Word of the Day – “fügen”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: May 26, 2024

Hello everyone,

And welcome to our German Word of the Day, bottom of the barrel edition.

Hooray!
And the word will look at today is

fügen

Many of you are now like “Yeah, I don’t think I can pronounce that.”
And the good news that, that you  probably won’t have to, because chances of you using fügen in daily life are about as high as the chances of the German language getting a girlfriend
“What do you mean? I have game!!! I don’t häve a görlfriend right now because I chose not to. I need space to wörk on myself.”
Oh, you mean like reducing endings or cases?
“No, I do cold showers, I journal, I do breathwork, clean eating, listening to Andrew Huberma…”
Okay, wow, fascinating. Never heard that before. Maybe you can tell us more about this some other time.
Oh boy… I feel like this intro is one step from falling apart completely. Why does this keep happeni… oh, it’s the coffee, that’s why.
So yeah, today, we’ll talk fügen.
It is true, what I said –  that you won’t need it much as a verb itself. But it’s the base for a whole bunch of words that you’ll definitely see, so if you’re ready then let’s jump in and explore.

The origin of fügen is the brazenly ancient Indo-European root *pak-. The core idea of it was something along the lines of fastening, fixing and this is still pretty visible in words like pact, fang or the German fangen (to catch). But there are some surprise siblings as well. Like peace and pacify for instance, which probably came from the idea of a pact, plus the added “stability” that peace brings.
Another nice one is page, which originally was about sheets of papyrus fixed together.
And to give you one last one: also to pay belongs to this family. And the connection is surprisingly simple.
I’ll give you a couple of seconds to take a guess.
Ready?
Paying someone is basically pacifying someone. Keeping the peace.

So yeah, that’s the family that fügen is from, but what does it actually mean?

When you look in a dictionary, you get options like placing, mating or joining together, but I think the best way to capture the core of fügen is a visual – one that you can find in many of these “Satisfying to watch”-clips.

 

Like… in a weird way, the verb even “sounds” the part. Imagine this image as a video clip and the parts slowly fit together perfectly, along with someone saying:  “füüüüügen“. Kind of soothing, really.
But yeah, this image is pretty much the essence of fügen. And I think you can see the connection to the family. Just that the verb doesn’t have the focus so much on the fastening, but rather on the “fitting”. Fitting things together that are meant to fit. Or something like that. I really have trouble putting it into words. So I’d say we stick with that visual. That’ll go a long way.

In fact, let’s try it out with some related nouns.
Like die Fuge for instance. A Fuge is generally a small and “planned” space between fitting parts, particularly in construction. And one of the most common contexts for it is as a word for the small space between tiles: the tile joints, or grout.

  • Wie kriege ich meine Fugen wieder weiß?
  • How can I get my bathroom tile joints white again?
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Can you see the connection to the core theme? I mean, yes, the tiles are not “interlinked”, but each has its defined space where it sits, so they’re kind of fitted into an imaginary grid.
Another example is das Gefüge. This one is a bit more on the abstract side. Literally, it’s the result of a bunch of “fitting together” and its real use is structure or fabric, in a figurative sense.

  • Kneipen sind wichtig für das soziale Gefüge einer Stadt.
  • Pubs are important for the social fabric/framework of a town.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Forscher belegen eine der umstrittensten Theorien der Physik: Immer, wenn ein Einhorn rülpst, entsteht ein kleiner Riss im Raum-Zeit-Gefüge.
  • Scientists prove one of the most controversial theories in physics: Whenever a unicorn burps, a tear forms in the fabric of space and time.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And if you’re now like “What is this nonsense!!! “, then you’re right at our third noun: der Unfug.
Which is a rather soft word for exactly that – nonsense.

