysteriously changed to 22 September.”)


Oh I picked up a couple of other things ( Phew there was a lot in that post! :) )
Maybe it’s just me, but univocal/equivocal seem obscure; any of the others are fine (“says it all, makes it clear, leaves no doubt” for the first, “ambiguous” for the second. But not “suggestive” unless you mean as in sexually suggestive.)
Re: “Der Moderator guckt mit bedeutungsschwangerem Gesicht in die Kamera” – maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t say someone’s face was “fraught with meaning”, but you could say their face or expression or look (or voice) was “laden with meaning”.

Fraught is a funny word, it literally means “laden” but it seems to be more idiomatically restricted; things are usually “fraught with danger” or “with risk”. And it is related to “freight”, i.e. the stuff that a ship is laden with: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/fraught.

It’s interesting that “schwanger” is the German word here – maybe English-speakers are just prudes, but it seems that the metaphorical use of “pregnant” is now reduced mainly to “pregnant pauses”. (Though funnily enough, I’ve found “a development pregnant with implications”, referring back to a previous point… http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/pregnant)


Oddly enough, to me “unequivocal” would sound less obscure than either “univocal” (its synonym) or “equivocal.” I think “unmistakable” could work well in a lot of the contexts where you’d use “eindeutig” too.

I think the way I’ve most often seen things like the “Der Moderator guckt…” sentence phrased is, “The host looks [or “glances,” depending on how “gucken” really sounds here] meaningfully at the camera.”

I’ve seen “fraught” used in a more general (and positive) way, but it’s definitely unconventional. “Fraught with emotion” gets a pretty decent number of Google hits too.

Speaking of metaphorical pregnancy, it strikes me that prägnant could be a potentially amusing “false friend”…


Ah! Yes, unequivocal is common. And penny just dropped for me… Because I saw “univocal” and “equivocal” together, I didn’t recognise “equivocal” at all – because in my head I was pronouncing it equi-vocal, with stress on the 1st syllable. But the stress is on the second. So Emanuel, if you just replace “univocal” with “unequivocal” then it works.


Looking back, I see you say German has uneindeutig too. In English I’ve never heard/seen anyone use univocal, so I assume it’s a synonym for unequivocal. Are zweideutig and uneindeutig synonymous? I suppose not quite because uneindeutig could be zwei-, mehr-, viel-. (Ok that is a really precise level of clarity! I can’t even get my head around having to specify exactly how many meanings something has. Since I am a pedant, I think the conversation would stall while I try to figure out the precise level of ambiguity! Ich hätte Angst, obwohl ich nur an zwei Bedeutungen denken könnte, gäbe es tatsächlich vielleicht mehr…) But in English since we don’t have to specify number, unequivocal is a good translation for any of those.

Und als berlingrabers sagt, “unmistakable” ist oft ein gut Synonym für “unequivocal”. Sie sind legerer.


I’ve only ever seen “univocal” in fairly technical contexts (philosophy and such), so I’d definitely never put it in a conversation example. I’d take it as basically synonymous with “unequivocal,” though without the sense of emphasis that “unequivocal” brings. It’s just sort of a more technical or bildungssprachlich term for “unambiguous, having only one meaning.”


Hallo !

Ich studiere Deutsch als Hauptfach bei der Sorbonne in Paris, und im Geschichtsunterricht wurde mir gesagt, dass “niemi-” aus dem Namen eines anderen, im Gebiet des Rheins um Speyer lebenden Volkes wäre, nämlich den “Nemetern” (the Nemetes in English, les Némètes in French, and apparently Νεμῆται in Ancient Greek). Deshabl werde “Deutsch” ins Ungarische als “Németország”, ins Tschechische als “Německo”, und ins Polnische als “Niemcy” übersetzt.


Your blog is just great, greetings from Brazil! :)

When I read that the word of the day would be “deuten” I was immediately reminded of Freud’s “Die Traumdeutung”, and the word was indeed one of the examples you used. But I’d like to know what else”deuten” could mean in this case. You said it “sounds less scientific than interpretieren or analysieren”, but I don’t think Freud would name his book that way if he agreed with this meaning of “deuten”. By the time he wrote “Die Traumdeutung” he had a very “scientific” approach to Psychoanalysis, much more than he had in his last years. Sorry if my question sounds “kleinlich,” but I’m a Philosophy student and this word is VERY important in Philosophy. Thanks! :)


…dass ich Schuld bin .. Habe ich nicht fruher gesehen. Ich wurde “dass ich schuldig bin” gesagt haben oder ich bin schuldig daran. Ist das such richtig? Vielen dank fur die post interessant wie immer.


You know how you are a genius at explaining german in english snd everything…. can you possibly explain these double perfekt construction…

Ich habe es gefragt gehabt. What does that mean in english? I had got/had/arranged for it to be asked? It would be unusual but possible to say that in english – in particular contexts – but it kind of has a ‘passive’ association… (while at the same time a sense of having forced something to happen). Does it have this meaning in German???? Hilfe!!


Vielen Dank für die Erklärung! Ich weiß es besonders zu schätzen, dass du Gedichte von deutschen Dichter manchmal zitierst. Ich ermutige dich, dies öfter zu tun! Ich denke, dass eine Sprache durch ihre Poesie lernen sehr, sehr lohnend und hilfsbereit ist. Nochmals vielen Dank!


I started following your blog some time ago and I’m really impressed. Thank you for taking the time to create such an impressive content. You’ve helped a lot of language learners (like myself :). Keep up the great work!


Great article! By the way, I think “bedeuten” is more “interpret-deuten” than “point-deuten”, and the magic lies in the prefix “be-“. It makes usually intransitive verbs transitive, and transitive verbs kind of passive (= the action becomes more direct), so that if “deuten” is “to interpret”, than “bedeuten” is “to be interpreted as…”. In Swedish, “betyder” means exactly that!


Haven’t read much beyond the title yet, but fast forwarded to see if die Lorelei got a mention. How could she not? Not just a mention, but also a link to recording! Vielen Dank. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAHBbdt6kv0 is another version.
The slavic words for “german” are explained here – http://masterrussian.net/f15/where-do-words-%D0%BD%D0%B5%D0%BC%D0%B5%D1%86-%D0%BD%D0%B5%D0%BC%D0%B5%D1%86%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B9-come-13843/
Thanks in anticipation for the rest.


I have been reading your blog for some time and must say: this post is great!! I almost laugh by myself with: ‘“Nice, and our language people’s. And our land peopleland.”’. Thank you!


Thank you so much for this blog – such a life saver as I learn German.

Is there a difference between “eindeutig” and “bedeutend”? Would the meaning of the sentence “Mein Deutsch ist jetzt bedeutend besser als vor einem Jahr” change if I used “eindeutig”?


Thanks again for your big posts! I have a quick question. Can hindeuten also be used by persons or only things and situations can auf etwas hindeuten? That is, can I/you/he/we auf etw hindeuten?


Thanks for your answer! Maybe I should have added an example there:

Um mich über die Stelle besser zu erkundigen, habe ich in der Email auf ein Personalgespräch hingedeutet.
“To inform myself better about the job position I suggested/pointed to a personal meeting in the email.