“verschieden, anders, unterschiedlich” – the difference

anders-verschieden-differenHello everyone,

and welcome to something we haven’t had in a loooong time… a  “What is the difference”-special. And today’s special is especially special , because we’ll look at the differences between the different German words for different.

anders, verschieden and unterschiedlich


How does that sound to you, studio cat?
Studio cat approves. Perfect.
And before I confuse you more, let’s dive right in into the wonderfully colorful world of differences…

The different words for different and knowing when to use which is a problem for many learners.
The good news is that there is a very clearly defined distinction – at least between anders and the other two.

anders vs. the other two

Imagine you have two sets of something – Set A and Set B.

Anders is about comparing items of one set with items of another set. It looks “external”.

verschieden and unterschiedlich are about comparing items WITHIN one set. They are “internal”. 

And that makes total sense when you look at the origin of the words….

Anders (and of course also andere/n/m/r/s) as well as the English other come from the a turbo old root that was about…  the other one. In an us vs them kind of sense. There’s our tribe and the other tribe.

Unterschiedlich and verschieden on the other hand both belong to the family of shed.
This family is actually super crazy and you won’t believe what words belong to it. But we’ll actually do a whole post on it at some point, so for today, let’s just say that words with shit in them are abo… wait, I mean words with schied in them… gee, I think I just spoiled something. But yeah, words with schied- in them are about discerning, telling apart.
And that’s typically what you do WITHIN some sort of set – you try discern elements further. That’s literally the original idea of the word science, by the way – I wonder what that might be related to.
Anyway, let’s look at this in practice with an example.

  • In the second bar, I tried different beers.

Yeah, I know it sounds “vintage” to many of us but it’ll be real life again soon.
So yeah, we have two bars here, the first one and the second one. Those are our two sets and the items in the set are the beers I tried at the place.
Now, if we use andere we’re pitting the beers I had in the first bar (set A) against those I had in the second (Set B).
Like… in the first bar, I tried PBR and  PBR Light and PBR Zero Taste®  while in the second bar I tried Berliner Kindl and Guinness and Geuze… and then I tried Vodka to burn out the taste… seriously, Geuze tastes like vomit, try it on your own peril.
If we use either of the schied-words on the other hand, we’re comparing the beers I had in the second bar.

  • In der zweiten Bar habe ich andere Biere probiert.
  • In the second bar I tried different/other beers. (than in the first one… inferred by context)
  • In der zweiten Bar habe ich verschiedene/unterschiedliche Biere probiert.
  • In the second bar I tried several different/a few different beers (so I didn’t just drink 3 of a kind).

Let’ do another example

  • I’ve tried different things to solve the problem.
  • Ich habe andere Sachen versucht, um das Problem zu lösen.
  • Ich habe verschiedene/unterschiedliche Sachen versucht, ….

Again, we have no context here so both versions are possible. Can you guess what the difference is?
Exactly, the first version means that I tried other things than someone else. The second version merely means that I’ve tried a bunch of things that were somewhat diverse.
Cool. Another one? Yeah, let’s do one more.

  • Maria and her sister are very different.
  • Maria und ihre Schwester sind sehr anders.

  • Maria und ihre Schwester sind sehr verschieden/unterschiedlich.

I’m pretty sure you got it right: the first version means that Maria and her sister are different than some other group of people, maybe some other pair of siblings. The second one means that Maria is very different from her sister. Anders groups them up and compares them with an external set, verschienden looks for differences within the items.

Now, in the examples we had so far, both option were possible. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes the context only allows for one.

  • My bike is different.

Okay, this is not exactly a lot of context and still we only have one option here:

  • Mein Fahrrad ist anders.

Why? Well, it would sound quite odd to use verschieden here because we only have one item in the group. I mean how can it be verschieden… it’s only one. No, anders is the way to go and it compares Pink Flash from Hell with all those boring stock bikes out there. What?… Pink Flash? Oh.. uh… that’s just the name of my bike. I didn’t mean to say that. Try to ignore it, okay?

Anyways, now let’s look at an example where anders doesn’t work.

  • Talking and doing are two different things.

