Word of the Day – “gelten”

Hello everyone,

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



Gelten is related to one the most important things of our time: climate change. Nah, kidding. That doesn’t even exist. Gelten is related to Geld.
Money. And that doesn’t exist either because… but let’s start at the beginning.

Both gelten and Geld are related to English yield and guilt. They all come from the super ancient Indo-European root  *gheldh- which was about “paying” for some sort of debt. At first, this was mostly used in context of making a sacrifice to your god but over time it broadened to more worldly  paying and debt. Guilt kept the sense of “epic” debt while German Geld went on to become THE word for money. And while yield pretty much focused on the idea of giving,  gelten slowly moved away from that and first became “be a proper payment for something” or simply “to be worth” and then took on the meaning it has today: to be valid.

  • Der Fahrschein gilt für 2 Stunden.
  • The ticket is valid for 2 hours.
  • Das Ticket gilt nur in Verbindung mit einem Identitätsnachweis (Personalausweis, Führerschein mit Bild, Reisepass)
  • The ticket is only valid in combination with a proof of identity. (personal ID, driver’s license, passport)

These were some pretty obvious examples but the word is used in a wide range of contexts.

  • “Und dann habe ich meinem Chef gesagt, dass er mal Deo benutzen sollte.”
    “Haha… da hat er bestimmt ganz schön blöd geguckt.”
    Das gilt übrigens auch für dich!”
  • “And then I told my boss that he should use a deodorant.”
    “Haha.. I bet he looked pretty dumb.”
    “Same goes for/”pertains to” you, by the way.”
    Lit.: “That is also valid for you, btw.”
  • Bei Marias Oma zuhause gelten andere Sitten und Regeln als in ihrer WG.
  • At Maria’s grandma’s, other rules and customs are in place/”effect” than in her shared flat.
  • Das Problem sind nicht die geltenden Gesetze, sondern deren Umsetzung.
  • The problem is not the current/applicable laws in place, but their enforcement.
  • Das Tor gilt nicht.
  • The goal isn’t counted.

The range of translations is quite broad but I hope you can see the core idea of being “valid”.
That might not be the case for the following use:

  • Die neue Chefin gilt als knallharte Verhandlerin.
  • The new boss has a reputation of being a trump tough negotiator.
  • Das Restaurant gilt als eines der besten der Stadt.
  • The restaurant is considered one of the best of in town.

Gelten als is about having a reputation. And that brings us back to money being not real. You see, validity, worth is often a question of consensus. Like, if enough people believe that the piece of printed paper is worth a dollar, then it’s worth a dollar. It “has a reputation” of being worth a dollar. And if enough people agree that fresh boogers are worth something… boooom…. we have ourselves a new currency.  We could call it “bit of snot coin”. Everybody could produce their own unconditional basic income and your winter sniffles would totally cover your next summer vacation. And the best thing is, there would be no financial bubbles because the boogers need to be fresh and humanity can only produce so many at a time. That’d be AWESOME. Well… and a bit gross.
Anyway, let’s get to the related words.  And the most important one is definitely the adjective gültig, which means valid. 

  • Gültig bis 1.4.2022.
  • Valid through April  1th 2022.
  • Die von Ihnen eingegebene E-Mail-Adresse ist ungültig.
  • The email address you entered is not valid.

There are also a few combinations with gültig like allgemeingültig (universally valid), mustergültig (perfect, like a role model) or endgültig, which means something like ultimate(ly) or finally.

  • Maria hat schon öfter gesagt, dass das mit Thomas “endgütig vorbei” ist.
  • Maria has said several time already that the thing with Thomas is “over once and for all”.
  • Das endgültige Endergebnis der Wahl wird morgen Vormittag erwartet.
  • The final official result of the elections is expected for tomorrow before noon.

Oh and then there’s the awesome gleichgültig. Originally, it was about the idea that two things are equally valid or have an equal worth but soon people started using to express indifference. Kind of like this:

  • Es ist mir gleichgültig.
  • It’s the same to me.

But for some reason gleichgültig took on a really negative tone. Saying that something is gleichgültig basically means that you don’t give a crap. So it’s more negative sounding than egal, which can also sound nice.

  • Es ist mir total gleichgültig, dass dich das stört.
  • I really don’t care, if that bothers you.
  • Manchmal ist Maria von Thomas’ Gleichgültigkeit genervt.
  • Sometimes, Maria is annoyed by Thomas’ indifference/I don’t care attitude.

There are a few other related words but they’re not all that useful. The noun die Geltung for instance really only exists in fixed phrasings and compounds.

  • Das Bild kommt an der Stelle super zur Geltung.
  • The picture really shines in that spot
    Lit.: The picture comes to full worth at that spot. 
  • Marias Schwester ist extrem geltungssüchtig.
  • Maria’s sister is has an extreme craving for recognition/needs a lot of praise and attention.
    (not sure, if there is a better way to translate that)

And the prefix versions are few and of little use. The only real one is vergelten. There, the old idea of paying back some sort of debt is still alive. But not in a good way – vergelten means to retaliate, to retribute.

  • Nach dem Anschlag warnt der Politiker vor einer Spirale  der Vergeltung.
  • After the (terrorist) attack the politician warns against a spiral of retribution.

The noun is the most important one here though, you’ll rarely see the verb anywhere. And the verb entgelten, which once was about paying debt in a more financial sense, has fallen out of use completely and only the related words are still around.

  • Für die Teilnehmer der Studie gibt es ein kleines Entgelt.
  • There’s a small compensation/payment for the participants of the study.
  • Maria hilft zweimal im Monat unentgeltlich bei der Tafel.
  • Maria does voluntary work for the “Tafel” twice a month. (Lit. without monetary compensation)
    (the “Tafel” is an organisation that collects food that would be thrown away and hands it out to people in need)

Finally, there’s abgelten and it won the “Most useless word ever”-Award twice. If you’re a tax lawyer, then you might need it for such beauties as Abgeltungssteuer. I don’t even know what that is though and frankly… es ist mir gleichgültig :).

And I think that’s it. This was our little look at the meaning of gelten. If you have any questions or suggestions 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 **

gelten (galt, hat gegolten) – to be valid
gelten als – to have a reputation of

die Geltungssucht – the craving for recognition/attention
die Geltungsdauer – the duration for which something is valid

vergelten – retaliate
die Vergeltung – retribution

das Entgelt – the (small) monetary compensation
unentgeltlich – without pay, voluntarily 

gültig – valid
ungültig – invalid

endgültig – ultimate(ly), final(ly)
gleichgültig – indifferent, not important (negative tone)


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