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.

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.”

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:

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. 

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.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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Aoin D

That was an excellent post Emanuel. Thank you. Couple of responses to your queries:
“The picture really shines in that spot” is perfectly good English but if you are aiming for the slightly overused idiom, this would be “That spot really shows the picture in its best light” or “That spot really brings out the best in the picture”.
If you ever get a sponsorship deal from Adidas, then the next time you play at Wimbledon, the Open or wherever your sporting talents would be best deployed, HM Revenue and Customs would look to slap you with a bit of withholding tax (Abgeltungssteuer) on a proportion of that income. Andre Agassi (and others) had a big fight with them about it.


‘Really craves attention’ or ‘is desperate for attention’ might be good translations for ‘ist extrem geltungssüchtig’. I feel like there’s a more idiomatic word that’s on the tip of my tongue though.


‘Attention whore’ is the modern phrase you’re looking for, I think.

Aoin D

“geltungssüchtig” implies more than a mere craving for attention I think, (and of course we do have the everyday phrase “attention seeking” for that.) I don’t think we have a neat word or stock phrase for it. Such people as would be described “geltungssüchtig” in German would in English have to be described long hand in ways like “constantly seeking approval”.


Would “prima donna” or “diva” be reasonable translations?


Rudyard Kipling


It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbour and to say: —
“We invaded you last night–we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: —
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: —

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!”

Jennifer Fefel Jahromi

Constantly seeking attention = needs constant validation?


Geltungssüchtig … ” really needy”

Schneida Charles
Schneida Charles

Im happy, thanks for post. I never comment but I enjoy your emails bye- Florida USA


Was ist denn der Unterschied zwischen “Das gilt übrigens auch dich!” und “Das gilt übrigens auch _für_ dich!”?


Thank you so much for the blog.
Real top-notch clarifications.
Und das gilt for your previous posts as well.

Judith Walters
Judith Walters

Geltung = “advantage” “external validation”
Yes, “The picture really shines in that spot.” is idiomatic for “Das Bild kommt an der Stelle super zur Geltung. But how about, “That spot shows off the picture to its best advantage.”
Also for the word “Geltung” in the sentence ” Marias Schwester ist extrem geltungssüchtig” — may I suggest: “Maria’s sister is extremely needy of external validation.” “External validation” is a term from psychology (not my field) but (in my understanding) it means that someone needs/wants something/someone outside of themselves to validate that they have worth; are good, smart, do well, look good, etc. These people always want to be praised and thought well of. I have found that German words with “Sucht” or “süchtig” in them, have technical/medical English translations, but in German their meanings are quite self-obvious. “German is Easy” ;-)


“Vergelten” can also mean “to reward”. In former times they said “Vergelt’s Gott” instead of “danke” (at least in the southern parts of the German-speaking sector).


Danegeld— blood money


I meant to congratulate u for your 300
…i think people need this light approach to communication…i,wish you keep your path of enlightenement you have chosen..a lot of tour followers seem to grab or share some of your energy..prosst


Also ist es ‘Entgeld’ oder ‘Entgelt’? Ich glaube, es gibt ein Fehler entweder in dem Beispielsatz oder in der Wortliste.


Verwendet auch als Partikel, gelt? (Vielleicht nur in Süddeutschland.)


Wie kann ich Dir, Emanuel, für Deinen Blog vergelten! Danke sehr, dass Du uns ohne Entgelt lehrst.
Eine Frage an Dich, kann man so sagen: Das Bild kommt in diesem Rahmen zur Geltung.
Im Beispiel “Nach dem Anschlag warnt der Politiker warnt …” gibt es zwei mal ‘warnt.


I can’t seem to find proper translations for the two “gelten”s in the following examples, could you perhaps have a look?

“Die Kaiserfamilie hatte eine ganz besondere Vorliebe. Diese galt, wie Sie gleich sehen werden, exotischen Pflanzen.”

“Schon 2006 galt bei der 18. Fußball-Weltmeisterschaft in Deutschland das Motto „Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden“ und versetzte die ganze Nation in ein wahres Fußball-Fieber.”



Great article.
Could you please also explain and give a few examples on gelten lassen and how it is used.
thank you.


gelten is a very important word in mathematics; for example der Satz des Pythagoras:

Sind a, b und c die Seitenlängen eines rechtwinkligen Dreiecks, wobei a und b die Längen der Katheten und c die Länge der Hypotenuse ist, so gilt a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}.

“a^2+b^2=c^2 is valid”. It is a nice use of this word, especially because English doesn’t use it at all in this context.


RWE galt mit seinen Kohlekraftwerken bislang als größter Klimasünder Europas.

galt…als (has had a reputation, was considered)

Google translation: With it’s coal-fired power plants, RWE has been the largest climate polluter in Europe.

My question: Having a reputation or being considered something is not a statement of fact, but rather of opinion. Assuming the Google translation above is correct, what about the sentence in German leads us to believe this is a fact, and to translate it as one, and not an opinion?