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

einsetzen

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.

Cool.
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.

reinsetzen

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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Jason
Jason
3 months ago

Hello! Question about the couch example!
If you used einsetzen instead of reinsetzen, would that have potentially left vague on how you’re going to use the couch (like for sleeping, sitting, landing pad), versus reinsetzen meaning one wants to literally sit themselves down on it?

Anonymous
Anonymous
3 months ago

Vielen Dank!

Phillip Pacheco
Phillip Pacheco
3 months ago

Another really terrrrrific post, Emanuel. And many many thanks! You’re the best.

Laurette
Laurette
3 months ago

… ‘Now I know your brain is now like “Need rule, must have rule. Give rule! When rule?” ‘

I laughed until I wept when I read this. Then yesterday, I burst into uncontrollable laughter again, as I was out walking.

YES! YES! You must have spent a lot of time in my brain to understands it’s blunt, thick language-learning process SO well.

Ke'one
Ke'one
3 months ago

lech mich an “r’s” My understanding (Gefuehl) is
that the r derives from “hier”. Signifying “presence”,
which is to say “involvement” – a means to make
the reader or listener more participant in the action,

Erener
Erener
3 months ago

Thank you Emanuel for this lovely Blog. Also all the other thoughtful people who pays extra for us to access to this blog, thank you so much. I do really appreciate it. Have a beatiful day everyone!

Nancy
Nancy
3 months ago

Very helpful!

Sasha
Sasha
3 months ago

Thank u so much for this article !! And thanks to everyone who paid extra so that people who can’t afford it could learn German as well. I really grateful for all of you !! Have a great day y’all

Victoria Martinez
Victoria Martinez
3 months ago

As usual sooo engaging and stimulating! You are very gifted Emanuel.

Ebaa
Ebaa
3 months ago

Thank you so much Emanuel, reading you articles is really interesting and fun for me. I’ve really got a better orientation language-wise, each time I read your blog.
And the prefix series is always helpful

Mirac
Mirac
3 months ago

sincere thanks to you for providing those that can’t afford access to this blog, and I think that your blog is actually great! also, thanks to everyone who donated to this blog, your donations really do help people, one example is me

Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
4 months ago

Thema: Opposites repel oder CEEDE lang

Dieser kleine Absatz ist aber ein grosses Lob für Deinen sehr hilfsreichen Aufsatz über den richtigen Einsatz und reinsetzens von Einsatz und hereinsetzen!!
Ist das Resultat von einem Einsatz am Streitplatz oft nicht ein böser Gegensatz??
So sind die Leute heute!!
Leider

16.4.22

Jalal
Jalal
4 months ago

Hey, Emanuel. I am Jalal. I just wanted to thank you and your team for giving me the scholarship to use your website. I love your content and you’re the funniest, most articulate teacher that I’ve ever had. Lots of love from Iran.

schwanzschwanz
schwanzschwanz
4 months ago

Yay! The prefix verbs series is actually my favorite. You’re so thorough with explaining these words that seem like they can mean anything when I look them up in a dictionary or translator, and the r-version part is always SUPER helpful. After reading so many of them, knowing when to use the r-version is even becoming a little more intuitive for me, which I never thought would happen. Thank you!!

Malkah Geller
Malkah Geller
4 months ago

Emanuel, du hast mich echt zum Lachen gebracht. Zum Glück hab’ ich keinen Hund, der etwas machen würde wo ich mich reinsetzen könnte. Hey, guter Gebrauch vom Konjunktiv, eh? Ich sollte deine Artikel öfter in meinen Klassen einsetzen! Vielen Dank.

Elsa
Elsa
4 months ago

Hello!

Prefix verbs – woooohoooo… love this series and, at the same time, wish such verbs didn’t exist, they’re my Achilles heel ;)

Typos:
“main uses of einsetzen is” (main uses of einsetzen are)
“participate in the decision how their taxes” (participate in the decision about how their taxes)

That’s it!

Thanks for clearing up Einsatz, that’s a word I’ve always had trouble with!

(I realised I didn’t log in and now my comment is anonymous and waiting for approval, so I’ve logged in and here it is again!)

Frohe Ostern und bis bald!

Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
4 months ago
Reply to  Elsa

Achillesabsatz

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
4 months ago

Would you say the idea/vibe of control can also be there for “einlegen” and “einstellen/reinstellen”? If I had to guess, I would say yes. Like if you’re putting a DVD in the player (einlegen), you’re probably not just smushing it in there haphazardly. Hopefully not. But I don’t know if I’m on the right path with that logic.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
4 months ago

what I can say is that setzen has an emphasis on a certain level of control while doing the placing.

I think “set” is pretty similar in that way. An example where the “putting” isn’t so important: “I brought in the mail. It’s mostly junk.” (pointing at a dusty corner with a huge stack of unopened mail) “Oh, just put it over there.”

But if someone makes a cake and brings it to my party. “Hey, I have the cake. Where should I put it?” (pointing at a safe spot) “Just set it over here.” (“Place” would sound too formal or technical.)

Maybe that last one isn’t the best example because “put” is in the question but not the answer. I don’t know why. But “set” definitely implies control, carefulness, deliberateness, not random. I think that shows in the phrasal versions too. Set about, set aside, set off, set out, set up.

pmccann
pmccann
4 months ago

Two quick ones: (1) I think “bet” is probably the best word to use here (ie, The poker player doubles the bet), but that sentence doesn’t really work (you’re more likely to hear “raises” and “re-raises” by a particular amount. Yeah, yeah, I know: whatever!”). “Bet” has an air of there’s a bunch of outcomes possible, and you’re gambling on which one actually occurs. So you “bet” on horse races, or the outcome of football games, etc. “stakes” is a lovely word that can also be used, but I think in poker that usually refers to the total amount of money you “buy in” for. That is, the total amount each player has available for betting at the start of the game. In essence, you’re increasing what’s *at stake*.

(2) “Silverware” is a fun word: back in the Cretaceous period, when I was a teenager, you might have heard that used as a term for everyday knives and forks, but now it suggests (in Australia and the US also, I would bet/wager/…, but maybe it still holds currency in the UK?) that these items really *are* made of silver, or silver-plated, and would be normally kept in their own velvet-lined presentation box, only to be brought out for the very best guests! Certainly they’d go nowhere near ein Besteckeinsatz ;-) The much more prosaic word “cutlery” seems to have won the battle here.

In any case, thanks for providing some nice easy hooks onto “einsetzen” and friends. It’s one that definitely makes a lot more *intuitive* sense after reading this article.

Last edited 4 months ago by pmccann
pmccann
pmccann
4 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

On deeper examination I’m not so sure that my contribution about “silverware/cutlery” is helpful at all, except perhaps for your next visit to Australia! Indeed, I would probably have lost the bet I made above. See, for example, schwanzschwanz’s contribution below! Seems those in the USA tend to use “silverware”, or “flatware” or “eating utensils” for *das Alltagsbesteck* (by which I mean the ordinary knives, forks and spoons that you’d set the table with), and often use “cutlery” to describe cutting knives and other such kitchen tools (sigh…). The coolest term for eating utensils that I tripped across while trying to get my head around this mess was “eating irons”, from the southern USA. I’ll have to adopt that one, it’s got a lovely salt-of-the-earthiness about it!

As for poker… I don’t think there are any prescribed terms for such a thing: the amount you raise (or re-raise) by is pretty much free-form, so there aren’t any specific “marked values”. Everything is usually measured relative to the pot size (“he’s raising 50% of the pot” –ie, half as much as the current total amount that everyone has contributed to the hand so far), rather than the amount that bet by the previous player.

schwanzschwanz
schwanzschwanz
4 months ago
Reply to  pmccann

I still say silverware, but if I were trying to sound less dated, I would go with “utensils” over “cutlery.” Nobody ’round these parts says cutlery.

Richard
Richard
4 months ago
Reply to  schwanzschwanz

For me (English English speaker) “cutlery” is the normal word for knives. forks, spoons … “utensils” implies more specialised items (serving spoons, spatulas, tongs, etc). “Silverware” is never everyday cutlery, and in any case can include (for example) silver trophies (sports cups, etc).

Starbuck
Starbuck
3 months ago
Reply to  Richard

Yes same. I’m also from England and would agree with Richard.

Also worth noting: it’s supposed to be pronounced like “cut-le-ree” with the “le” sounding like French for “the”. But a lot of native speakers mispronounce it as “cuttull-ree” like cuttlefish (my mum being one of those people!)

Douglas Reith
Douglas Reith
4 months ago

Ausgezeichnet! Aber ein bisschen kompliziert