  • “Wer ist dieser Mann, was redet dieser Mann für Unfug?”
    “Das ist der neue Manager.”
    “Ach sooo.”
  • “Who is this man, what is that nonsense that he’s saying?”
    “That is the new manager.”
    “Ohhhh, I see.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

For me personally, it sounds too “high register” and I prefer Quatsch, but you’ll definitely see der Unfug somewhere sooner or later.
And now, how does the meaning of Unfug tie in with the core theme?
Well, the core is the simple sense of “not fitting in”. Originally, it was a bit stronger and used for criminal behavior and other stuff that “doesn’t fit” into the framework of society, but gradually, it softened and shifted toward nonsense.

All right!
So these were a few nouns and I hope you could see what we can do with that visual as a basis.
Here it is again:

 

So, what about the verb fügen to describe this image?
Well, kind of. The thing is that we usually need some sense of directionality with fügen, so here’s we’d use something like zusammenfügen or ineinanderfügen.

  • Ich füge die beiden Teile zusammen.
  • I’m mating/putting together the parts.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Like I said, fügen itself is not very common, and you’re most likely to see a reflexive use in a figurative sense of “adjusting oneself to some rule”.

  • Erst hat er diskutiert, dann geschrien, dann geweint. Aber am Ende hat sich Thomas seinem Schicksal gefügt und den Abwasch gemacht.
  • First, he argued, then screamed, then cried. But in the end, Thomas accepted/resigned to his fate and did the dishes.
    (Think of it as “fitting oneself” into some predetermined shape. )
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Some of you are now feeling like:
“OMG, is that a Dative for what you’re accepting? I need to know. I need more examples. More examples and a breakdown of the grammar, asap.”
But you can tell your inner perfectionist right away to let it go. Just breathe, and let it go. We do not need this. It’s okay. We’ll direct our precious energy to words that are actually useful.
Like the prefix versions.

Prefix Versions of “fügen”

Seriously, sich fügen by itself is quite rare and you certainly do not need to use it actively. The prefix versions are way more interesting and useful than the verb itself. And they’re also fairly abstract.

The most “normal” one is probably einfügen, which is actually the German version of to paste in the sense of copy paste.

  • Hier klicken um den Text aus der Zwischenablage einzufügen.
  • Click here to paste the text from the clipboard.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

But there’s also sich einfügen (with sich being Accusative) which is about “fitting oneself in” into a hierarchy or team.

  • Der neue Schlittenhund hat sich schnell ins soziale Gefüge des Rudels eingefügt.
  • The new sled dog quickly integrated/found its place in the social fabric/structure of the pack.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Next up, we have hinzufügen, which is a somewhat formal word for adding, attaching. You “fit and fix” something to stuff that’s already there.
And like einfügen, this one is an important word in the context of phones and computers.

  • Klicken Sie hier, um den Song Ihren Favoriten hinzuzufügen.
  • Click here to add the song to your favorites.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

It sounds quite stiff in German though. Software will probably use the word for the user interface, but when people talk, they’re more likely to use “added”. With a thick German accent of course.

  • Ich ädde den Song zu meinen Fäiwritz. And zen I get tu de choppa.

Besides software, you may also find hinzufügen as to add in the context of adding something in conversations…

  • “Ein Büro ohne Kaffee ist wie eine Toilette ohne Klopapier.”
    “Gut gesagt. Dem ist nichts hinzuzufügen.”
  • “An office without coffee is like a toilet without toilet paper.”
    “Well said. There’s nothing to add to that.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

and also for cooking recipes, and in some other instances, like adding documents or something. That’s also what anfügen and beifügen are about, but they all do live pretty much in the center of Stiffington, so… you won’t really need to use them actively.
Cool.

Now, since hinzufügen exists, some of you were probably wondering if zufügen is also a thing.
And yes, it is.
But this is where we cross over into the magical land of Abstractonia because zufügen pretty much only means to deal, to do – in the context of harm, injuries or damage.

  • Die Einhornherde hat dem Wald große Schäden zugefügt.
  • The sounder of unicorn did tremendous damage to the forest.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Rauchen fügt ihrer Gesundheit Schaden zu.
  • Smoking does damage to your health.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

It’s a bit of a weird word really, if you think back to the essence of fügen – this slow, deliberate fitting together parts. So maybe think of zufügen as “attaching” harm.  Still weird, but at least we have a connection to the core idea.

