The meanings of “fordern” and “fördern”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: July 26, 2023

Hello everyone,

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



And of course not only fordern but the whole family – nouns, prefix versions, nouns of prefix versions and its supportive, freckled brother.
So, let’s jump right in and take our German one step… ahem…  further

Further, fordern… hmmm.  I’m sure some of you got at least suspicious. And yes, the two are indeed related, just like other words with the idea of forward/ahead like before, forth and the German vor.
This idea of forward is also at the core of fordern, but while the English to further for instance, makes stuff move forward by… well… making it move forward, the German fordern does it CEO-style. It makes “stuff move forward” by telling people to do it :). Fordern demands.

  • Mein Boss fordert Pünktlichkeit.
  • My boss demands punctuality.

Normally, people are not aware of this connection but it’s actually interesting how close the ideas bringing forth and demanding really are. It’s just a different angle.
Anyway, so yeah… fordern means to demand in the sense of someone demanding something be done. It’s quite strong and it sounds official and formal, which is also what separates it from verlangen, which can also mean to demand.

  • Ich fordere (verlange) eine Erklärung von dir.
  • I demand an explanation from you.
    (fordern sounds more formal, verlangen is more idiomatic in daily life)
  • Die Telekom fordert 100 Euro von mir.
  • The Telekom demands I pay 100 Euros.

You can find fordern in a couple of more abstract contexts as well.

  • Die Flut hat 3 Todesopfer gefordert.
  • The flood left 3 people dead.
  • Lit.:  The flood demanded 3 dead victims.
  • Die Arbeit fordert meine volle Konzentration.
  • The work “demands”/takes  all my concentration.

But the more literal use is the more common one, especially with the derived words.

  • Von den vom Volk geforderten Reformen ist bisher wenig zu sehen.
  • Little has been seen of the reforms that were called for/demanded by the people.
  • Maria guckt Thomas fordernd an.
  • Maria looks at Thomas expectantly.
  • Die Entführer stellen immer neue Forderungen.
  • The kidnappers keep coming up with new demands.

We should note that Forderung is really only demand in sense of someone requesting something. Demand in contexts like “demand for oil” or something could be Bedarf or Nachfrage, depending on context.

Now, of course if you want to be taken seriously as a German verb you need to make sure that you have prefix versions, and fordern has its fair share.

The Prefix Versions of “fordern”

First up, there’s anfordern. It’s only ever used in contexts of requesting documents, so it’s not really all that useful, but the noun definitely deserves a mention.

  • Soziale Kompetenz gehört ohne Zweifel zu den zentralen Anforderungen an Manager.
  • Social skills are without a doubt part of the core requirements of a manager.

Next, we have auffordern and this one is REALLY common.
It’s basically the everyday brother of fordern. So it sounds less formal and it is way more immediate and direct. It’s easier to explain with the nouns, actually. A Forderung is basically like “We expect you to do this”, an Aufforderung is the direct command “Do this!”. So maybe we could think of it as directly and badly ask/tell to do”. You’ll definitely come across auffordern sooner or later.

  • Thomas fordert Maria auf, die Fernbedienung herauszugeben.
  • Thomas tells/calls on Maria to surrender the remote.
  • Der Kellner hat Thomas aufgefordert zu gehen.
  • The waiter asked Thomas to leave.

Hmm… I wonder why.
Anyway, the next two, they’re kind of a couple, are also quite common: unterfordern and überfordern (prefix is inseparable).
And I think figuring out their meaning without any hints is a doable challenge. In fact, let’s give it a try :)

  • Joshua fühlt sich von seinem Praktikum unterfordert.

  • Marias Schwester ist mit den 2 Jobs und den 5 Kindern überfordert.

I’m sure you at least got the gist of it.

  • Joshua feels unchallenged (lit.: “under-demanded”) by his internship.
  • Maria’s sister is over-challenged/stretched too thin with 2 jobs, the 3 kids and the unicorn family.
    (what’s the best choice for “überfordert” here. I feel like mine don’t really fit… danke :)

And speaking of challenge, that brings us right to the next one. Herausfordern means to challenge and it’s actually really easy to make the connection. Just think of a knight knocking on the door of another knight’s castle being like:

Mount up, Sire. Come out and fight. There’s only room for one of us in this lady”.

Uh… I mean land.
But yeah “demanding that someone come out” is the literal meaning of herausfordern and that really isn’t too far from challenge.

  • Thomas hat Marias Barflirt zu einem Duell herausgefordert. (oh, that’s why ;)
  • Thomas challenged Maria’s bar flirt to a duel.
  • Das Projekt ist eine veritable Herausforderung.
  • The project is a veritable challenge.