This one is not as clear as the one with the bike but still context strongly suggests that we need verschieden. The goal of the sentence is very likely a comparison of talking and doing. So we are comparing two items of one set. Technically, we could say andere but then everybody would be like “Different than what? Sleeping?”. Andere would bundle them up and compare them to something external while verschieden looks for difference between them.

verschieden vs unterschiedlich

Verschieden is the ge-form of the verscheiden but that is super rare and has nothing to do with differences anymore. Unterschiedlich is based on the noun der Unterschied. Der Unterschied means difference and it’s based on the verb (sich) unterscheiden, which means to differentiate, to be different. But they’re definitely akin. If one doesn’t work, nor will the other and as a matter of fact, on a superficial level, on a level of meaning, the two are interchangeable.

  • “Wann hast du normalerweise Feierabend?”
    “Oh, das ist verschieden/unterschiedlich.”
  • “When do you usually finish work?”
    “Oh, that varies.”
  • Das Wetter an der Ostsee ist sehr verschieden/unterschiedlich.
  • The weather at the coast of the Baltic Sea is very changeable/varies a lot.
    (I feel like “different” would be out of place here… natives correct me please :)

The difference between the two is not the meaning but the “feel”.
For one thing, the words vibe kind of mirrors their sound. I know this might sound stupid but bear with me please. Verschieden sounds rather straight forward, orderly and direct. At least compared to unterschiedlich, which is all over the place. U, A, sch, I, d, l, ch. The tongue has to move around a lot here. Like a butterfly. Yeah, that’s a nice image… verschieden is the flight of a bee, unterschiedlich is a butterfly. Both are erratic but the latter is a lot more chaotic. And that’s kind of the vibe of the words.

  • Ich habe verschiedene Ideen.

This sounds like a bunch of idea, that are somewhat different from each other.

  • Ich habe unterschiedliche Ideen.

This sounds a little more like the result of brain-storming – or at least a little tiny bit more random.

  • Ich höre verschiedene Musikstile.
  • Ich höre unterschiedliche Musikstile.

The second one sounds like a more eclectic collection to me. I don’t know… maybe that’s just me though and other German speakers don’t feel that.
Anyways… there’s another difference between the verschieden and unterschiedlich.
In the example with the Baltic Sea weather we’ve seen that both words can carry the idea of divers(e). like… I have a bunch of diverse items in the group.
But sometimes we have groups within a group… uhm… yeah… I don’t know what that’s supposed to say either. Quick, we need an example:

  • Thomas und Maria haben verschiedene/unterschiedliche Ideen für das Projekt.

The thing is… we have two people so within the group, there are two subgroups. The ideas Thomas and the ideas of Maria. And that means there are two possible ways of comparisons. We can compare the ideas in general and we can compare his idea with her ideas.

  • Thomas and Maria have a bunch of different ideas for the project.
  • Thomas and Maria have different ideas for the project.

Unterschiedlich leans toward the second while verschieden could express either.
But this is really more of a nuance and it rarely comes to bear.

  • Thomas und Maria haben unterschiedliche/verschiedene Vorstellungen davon ,was ein gelungener Urlaub ist.
  • Thomas and Maria have different ideas of what constitutes a “successful” vacation.

Here, the context leaves little doubt that we’re comparing his ideas to her ideas and they’re different.
So, bottom line…  unterschiedlich and verschieden are not exactly the same but the differences are small and rarely affect the meaning so you shouldn’t worry about it too much.
What really matters is that you understand the difference between verschieden and unterschiedlich on the one hand and anders on the other. Anders compares to something external, something that is often not part of the sentence. The schied-words look at the elements inside a group and try to discern them, make out differences between them.
Here’s a somewhat more practical rule of thumb

Use ander- if the different in your sentence could be extended to a
“different than something” 

Use verschieden-/unterschiedlich- if you can replace different with divers(e) without completely altering the meaning.

And that’s it for today. I’ve prepared a little quiz for you so you can try out what you’ve learned. And of course if anything is unclear just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

I’ll give you an English sentence and you have to decide which of the three German words fits best.
If you want, you can also practice translating them.
The German version is in the hint, as well as an audio with the solution.

