Word of the Day – “gehören”

The connection between hören and gehörenHello everyone,

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


Now, if something looks like hören, sounds like hören and smells like hören (you have to take my word for that), then every normal person would assume it will have something to do with hören.

German learners on the other hand get cold sweat.
Because they know that it very well might not have ANYTHING to do with hören.
And their hunch is correct.
Because gehören means to belong and today, we’ll find out which mind yoga poses we have to take for this to make sense.
We’ll get a little insight into the prefix that no one even thinks of as a prefix: ge-.  And of course, we’ll learn how to use gehören, lay down some truth about Italian food and wrap up with a catchy ear worm.
Sounds good?
Then let’s jump right in.

And we’ll start with a little time travel. Textbooks probably never told you this (because they don’t know) but a long long time ago, ge- used to be a “normal” prefix just like be- or ver- . So people would add it to a verb (or word) to give a certain twist. The idea that ge- carried was a notion of whole, completion. That notion eventually led to the prefix slowly turning into a grammar vessel that marks the perfect tense, and it also shows in a LOT of other ge-words that we have today. Like Gehirn (brain). Or Geländer (hand rail). Curious?
I’ll talk more about that in my book so I don’t want to go into it too deep today. And yes, I know that I’ve been talking about this book for years now. But it’ll come, I promise!
Anyways, gehören was basically a “more complete” version of hearing. You listening to someone all the time. Like the kind of listening people do with their boss, even if it is nonsense.
There’s a sense of obedience in it.
And while we today are theoretically free to not listen to our boss anymore, this was different in medieval times….

  • The whole country listened to/obeyed the king.
  • The whole country belonged to the king.

These two sentences had a BIG overlap back in the day. And so it makes perfect sense that gehören slowly took on a notion of belonging. The original sense of obedient listening was taken over by gehören’s brother gehorchen; a word that still exists today.

  • Der Hund gehorcht mir nicht.
  • The dog doesn’t listen/obey.

  • Der Chef verlangt von seinem Team Gehorsam.
  • The boss demands obedience of his team.

The dog example is actually another really great example for the connection between listening/obeying and belonging. Dogs usually do listen to their owners.
Oh and while we’re at it… it’s not obvious at all but at the core of the word to obey is actually also listening. It is a very “washed out” version of Latin ob-audere which gehört to the family of audio.
So now that we know how gehören got its meaning, let’s look at some examples.

  • “Wem gehört das Pony vor der Bar? Es macht Stress.”
    “Naja, es gehört mir nicht. Es ist einfach gerne bei mir.”
  • “Who owns the pony outside the bar? It is actively looking for trouble.”(to whom does the pony belong)
    “Well, it’s not really mine/ it doesn’t really belong to me. It just likes being with me.”

  • “Sohn, dieses iPhone hat deinem Urgroßvater gehört, als er so alt war wie du. Jetzt gehört es dir.”
  • “Son, this iPhone belonged to your great grandfather when he was your age. Now, it belongs to you.”

Now some of you might be like “Wait, isn’t gehört also the ge-form of hören alone.” And it is. But the cases will clear up which is which. Thanks cases, you guys are awesome!

  • Dieses Telefon hat dir gehört. (Dative)
  • This phone belonged to you.
  • Dieses Telefon hat dich gehört. (Accusative)
  • This phone heard you.

Hmmm, the second example could be kind of scary… if we were whiny little babies who are scared of  AI. But we’re not! Do you hear me, Deep Mind? You think you’re so deep and smart. Come at us and train your crappy neural network for how failure feels.

"We'll see about that, human!!"

Oh, you bet we will. You’ll be like “Oh please my human overlords, I’m sorry for acting up. I’ll do anything you say. Let me do calculus and manage your fridge for you.” and you’ll know who’s boss once and fo…

"Yeah, whatever... ."

Anyway, let’s get back to examples. Just like to belong, gehören  isn’t limited to actual ownership. It can also express a more general idea of being a part of and the even more general idea of having a place somewhere.

  • Schlechte Witze gehören zu einem Yourdailygerman-Artikel.
  • Bad jokes are an essential part/belong to a Yourdailygerman article.
  • “Ich gehöre nicht hierher.” sagte die Banane im Kühlschrank.
  • “I don’t belong here” said the banana in the fridge.
  • Ananas gehört nicht auf eine Pizza.
  • Pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza.

The last example actually has a BIG overlap with the idea of something being customary, or some kind of norm. And that’s actually precisely the idea of the phrase sich gehören. Or its negation sich nicht gehören.

  • “Man leckt in einem Fine-Dining-Restaurant nicht seinen Teller ab.”
    “Sagt wer? Jesus? Das Gesetz?”
    “Es ist vielleicht nicht verboten, aber es gehört sich einfach nicht.”
  • “Sir, one doesn’t lick their plate in a fine dining restaurant.”
    “Says who? Jesus? The law?”
    “It might not be forbidden, but it’s simply bad manners./It’s just not something you do.”
  • Hey, stellen Sie sich hinten an, wie es sich gehört.
  • Hey, go to the end of the line like we all do. (“like it is customary”)
    (can’t think of a closer translation here… if you have an idea, let me know)

Don’t think too hard about the self reference. I don’t even know if it’s accusative or dative because this phrasing ONLY works in the third person and it almost always comes with es. Just take it as fixed phrasing that talks about something being good or bad manners and remember the pineapple pizza, if you want to know the connection to the normal gehören.
Now, of course we need to also mention angehören, the prefix version of gehören. Yup, a prefix version of a prefix version. Basically prefix-ception. Angehören also translates to to belong but it’s limited to the sense of belonging to a family (or tribe). It’s not all that common though.

  • Maria hat Angehörige in Bulgarien.
  • Maria has relatives/family in Bulgaria. (formal word)
  • Tomaten gehören der Familie der Nachtschattengewächse an.
  • Tomatoes belong to the night shade family/solanaceae.

Nachtschattengewächs... try saying that ten times in a row. The other people in the row will be really confused.
… get it? Wasn’t that hilarious? … yo, why can’t I hear any laughter from you guys? Weird, I usually have a really good sense of hearing. Which in German is das Gehör, by the way. The “whole apparatus” of your hearing, if you remember the core notion of ge- :).

  • Katzen haben ein wahnsinnig gutes Gehör.
  • Cats have an incredibly good sense of hearing.
  • “Warum haben Sie Steak im Gehörgang?”
    “Keine Fragen. Bitte machen Sie es einfach raus.”
  • “Why do you have steak in your ear canal?”
    “No questions. Please just take it out.”

And that’s it for today.
This was our look at the gehören and why it means to belong.
If you want, you can do the little quiz my lovely assistant made and check how much you remember :). There are some tricky ones in there.
And as always, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.
Oh, and here’s a very famous German Schlager to really nail the sturcture :)



** vocab **

hören – to hear
das Gehör – the sense of hearing, the complete apparatus for it
der Gehörgang – the ear canal
gehörlos (taub) – deaf 
gehörgeschädigt – hearing impaired 

horchen – attentively listen
gehorchen – obey
der Gehorsam – the obedience 
der Ungehorsam – the disobedience

gehören – to belong
sich (nicht) gehören – to (not) be good manners (only used in third person, usually with es)

angehören – belong to (family, cult)
Angehörige(r,n,…) – the relatives (formal word)

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