Uuuuhm… veritable?!… what happened to good old echt and real? Who wrote the examples for today… the new intern! Joshua, why’d you write this? No one talks like that… … … …. what… …. …. to challenge the readers? Well, learning German is challenging enough, thank you very much! Leave your Latin at home next time, okay?
Gee, these millennial interns. Hey Josh, the rest of the examples were fine today, keep it up. Oh, and could you get me an almond Matcha Latté in here? Thank you!

All right, back to prefix versions of fordern. There’s one more we need to talk about: erfordern, and of course this can only mean one thing:  to he-mand. Get it? Get it?  He- er?  Not funny? Uhm… who wrote this joke? Joshu… okay, okay, I’ll stop.
Seriously, er is one of the haziest prefixes out there and we’ll talk about it in detail at some point. One thing about it is that it has some sort of epic-ness. Like… “er”-verbs tend to not bother with factual, mundane stuff. They’re a bit abstract and aloof and that’s basically what makes erfordern different from fordern. It’s less direct and the best translation is to require.

  • Die App erfordert Zugriff auf meine Fotos.
  • The app requires access to my photos.

We could use fordern here, too, but that would sound way more direct. Like the app is putting the prompt “Allow me access to your photos” on our screen while with erfordern it’s a general statement about the app.
The most common context for erfordern is talking about “demands/requirements by reality” and you’ll usually see it in combination with words like patience, time, courage, empathy and so on.

  • Deutsch zu lernen erfordert viel Geduld.
  • Learning German requires/demands/takes a lot of patience.
  • Das Referendum hat die erforderliche Mehrheit nicht erreicht.
  • The referendum didn’t reach the needed/necessary/required majority.

All right.
So that’s fordern… it’s all about demands.
Let’s now take a look at its freckled brother… fördern.

The meaning of “fördern”

Let’s start with a quick look at pronunciation. Here’s fordern back to back with fördern.



If you#re having trouble hearing the difference – that’s normal. Your ears are not really tuned into it. But German ears are and it’s a HUGE difference.

And the meaning is very different, too, because unlike fordern, fördern is actually about bringing something forward actively.

Just like to further; the two even sound very similar.
But translations, they are not.
Fördern actually uses its core idea pretty broadly, and the actual translation depends on context.

  • Die Firma fördert junge Künstler.
  • The company supports/pushes young artists.
    (note that fördern is ALWAYS active. So it’s not to support in sense of just “liking” something. Fördern means you actually  DO something)
  • In Deutschland wird viel Kohle gefördert.
  • In Germany a lot of coal is mined.
  • Magnesium fördert die Durchblutung.
  • Magnesium is good for/encourages/promotes blood flow.

The last one is definitely a free interpretation of the idea of bringing forth but I think it’s still visible. By the way, guess what the literal translation of promote is – “to move forward”. Mote is related to motion and move and pro, believe it or not, is a Latin brother or vor and for.
Now, the noun for promote is promotion. In context with advertisement the German word is Werbung. But the word for a promotion at work is Beförderung.

  • Thomas wartet immer noch auf seine Beförderung.
  • Thomas is still waiting for his promotion.
  • Maria wurde letzte Woche befördert.
  • Maria got a promotion last week.

The be- does very little other than make fördern a bit more intense and focused. If I fördern Maria, then I’m just giving her help here and there. Little pushes. If I befördern her, I take her and move her up to a new position.
And that’s actually not limited to the job context. Unlike promote, befördern can be used for actual worldly moving of someone or something as well. It sounds a bit too stilted and technical for day-to-day conversation though, so you’ll mostly see it in writing.

  • Das Unternehmen SpaceX soll 2017 für die NASA Astronauten ins All befördern.
  • The company SpaceX is supposed to bring/transport astronauts into space for NASA.
  • Die BVG befördert im Jahr über eine Milliarde Fahrgäste. (Berlin Transport Company)
  • The BVG transports over a billion passengers per year.
  • Während ich auf den Bus warte, lese ich die Beförderungsbedingungen.
  • While waiting for the bus, I am reading the… uh… the…actually, I’m just gonna listen to music.

And that’s it for today. This was our look at the meaning of fordern and fördern. They both are at their core about moving or bringing something forward in some way, but fordern does it by telling other people to do it, while fördern actually actively supports and pushes.
As always, if you have any questions about the usage or the grammar, or if you want to try out some examples, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab **

fordern – demand (that something be done)
die Forderung – the demand (in sense of the verb)
der Bedarf, die Nachfrage – the demand (sense of need)

herausfordern zu – challenge
auffordern – directly ask
einfordern – demand that something you have been promised be given
anfordern – order, solicit, request (usually used for documents and such)
die Anforderung – the requirement (much more common than the verb)

erfordern – require
erforderlich – needed, required

fördern – support, push, nurture, mine
die Förderung – the support, the funding, the mining, production (for oil, gas)
befördern – move someone/something (formal), also: promote (job)
die Beförderung  – the promotion (job, transport, NOT ads)
die Beförderungsbedingungen – terms of service of public transport
das Förderband – conveyer belt

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