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. Geltenis 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 yieldand 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 goesfor/”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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