Viel Erfolg :)

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3 months ago

Hallo! Ein Muttersprachler hat mir mal gesagt, dass “unterschiedlich” besser als “verschieden” ist, wenn das Wort allein steht, d. h. nicht dekliniert ist. Also: “Du trinkst Kaffee, ich nicht. Wir sind unterschiedlich.” Das klinge besser als mit “verschieden”. Stimmst du dem zu?

7 months ago

There are many useful sites and blogs, they are different as in ‘untershieden’. However, I found this site paraticularly unhelpful and annoying. As if the writer was some kind of God almighty and we were all silly ants crawling below, desperately trying to learn this misterious and confusing language which only a few chosen can truly understand. For this BS I can tell that this site is – anders.

8 months ago

I love to indicate this article to my students. It’s so rich in examples they can relate to. However, they come to class disappointed with the results of the quiz. The audio solution is correct, but I feel like the feedback for question number 3 on the Berlin weather is not programmed correctly. Is it still possible to update this? It should be “unterschiedlich”, but marking that and checking it, the quiz corrects us and marks “anders” as the correct option in “Das Wetter in Berlin ist sehr _____ .” Thanks for your great explantions!

1 year ago

Nr. 5 muss “als” heißen und nicht “wenn”

3 years ago

1) Das Hemd ist schön aber ich brauche eine andere Gröβe.
2) Das Leben in Berlin ist anders als in München.
3) Das Wetter in Berlin ist unterschiedlich.
4) Verschiede und anders haben verschiedene Bedeutungen.
5) Das sieht sehr anders aus als wenn ich es das erste Mal gesehen habe.
6) Maria und ich, wir haben verschiedene Ideen über was eine saubere Küche ist.
7) In diesem Fall, das ist etwas anderes.
8) Leb dein Stil. Sei etwas anderes.
9) In dieser Kneipe haben sie zwanzig unterschiedliche Biere.
10) Ich verstehe nicht warum du drei verschiedene Telefone haben musst.

4 years ago

I’m confused about the difference between “anders” and “andere.” I recently encountered two phrases which highlight my confusion.

Anders als andere (different from others)
Anders als alle anderen (different from everyone else)

I know that “anders als” is a fixed phrase meaning something to the effect of “different from,” “other than,” etc.

But “anders” is a adverb in German, whereas “andere” here is a pronoun. I’m not sure I understand this, especially given that in English “different from” is not an adverb but an adjective followed by the preposition “from.”

Are “anders” and “andere” related to one another or should they be understood as entirely separate words? If they are somehow different versions of the same root, how does grammar change the root to mean “different” in the one case and “others” in the other case?

I hope I’m making sense here.

4 years ago

Late to the game – I’m slowly making my way through all of your past posts – but with regards to your Baltic Sea weather, different actually can work to some extent in English. You just have to throw in an “always,” and imply the comparison. So, it would be, “The weather on the Baltic Sea coast is always different.”*** To me, that doesn’t sound like something you would read in an article about the Baltic Coast, as it’s not a very formal or precise way to put things, but in informal, spoken English, it can definitely work (to my American ear). Especially in answering a question, i.e. if someone were to ask me what the weather was like in Berlin, I could easily respond with “Oh, it’s always different,” meaning that it changes from day to day (the implied comparison of each day being different than the next). This can also work for your example about getting off work: “When do you usually finish work?” “Oh, it’s always different.” Again, not the most eloquent/formal/precise way of saying things, but people definitely use phrases like this in spoken language.

**(Könnte man das auch auf Deutsch sagen? i.e. “Das Wetter an der Baltic Küste ist immer was anderes.”)

In other news, vielen Dank für deine hilfreiche Artikeln! Ich bin kürzlich nach Berlin gezogen, um hier zu studieren und die Sprache zu verbessern (obwohl hier in Berlin hört man Englisch viel öfter als Deutsch…). Dein Website hat für mich viele verschiedene (ayyyyy) Sachen erklärt. :) Und ich freue mich auf deine andere (ayyyyy) Artikeln zu lesen!

