Word of the Day – “lenken”

lenken-ablenken-meaningHello everyone,

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



Lenken is one of those words that many learners somehow miss out on even though it is something we do every day. No wonder, because can lenken can be done to all kinds of things… bikes, cars, companies, rivers, attentions, lives and more. Quite a selection, right? The thing that all these have in common is that they move. And lenken is about giving the movement direction.
Today we’ll find out how exactly to use lenken, what related words there are and of course what’s up with the prefix versions one of which is really really really important in context of THIS.
Haha… the second one… so cute. Anyway, where was I. Uh yeah… so are you ready to dive in and find out about lenken? Great :).

Lenken comes from the old Germanic noun lanca which once was the word for hip. No, not Chai-Almond-Latte-with-Choco-Chia-Drizzle-hip. The other hip. The one where that chai latte settles down as fat. Lanca comes from one of the many Indo-European roots for bending,  and the original idea was simply  part where the body bends. In German this evolved into the very useful word Gelenk which is the word for all joints.

  • Mein Handgelenk tut weh.
  • My wrist hurts.

Lanka is also the origin of the word link,  and this word actually kind of combines all the idea of the family. A link in a chain is bent, a chain itself bends, and the links are kind of like the joints (Gelenke) of the chain. But that’s not all. Today there’s another kind of link. The internet link. And what do those do? They direct us somewhere. Just like  lenken :). Because that’s what lenken is all about… giving direction to a movement.
And now with the history out of the way, let’s look at lenken in action.
And we’ll start with some examples from traffic where it means to guide or to steer.

And here are a couple of important nouns:

But as we’ve mentioned it’s not limited to traffic so let’s look at some other examples, too.

The translation of the last one (common idiom, at least in German) is a bit odd.  I guess the translator took some liberty because he or she wanted a rhyme but … in a normal contexts lenken is definitely NOT be a good translation for to dispose.
Anyways… now let’s get to the prefix versi… oh hold on, there’s a call here. Henne from Norway, welcome to the show. What can I do for you
“Hey Emanuel, so great to be on the show.  I have a question…. well two actually”
Sure, go right ahead.
“Cool, so I’m confused about  steuern. I’ve heard that used in context
of cars and I was wondering if there’s any difference to lenken.”

That’s a great question… steuern is actually the direct brother of to steer and the whole “helm” of a car for example is usually called das Steuer but as a verb itself it is not used that much for cars and not at all for bikes. It kind of sounds bigger, heavier, clunkier than lenken, and I wouldn’t use it in any of the examples we had.
“Oh okay… so it’s more the vibe than the meaning.”
Yeah… lenken sounds smooth… oh and also, lenken is a pretty continuous act and closely connected to direction. Steuern is also used for controls that only give one instruction per hour. Like… imagine a computer that turns on your coffee machine at a certain time… you can call that steuern but not lenken. Does that help?
“Yeah I think I got it. Great, thanks so much.”
Oh thank you for calling, this was a great question. Maybe I’ll actually do a WotD on steuern.
“Oh you mean because it also mean t…”
Hello, hello Henne are you there? Hmmm weird, I guess the connection failed.
Anyway, now let’s get to the prefix versions. And there’s one which is really really really useful: ablenken.
Ablenken is about directing something off the track or trajectory. In real world contexts it translates to deflect.

But the really important use is about “de-routing” an abstract thing… our attention. Ablenken is THE word for to distract.

There’s are also two common related words… die Ablenkung and abgelenkt.

Theoretically there is also ablenkend which would be the equivalent to distracting but nobody uses it. You could use störend or nervig or you could just  make a normal sentence.

  • That sound is distracting.
  • Das Geräusch stört/nervt/lenkt ab.

All right.
Besides ablenken there are a few others. Umlenken is just a general term for changing abstract directions, einlenken is about changing the direction in a discussion and coming around to the course of the other party. Umlenken is mostly used for changing of abstract courses and  auslenken is mainly used in physics in context of moving something out of the normal position.
Here are some examples…

but neither of those is really common so I’d say… passive pile.
The one you need is  this one.
… …. hahaha… at 0:45 the move… so funny…. hahah.. oh my God that is so cu… oh… oh sorry, I forgot we’re still on. But I think we’re done for today anyway :).This was our German Word of the Day lenken. It is related to link and it’s a continuous rather hands on way of giving direction. It’s THE word for steering cars and bikes but it also works for abstract stuff.
As always, 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 **

lenken – to steer, to direct (continuous process)
die Lenkung – the steering
das Lenkrad – the (steering wheel)
der Lenker – the handlebar (also used for managers)

ablenken – to deflect, to distract, to divert
die Ablenkung – the distraction (both good and bad), result of a diversion
das Ablenkungsmanöver – the diversion 
abgelenkt – distracted

einlenken – come around, give in, relent
umlenken – change direction (all kinds of abstract stuff, not really for cars and bikes)

auslenken – to displace, to deflect (physics)
die Auslenkung – displacement, elongation (for a coil for example)

das Gelenk – the joint
das Handgelenk – the wrist
das Sprunggelenk – the ankle
gelenkig – limber
ungelenk – ungainly, bearish

for members :)

Leave a Reply

newest oldest
Notify of

Great post as usual, I learn german a lot from you, vielen danke. Another cat lover here. Ich war ein bisschen mit den Katzenvideos abgelenkt.. Gruß :D


Minor: “I steer therefor I am.” -> “I steer thereforE I am.”