And zufügen is nowhere near as obscure as the next one – verfügen.
Because verfügen means… to have, to offer.

  • Die Küche verfügt über einen Balkon, auf dem man sein Essen genießen kann.
  • The kitchen has a balcony on which you can enjoy your meal.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

This is a fairly common phrasing in sales descriptions of things. But to be honest, it is a bit forced. Like… when it’s used this way, it’s usually because the writer wants the description to sound fancy and “high quality” and thinks the best way to accomplish this is by avoiding the most obvious choice of words.
Well… it is NOT. It’s like putting gold dust on a Currywurst instead of actual curry. No one asked for it, no one likes it, it doesn’t really fit.

So let’s look at a more fitting example.

  • Die Bergrettung verfügt über zwei Helikopter und 10 Schneemobile.
  • The mountain rescue team has two helicopters and 10 snow mobiles at their disposal.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And here, we also get a better idea of the meaning. Because verfügen über (+Acc) is really about having at your disposal. And the origin of the meaning is the notion of putting something in the right place.  Like… there’s a task and you have the “fitting piece” for that.
This verb is actually fairly common, not only in these shitty ad texts. And it has a bunch of related words that also revolved around the same meaning.

  • “Ein bisschen gute Laune bitte, okay?”
    “Gute Laune ist aktuell nicht verfügbar.”
  • “A bit of good mood, okay?”
    “Good mood is currently out of stock/not available.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Die Barleute müssen bis Sonntag ihre Verfügbarkeiten für die nächste Woche eintragen, damit der Manager den Dienstplan machen kann.
  • The bar staff has to enter their availability for the following week, so the manager can make the roster.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Im Zug steht Ihnen unser kostenfreies WLAN zur Verfügung.
  • On the train, our free WIFI is at your disposal/available for you.
    (“zur Verfügung stehen” is a REALLY common phrasing)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Now, speaking of  die Verfügung, there’s actually a second meaning to that and even though you probably won’t need it, it’s still worth mentioning because it’s so detached from the first one. A Verfügung, and particularly the einstweilige Verfügung is the legal term for temporary injunction or temporary restraining order.
And this is based on the other meaning of verfügen, which is to decree, to mandate.

  • Der neue Bürgermeister hat verfügt, dass der Schafstall auf dem Dach des Rathauses einem Koi-Teich weichen muss.
  • The new mayor has decreed that the sheepfold on the roof of the town hall has to give way to a… uhm… koi pond, I guess.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Oh boy, why am I even translating this Unfug. It’s definitely time to start wrapping this up. I’m losing focus.

Just one last word real quick: befugt.
It comes from the verb befugen, which means to authorize but it’s SUPER RARE! Like… I wasn’t even sure if it’s a thing anymore, but apparently it is in legal talk.
Anyway, so befugt is basically a formal way of saying authorized.

  • Unbefugten ist das Betreten verboten.
  • Unauthorized individuals are not permitted to enter.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

You do NOT need to use this one actively, but you will see it in some form sooner or later. And if we think of it in terms of “not fitting a role”, just with a legal spin, then it even ties in with the core theme that we had.

Oh and one very last thing, for those among you who are into classical music. There’s a type of piece called die Fuge, or fugue in English.
And this one does NOT belong to this family. Instead, this Fuge belongs to the family of fugitive and the name is apperantly inspired by one voice kind of fleeing from the other. I actually like thinking of it in terms of fitting together, though. You craft the voices so they’re complex and yet fitting together.

But anyway, I think that’s it for today.
This was our look at the family of fügen, and even though I left some loose ends, it ended up longer than expected :).
None of the words we learned is a game changer or anything, and if you’re still a beginner, this was probably not the most useful article ever. But I hope you got a good impression of the family and how the core theme informs the different meanings.

As always, if you want to check how much you remember, you can take the little quiz I have prepared.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

 

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