6 years ago

Isn’t there another dimension to the unterschiedlich/verschieden distinction? Example:

“Johannes hat drei verschiedene Handys gekauft” -> Johannes has bought three cellphones.
“Johannes hat drei unterschiedliche Handys” -> Johannes has bought three cellphones (, that are different from one another).

In other words, in the second example, it is clear that the three cellphones are different to one another, whereas in the first, Johannes might have had three brand new latest-model IPhones fresh from the store, because he thought it would be good to have a backup if he dropped one.

This in relation to the selbe/gleiche difference, for example:
“Klara hat ein Samsung Galaxy Alpha, und ich hab’ das gleiche Handy” (“, dass heisst, sie sind nicht unterschiedliche Handys”)
“Klara hat ein Samsung Galaxy Alpha, und ich hab’ das selbe Handy” (“, dass heisst, sie sind nicht verschiedene Handys”)

where in the first, we have the same model, but in the second, it’s the same actual phone.

Would you agree?

Ano Menschkind Königin
Ano Menschkind Königin
6 years ago

Ohkay, lass mich mal versuchen!!

1) Dieses Hemd ist gut, aber ich brauche eine andere Größe
2) Das Wetter in Berlin ist voll unterschiedlicher als in München
3) Es gibt verschiedene Arten des Wetters in Berlin.
4) Verschieden & anders haben unterschiedliche Bedeutungen
5) Das sieht ja sehr anders aus, als ich das vorher gesehen hatte.
6) Maria & ich haben unterschiedliche Ideen, um was eine saubere Küche ist.
7) In dem Fall aber, ist es anders.
8) Leb deinem eigenem Stil. Sei anders.
9) In der Bar gibt es 20 verschiedene Biere.
10) Verstehe nicht, wieso du 3 verschiedene Handys benutzen musst.

Hoffentlich hab ich gut verstehen ^^

6 years ago

If I am to translate the following sentence:
“my learning attitude was significantly different from my colleagues”

Now I guess I have to use the schied-words, but could the translation be something like this:

“meine Einstellung zum Lernen war deutlich unterscheidet von meinen Kollegen”
“meine Einstellung zum Lernen war deutlich unterschiedlich von meinen Kollegen”

My German roommate says the translation should be:
“meine Einstellung zum Lernen hat mich deutlich unterschieden zu meinen Kollegen”

for starters, I can’t understand why the preposition is ZU?
and why can’t I say that I had a different learning attitude? why should it be that my learning attitude made me different?

I think this changes the meaning a little bit! I am not different!! I only had a different attitude!!

Thanks a lot for this Awesome Post!! I can’t wait to know more about the shed family.

6 years ago

Maria und ich haben davon unterschiedliche Vorstellungen, wie eine saubere Küche aussehen muss.
Ist besser?
Ich verstehe nicht wirklich den Unterschied zwischen wenn und wann. Deshalb mache ich jedes Mal den selben Fehler. Wenn = if und wann = when?
Ich lebe in Frankreich (bin aber Amerikanerin) und heute spreche ich fast immer Französisch. Auf Französisch kann man sagen z.B. le moment où je l’ai vu, où = wo. „Wo” verwenden paßt mir sehr gut:)
Und wie sagt man das in „proper German”?
I agree with with the last comment about the use of diverse for weather. I’d definitely choose variable or changeable, which is why I thought of wechselhaft and wouldn’t have used verschieden if I hadn’t read your post, which was great as usual.
Thank you.

Tamara Fos
Tamara Fos
9 months ago
Reply to  Kathleen

Der Moment, ALS ich ihn sah… / Der Moment, WO ich ihn sah .. (gesprochene Sprachen) / WENN = Konjunktion (Bedingung), die Sätze verbindet: Wenn ich fertig bin, rufe ich dich an. / WANN = Fragewort: Wann kommst du? Wann bist du geboren? :-)

Tim Muller
Tim Muller
6 years ago

Thanks for a really useful post!

