Prefix Verbs Explained – “einsetzen”

Hello everyone,

and after almost two years of hiatus, today it’s time for the triumphant return of everyone’s favorite series… Prefix Verbs Explained.


Are you excited?!
Me neither.
So let’s get this over with quick and take a look at the meaning of


The base verb setzen is the German brother of to set, and on occasion, the two verbs do line up.
But not often enough to call them translations.
In my opinion, it’s better to think of setzen as the third one of the three German translations for to put

The other two options are stellen, which is roughly “to make stand”, and  legen, which is roughly “to make lie”. And those two have the majority of the market share.
But for some instances of placing, neither of those really fit and German uses setzen instead. Or its prefix versions, of course.

Now I know your brain is now like “Need rule, must have rule. Give rule! When rule?”  but it’s hard to give one because a lot just comes down to what happened to be idiomatic in a given context.
However …

what I can say is that setzen has an emphasis on a certain level of control while doing the placing.
Like… just think sitting down on a chair. There’s a fair bit of coordination happening and we can definitely stand up faster than we can sit down.
Or think of putting on glasses, which is aufsetzen in German. You need some level of dexterity for that.

Anyway, the key point is not to think of setzen as to set, but rather as to place, to put because that just captures it better.

And it’s the same for einsetzen. It can be the literal translation of to set in.

  • Gegen Abend setzt leichter Regen ein.
  • Toward the evening, slight rain will set in.


But the main uses of einsetzen are about putting/placing something in somewhere.
That can be very literal, like placing an item into a socket.

  • Das Einhorn setzt den Infinity-Stein in seinen Hufschuh ein.
  • The unicorn puts/places/inserts the infinity stone into its Glhoofe™.
    (Gloofe is a registered trademark of the Glooves for Hoofs Ltd.)

But what makes einsetzen an actually useful verb that’s worth knowing is the more abstract idea of “putting” some sort of resource into a situation.
Which is the secret behind why einsetzen is actually a translation to employ and even to use.

  • Die Einhörner setzen dunkle Magie gegen die Eichhörnchen ein.
  • The unicorns employ/use dark magic against the squirrels.
  • Viele Menschen würden gerne mitentscheiden, wie ihre Steuern eingesetzt werden.
  • Many people would like to participate in the decision about how their taxes are being used.
  • Emanuel überlegt, wo er den Praktikanten am besten einsetzt.
  • Emanuel ponders where to best use/put to work the intern.

As you can see in the last example, einsetzen doesn’t only work for resources like items and energy. It also works for people.
Which brings us right over to the reflexive version sich (acc) einsetzen. Which basically means that you “put” yourself, your energy, your reputation up on the line for (or against) something, either by just speaking up or by doing continuous dedicated work.

  • Maria setzt sich für Bürgerrechte ein.
  • Maria actively supports civil rights.
  • “Ich wurde gefeuert… nur weil ich mich bei der Party für No-Pants-Mittwoch eingesetzt habe.”
    “Das war keine Party, das war ein Investor-Meeting!!”
  • “I was fired… just because I spoke up for No-Pants-Wednesday at the party.”
    “It wasn’t a party, that was an INVESTOR meeting!!”

This (sich) einsetzen in the sense of “putting” a resource “in” a situation is fairly common and I think you’ll see it sooner or later in daily life.
And the same goes for the noun der Einsatz. Which can be the effort or resource that you put up…

  • Leute… so kriegen wir das Projekt nie fertig! Ein bisschen mehr Einsatz bitte.
  • Guys… we’ll never finish the project like this. A little more effort/commitment.
  • Der Pokerspieler verdoppelt den Einsatz.
  • The poker player doubles the bet/the wager.
    (not sure which word to use here… it’s what you put up in a gamble)

… or it can be the act of deploying or using a resource, again, including people.

  • Der Einsatz von dunkler Magie ist im Zauberwald verboten.
  • The use of dark magic is banned in the magic forest.
  • Die Spezialtruppen der Eichhörnchen bereiten sich auf ihren Einsatz vor.
  • The special forces of the squirrels prepare for their deployment/their operation.

Oh, and then there is der Einsatz in the more literal sense of putting an item in somewhere, but the only example I can think of right now is a Besteckeinsatz…. which is this little plastic or wooden tray that we put into our kitchen drawer to organize our cutlery.

So now we know all we need to know to use einsetzen. Or as we could say in German.

  • Wir wissen, wie man einsetzen einsetzt.
  • We know how to use einsetzen.

But as most real fans of the prefix verbs explained series will know, there’s one more thing we need to talk about… the r-version.


Little reminder because it’s been a while – many prefix verbs have what I call an r-version. Like reinsetzen, for example. There r-version usually carry the most literal, “locational” meaning you can think of, and they’re super common in daily life, but most learning materials say that those are just shortened “her-versions”, implying that they’re “cOlLoQuIal” and bad style.
But while that is true historically, it does NOT really do the reality justice anymore. r-versions have taken a life of their own. For some verbs, the her-version and the  r-version actually have distinct meanings, and for many verbs, using the her-version sounds INCREDIBLY stilted and unnatural.
reinsetzen is a great example for that because people just do not use hereinsetzen. It’s either reinsetzen or if you’re writing hineinsetzen. But NOT hereinsetzen.
Here’s a screenshot of Google ngram…

And this represents PRINT. And even there, reinsetzen is more than 10 times more common than hereinsetzen. So yeah, calling r-versions just a short her-version really ignores reality.

Now, of course you’re all wondering what happened around 2005, that created this weird uptick in use.
And my theory, which totally checks out with my intuition and some stuff I read on the internet, is that THAT’S when German engineers made a huge breakthrough in couch comfy-ness.
Because reinsetzen actually means to sit down into it… and that’s pretty much exactly what we need after we get back home after a long day of work. Or… home office. Like… when we’re done here in a couple of minutes, I’ll put on a podcast and commute from the desk over to my couch and fall right into it.
It’s a post 2005 model, you know, so it’s insanely comfy. The iPhone of couches, really.
So yeah, here’s a couple examples for reinsetzen….

  • Die Couch sieht so gemütlich aus… man will sich sofort reinsetzen.
  • This couch looks so comfy… you immediatelly want to “sit down into” it.
  • Oh nein… die Katze hat auf den Boden gepisst, und das Baby hat sich reingesetzt.
  • Oh no… the cat peed on the floor and the baby sat down into it.

…and that’s it pretty much it for today.
Hooray. This was our little look at the meaning einsetzen and when and how to einsetzen it properly ;).
As usual, if you want to test how much you remember, you can take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you enjoyed it, and I’ll see you next time.


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