Thomas wants to channels his creative energy in a useful way. he wants to CHANNEL stuff into stuff :-)

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

“Der Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt.
Man proposes, God disposes.”

We also have this proverb:

“Chelovek predpolagayet, a Bog raspolagayet”.

Also, as I was reading, I thought of “lanky”, and sure enough it stems from the same root.


I imagine the sayings in various languages are derived from Proverbs 16:9, which in Hebrew sort of rhymes, I guess: Lev ‘adam yechashev darkho; vaAdonai yakhin tsa`ado. (“A person’s heart plans his way; but the Lord establishes his steps.”)


Probably, but that doesn’t explain why they all rhyme :d


The verse from Proverbs may well be where his inspiration came from, but Thomas à Kempis (von Kempen) is credited with “Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit”, which was likely the beginning of all the short, rhyming “proverbs” in various languages.
Спасибо, Grateful Reader, for the Russian one.


how do i contact you?


i have a proposal to make.


Can lenken be used as a synonym for “to guide”, in the context of physically moving a person in the direction you want them to go. For example, if you were in a crowded shopping centre and you put your hand on your partner’s shoulder and steer/guide them in the direction you need them to go rather than yelling over the crowd? Or is a different verb used for this?

Also, I’ve been having a problem with the site over the last few days. Posts on the main page have been disappearing/rearranging themselves. I missed “Listen to German – 1” when it was posted as it appeared under the post for “Fähig” and now the post for “Fähig” is under the post for “rücken” (after vanishing for a little while earlier today). “Ausnahme” has also disappeared, reappeared, and rearranged itself. I’m not sure if you are doing something with the archives or if it’s a wordpress thing, and maybe you’re aware that it’s happening – but I thought I’d mention it just in case.


Hi, so you can use *lenken* or *Umlenken* to point out that you change your mind? in case of abstract examples


Just when I thought you had taught me everything there was to know and BOOF, out comes an ace from your sleeve. Lenken seems to have fallen under my radar over the years. must have been ein bisschen abgelenkt when it popped its head out from beneath the woodwork. I had genuinely never heard of it until you posted just there. I knew about lenkrad and gelenken but hadn’t made THE connection. That’s what you do here better than anything, you make the connection for us that makes all the words seamlessly fit together under one umbrella. What is the German word for the theoretical abstract connecting of things? Like I figure/suss out something, means I make a connection. I know die Verbindung but I think that’s more an electrically orientated word, more for actual physical things that are connected together, like a computer to the internet through a cable, but i’m sure that’s not the correct word for the abstract idea. Also one more question. Is there a name for constructions, when you use only the prefix verb together with a negation or participle to form a three or four letter sentence that only contains the verb first, its negation/participle/direction and then then the separable prefix at the end e.g lenkt nicht ab (danke), komm mal rein, schau mal hier an, schiess mal los (I love that one), dreh sich um or nicht schlapp machen? Ok that last one probably doesn’t fit the same but I added it because I like the sound of it, its fits at least in rhythm. Whatever they are called, I especially love learning/hearing them, they sound very German to me, real native stuff.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader


What I’d really like to know is how the “impersonal imperative” is called. Like: Nicht Peter ablenken!


Hi, I loved the article as usual, but I had an entirely unrelated question. Why does ‘die Brille’ mean ‘toilet seat’ in addition to ‘glasses’? Do you have any idea how one word has come to have two totally different meanings?


Auf Französisch, “les lunettes” bedeutet “glasses/spectacles”. Und “la lunette” bedeutet, unter anderem, “toilet seat”. Koinzidenz?

carolina schwab
carolina schwab

Hallo! I am very interested in having skype 1-to-1 lessons with you. Can you give private lessons? If you can, could we talk further through email? Thank you!!!

Nathan Robinson

One note about “to dispose”. In some contexts dispose could mean “direct” or “command” such as when saying “I will use all the means at my disposal to accomplish the task.”
The Latin root “disponere” meant “to arrange” and the French “poser” meant “to place”.
So it could be closer to lenken than you think.
It’s more recent that it came to mean “place in the trash”.
Thanks for the awesome descriptions of German words!