This may be a kiwi/Australasian thing, but I’d never really use ‘diverse’ to describe weather. Unless perhaps you’re talking about a country/region with lots of microclimates. If you mean the weather is very different from one day to the next, I’d use ‘changeable’ or ‘variable’.

I’ve also never seen ‘diverse’ without the e before.

6 years ago

Ich versuche…
1. Das Hemd ist zwar schön, ich brauche aber eine andere Größe.
2. Das Berlin-Gefühl ist ganz anders als dem München-Gefühl. (oder) ganz anders von München.
3. Das Berliner Wetter ist verschieden. Ist ‘wechselhaft’ auch möglich?
4.”Verschieden” und „anders” haben unterschiedliche Bedeutungen.
5. Es (das?) sieht ganz andrs us, als wann ich es zum ersten Mal gesehen habe.
6.Maria und ich haben unterschiedliche Ideen, wie eine saubere Küche aussehen muss.
7.Oh, auf diesen Fall ist es etwas anderes.
8. Leb deinen Stil. (oder) Leb wie du willst. Sei anders.
9. In dieser Bar haben sie 20 verschiedene Biersorten zum Auswahl.
10. Ich verstehe nicht warum du drei verschiedene Telefone brauchst.

Mike Williams
Mike Williams
6 years ago

When it comes to weather, changeable is better. Baltic Sea weather is extremely changeable. For us Brits, the North Sea has that accolade. A sailor can be at sea, or on the sea, but the weather IS. (Not the terrorist group). So you would not say ‘The weather at the Baltic Sea ….. Hope this helps. Great post as always

6 years ago
Reply to  Mike Williams

Agreed, though I’d say “The weather on/over the Baltic Sea” wouldn’t strike me as un-idiomatic. I think “at” just feels more awkward; I’m guessing that was an overly literal translation of “an der Ostsee,” which I’d translate as “on the Baltic coast.”

6 years ago

Vielen Dank im Voraus für deine Rückmeldung.

1 Das Hemd ist schön, aber ich brauche eine andere Große.
2 Das Gefühl in Berlin ist anders als das in München.
3 Das Wetter in Berlin ist sehr verschieden.
4. Verschieden und anders haben unterschiedliche Bedeutungen.
5. Das sieht sehr anders aus als vorher.
6. Maria und ich haben unterschiedliche Ideen, was eine saubere Küche ist.
7 Auf diesen Fall ist es denn etwas anderes.
8 Leb dein Stil! Sei anders!
9 Diese Kneipe hat 20 unterschiedliche Biere. Ich muss sofort alle ausprobieren!
10 Ich kann nicht verstehen, warum du 3 unterschiedliche Handys besitzt.

bis später,

Shannon S.
Shannon S.
6 years ago

blah: epic fail from the get-go (me, not you): The shirt is nice, but I need a different size. I took this to mean one set of shirts (a particular colour/style) to pick from, but I want a different size from within that set. To use andere Größe, I would be saying–yeah, the shirt is nice but I’ll take a sweater instead.

6 years ago

Sorry one question on your bike sentence.. i don’t really get why it would be anders there. It sort of makes me feel like you’re saying your bike is that one or anoher one as opposed to this one (?). Wouldn’t you use vershieden (or i guess unterschiedlich too) to express that it is different from other bikes (ie is different within the general bike group) ?

thank you for your posts!

Anne Formanek
6 years ago

Thanks for the homework assignment! That was fun. If you don’t mind grading, I would love to see how I did.
Der Hemd ist nett, aber ich brauche eine andere Size?
Das Berlin Vibe unterscheidet sich viel von das Muenchenes
Berlin Wetter is sehr verschieden.
Die Bedeutungen von Verschieden und anders sind unterschiedlich.
Das sieht anders aus als wann ich es erst gesehen habe.
Maria und ich haben verschiedene Ideen um was eine reinige Kueche entsteht.
Ach, in diesem Fall ist es anders.
Leb dein Stil. Sei anders!
In diesem Lokal gibt es 20 vershiedene Biere
Ich verstehe nicht warum Sie drei untershiedliche Telefonen haben mussen

Bill Kammermeier
Bill Kammermeier
6 years ago

Google Image Search for “divers”: