Word of the Day – “lösen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time with a look at a word that’s really helpful when you have problems:
alcohol.
Nah, I’m kidding of course. I’m talking about something that actually solves problems – the German word
Get ready for a look at

lösen

 

Lösen is the German word for to solve and not only are there some really useful related words and prefix versions for us to learn – it also has a really interesting family tree.
So let’s jump right in :)

The origin of the family is the mind-blowingly ancient Indo-European root *leu, which expressed a core idea of cutting off , setting free. And at least a core sense of separation or detachment is still visible in many of the offsprings today, like loose and the German translation lose…

  • Der Griff am Kühlschrank ist lose/locker.
  • The doorhandle of the fridge is loose.
    (locker, which doesn’t belong to the family,  is the more common translation)

… or the very common German los, which we’ve talked about in a separate article (link below)…

  • Thomas lässt sein Bierglas nicht los.
  • Thomas doesn’t let go of his glass of beer.
    (we’ve talked about “los” in a separate article, I’ll add the link below)

… or the just as important to lose and its German translation verlieren, which is also a member of the family.

  • “Warum hat Thomas einen Bikini an?”
    “Er hat eine Wette mit Maria verloren.”
  • “Why is Thomas wearing a bikini?”
    “He lost a bet with Maria.”
  • “Ich bin ein Einhorn. Die mächtigste Kreatur des Waldes.”
    “Für mich bist du ein Verlierer.
  • “I’m a unicorn. The mightiest creature of the forests.”
    “To me… you’re a loser.
  • Manche Menschen sehen die Pflicht eine Maske zu tragen als einen Verlust ihrer Grundrechte.
  • Some people view the obligation to wear a mask as a loss of their basic constitutional rights.

And also the verb lösen is used with that sense of detachment from time to time

  • “Warum fahrt der Wagen nicht los?”
    “Du musst die Handbremse lösen.”
  • “Why is the car not starting to go?”
    “You have to release the handbrake.”
  • Die Praktikanten müssen sich von der Vorstellung lösen, Geld zu bekommen.
  • The interns have to part with/let go of/free themselves of the expectation of receiving money.

But by far the main translation is definitely to solve, and that’s also what all the related words revolve around.

  • Wir müssen das Einhorn-Problem im Stadtpark lösen. Der ganze Bezirk stinkt nach Urin.
  • We have to solve the unicorn problem in the city park. The entire district smells of urine.
  • Zwei Jahre später: Das Einhornproblem im Stadtpark ist immer noch ungelöst.
  • Two years later: The unicorn problem at the city park is still unsolved.
  • Nicht jedes Rätsel hat eine Lösung.
  • Not every riddle has a solution/answer.
  • Fett ist nicht wasserlöslich.
  • Fat isn’t soluble in water.

Now, does to solve tie in with the core idea of the family, the notion of setting free. I think it does. Take an Aspirin for instance, one that you dissolve in water. It’s kind of constricted to its form and the water “frees” it, detaches it from itself.
And problems or obstacles of any sort… well… in a sense, problems are kind of like…  blocked energy, and solving them means to free the energy so it can flow.
My spirit animal phrased it much better on Instagram in my dream recently…

And yes, my spirit animal is a shoebill. And yes, we do communicate in my dream through Insta stories. He’s a modern spirit animal, you know.
Anyway, I know that the connection between the ideas of solving and setting free is not be super obvious, but I hope you can kind of see it. And it’s not like German came up with that twist. Because guess what… to solve also belongs to the family. It comes from the Latin branch and originally it was just a combination of a self reference “se” and the old Indo-European *leu-root. You can actually see it better for the noun solution… se – lu – tion.
And just to give you another mental anchor… also good old Ancient Greek had a strand from that family. And that’s where the word analysis comes from for example… analysis – solution – lösen… all the same family.

But enough with the history and old connections.
Let’s get back to practical German and take a look at the prefix versions of lösen.

The prefix versions of “lösen”

Auflösen is a bit more “complete” sounding than just lösen and it’s the number one translation for to dissolve,  in a sense of the thing kind of disappearing.
Note, that auflösen ALWAYS needs an object. So if we want to use it in a sense of a thing dissolving by itself, in German we MUST add a self-reference.

  • Der Einhorn-Herrscher löst die Versammlung der Waldtiere auf.
  • The new unicorn overlord dissolves the assembly of forest animals.
  • Lösen Sie die Tablette in warmem Wasser auf.
  • Dissolve the pill in warm water.
  • Die Tablette löst sich im Wasser auf.
  • The pill dissolves (itself) in water.
  • Gestern war mein Kasten Bier genau hier… und jetzt hat er sich in Luft aufgelöst.
  • Yesterday, my case of beer was right here… and now it disappeared into thin air.

Besides that, auflösen is also used in the context of riddles and quizzes. But unlike lösen, auflösen is ONLY about giving away a solution, not actually finding it.

  • Soll ich das Rätsel auflösen?
  • Should I give away the solution of the riddle?
  • Die (Auf)lösung findest du am Ende des Buches.
  • You can find the solution at the end of the book.

All right.
The next verb, ablösen, can be used in a rather literal sense of loosening something off of something. Like a sticker from a jar for instance

  • Den Aufkleber kann man einfach mit einem Föhn ablösen.
  • The sticker can be peeled off with a hair dryer.

But in daily life, you’ll usually hear abmachen or abkriegen for this stuff.
Still, ablösen is good to know because it’s the word for taking over some sort of shift from someone. And sich ablösen is a common translation for the idea of taking turns or alternating.

  • “30 Kilo Kartoffeln schälen? So habe ich mir das Praktikum bei Yourdailygerman nicht vorgestellt.”
    “Mimimimi… du musst nicht alles machen. Ein anderer Praktikant löst dich nachher ab.”
  • “Peeling 10 kilogramms of potatoes. That’s not how I imagined an internship at Yourdailygerman.”
    “Mimimi…. you don’t have to do all of it. Another intern will take over for you later.”
  • “Wann hast du denn Feierabend?”
    “Eigentlich jetzt, aber meine Ablösung ist noch nicht da.”
  • “When does your shift end?”
    “Normally now, but my relief isn’t here yet.”
  • Das Wetter is verrückt. Sonne und Regen lösen sich im Stundentakt ab.
  • The weather is crazy. Sun and rain take turns/alternate every hours.

This is actually super in line with the core idea of the whole family, because you do kind of  “set free” the person whose shift you’re taking.
And also the next verb, auslösen is super logical once you think about it. The best translation is to trigger something, and that does pretty much mean “setting it free”

  • Die Bewegung löst die Kamera aus.
  • The motion triggers the camera.
  • Marias Kommentar über Thomas’ Gewicht war nicht der eigentliche Grund für den Streit… nur der Auslöser.
  • Maria’s comment about Thomas’ weight wasn’t the actual reason for the argument… just the trigger.

Just to make sure though, since we’re living in the Age of the Outrage: auslösen absolutely doesn’t work in that context.

  • OMG, that tweet triggered me so hard.
  • Oh mein Gott, der Tweet hat mich so hart getriggert.

Yeah… I know #creative.
Anyway, not really important but worthy of an honorable mention is the verb einlösen, which is about redeeming a coupon or fulfilling a promise.

  • Maria hat ihr Versprechen eingelöst.
  • Maria has fulfilled her promise.

And last but not least we have the only non-separable prefix verb erlösen.
And this is a perfect example for how the er-version of a verb often covers the epic portion of an idea. The baseline meaning of erlösen is pretty much the core idea of the whole family: to set free.
But it’s seen from an epic, existential angle and so the translations are to deliver or to relieve.

  • Noch zwei Beispiele, dann seid ihr erlöst.
  • Two more examples, and then you’re relieved/free.
  • Die Elfen haben uns von der Herrschaft der Einhörner erlöst.
  • The elves delivered us from the reign of the unicorns.
  • Thomas fühlte eine große Erlösung, als seine Verstopfung endlich vorbei war.
  • Thomas felt a big relief when his congestion was finally over.

You can check out my absolutely epic article on er-  if you want more about that.
And in fact, you can do that right away, because we’re done for today :).
This was our little look at the meaning of lösen and its family.
As usual, if you want to recap the most important points and see how much you remember, you can try to lösen the little quiz I have prepared.
And of course if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

 

** vocab **

lose = loose, not fixed

lösen = to solve; to release (hand brake); to part with, detach oneself (sich lösen von)

die Lösung = the solution (also in a chemical sense)
ungelöst = unsolved
unlösbar = unsolvable
löslich = soluble (chemistry)

auflösen = to dissolve (needs self reference if something dissolves by itself); to solve (give away the solution to a riddle)
die Auflösung = the solution (for a riddle or quiz question)
aufgelöst = distraught  (figurative)
sich in Luft auflösen = disappear into thin air (idiom)

auslösen = to trigger, to set of (NOT for fire arms and personal “triggerings”)
der Auslöser = the trigger; the shutter release (photography)

einlösen = redeem (coupons); fulfill (promises)

ablösen = to take over (shifts, tasks “Jemanden+Acc ablösen”); loosen off of a surface (rare); to alternate, to take turns (sich ablösen)

erlösen = to deliver (in the old sense of freeing); to relief (rather epic, for mundane contexts “erleichtern” is better)
die Erlösung = the relief, the deliverance
der Erlöser = the savior

verlieren = to lose 
der Verlierer = the loser
verloren = lost

 

 

further reading:

Word of the Day – “los”

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Penny
Penny
5 months ago

Hallo Emanuel –

Sind auflösen und verschwinden Synonyme? In deinem Beispiel:

Gestern war mein Kasten Bier genau hier… und jetzt hat er sich in Luft aufgelöst

könnten Sie auflösen durch verschwinden ersetzen.

Gestern war mein Kasten Bier genau hier… und jetzt hat er sich in Luft verschwunden.

Danke

Ultra
Ultra
10 months ago

says who that struggled 3 years learning about it

Kristina Hunter
Kristina Hunter
11 months ago

Hey!! Thanks for this, best German site. MY yoga teacher always says lösen to release the arms from a Pose, dies that work
too?

Nietzsche
Nietzsche
1 year ago

ich bin eine abbonieren von dich seit ungefahr drei monaten und ich habe viel spaß lesing deine Artikels. danke schön Emmanuel

Barratt
Barratt
1 year ago

Es sind in Deutschland überall Parkscheinautomaten, worauf steht, “hier Parkschein lösen”. Ich habe mich immer gefragt, wieso “lösen” im Sinne von “dafür bezahlen” benutzt wird. Wie stellt sich ein Deutscher das vor? Geht es darum, dass seine Schulden in die Luft verschwinden? Oder darum, dass das “Problem” zwischen ihm und der Stadtverwaltung gelöst wird. Oder eher darum, dass der Schein sich im physischen Sinn vom Automat löst? #confused

BillLever
BillLever
1 year ago

Herman Melville’s 1851 American novel “Moby Dick, or The Whale”, is a narrative about Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest for revenge against the whale that bit off his leg at the knee on an earlier voyage. In addition to the basic plot, the novel richly explores other areas of human nature and thought.

In chapter 89 “fastness” is compared to “looseness” (Fastness is now an archaic term in English surviving in sayings like “Hold fast!” (hold with unbreakable strength) or a more nautical “Make fast!” (to bind something so it will not come apart in a storm.)

Melville discusses whaling law and the concept of the “fast fish” versus the “loose fish”. The discussion broadens from whaling to human relationships, including humorously a divorce case in court. Melville concludes: “And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish too?”

I found the following at http://www.litcharts.com:

Summary

[The narrator,] Ishmael explores whale fishing and its relation to the law. In particular, Ishmael describes the doctrine of the “fast fish” versus the “loose fish.” …..

Analysis

Ishmael turns to another lens of human intellect to define and discuss whales: the law.

Ishmael believes that the legal distinction he describes to be of chief importance in life as well as in the law.

Man’s strivings, to Ishmael consist always of attempting to grasp things that elude man.

These “things” might include money, prestige, or power—they might also include the white whale itself, which eludes constantly Ahab’s grasp.

Man’s attempt to “make fast” that which is “loose” is a feature of the human condition, as is man’s failure ever to finally, totally “secure” that which it desires.

Here, then, Ishmael views the laws of fast and loose fish to be a reflection of this philosophical distinction between security and chaos.

In addition, Ishmael takes these laws of whaling—which might seem ridiculous or inconsequential to non-whalers—and shows how they are identical to very real circumstances.

Kalidasa
Kalidasa
1 year ago

Emanuel, since you’re interested in etymologies, here’s one for you: I recently came across the word die Ernüchterung/ernüchtert (adj) sober, disillusioned. Wiki relates it to English nocturne/nocturnal, related to night. I wasn’t sure I understood how “night” and “sober” are related, since one usually drinks at night and sobers up in the morning! But then I thought of nocturnes, prayers sung at daybreak, which is a sobering up time. Any thoughts?

Kalidasa
Kalidasa
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Danke!

billiam
billiam
1 year ago

I have a question and an observation about the following sentence:

“Manche Menschen sehen die Pflicht eine Maske zu tragen als einen Verlust ihrer Grundrechte.”

  1. Why are there two accusatives (die Pflicht and eine Maske) in the sentence?
  2. Correction: It should be “ein Verlust”.
billiam
billiam
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

My correction was based on what I thought I heard in your recording.:)
Also thanks for the “accusatives” clarification!

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
1 year ago
Reply to  billiam

Can you maybe hear a difference between the last N in “Menschen” (or “sehen”) and “einen” in that example? To me, “Menschen” has a “normal” N, relatively short and soft. “Einen” is also an N, just a tad longer and it sounds like there’s a little more pressure behind it. Or more emphasis on it.

Here’s another example where you can hear “einen” and “ein” pretty much right next to each other. Taken from the last comment in this thread. It’s not a huge difference. Being able to hear them side by side helped me a lot.

(Small technical note: when I click on the link button and paste the link, I can’t see the URL. It does show up in light green after I add the link. Dark mode on desktop.)

Rachelbor
Rachelbor
1 year ago

Heeey guys,
Fresh member here, with the help from some of you who gave a little extra as a scholarship. Thank you!!!
Happy to be here :)

Perkins
Perkins
1 year ago
  • Die Elfen haben uns von der Herrschaft der Einhörner erlöst.
  • The elves delivered us from the reign of the unicorn.

I was just wondering if it shouldn’t say “the reign of the unicorns”. I could be wrong, but it seems like “der Einhorner” is plural?

John Fischer
John Fischer
1 year ago

Excellent posting! As usual, I seem to know even less German than I thought I did. Which is a good reason to study.

MohammadHossein
MohammadHossein
1 year ago

Hello

I’m granted one year sponsorship.
Thanks to people who are helping the German learning community and to Emanuel.

Viel Glück euch allen
MohammadHossein

crittermonster
crittermonster
1 year ago

When I first learned the word “Lösung” I found it very interesting to think about the implicatons in English. Particularly how, when a substance disSOLVES in a SOLVEnt, the result is “a SOLUTION”. Cool to see the article!

Jake
Jake
1 year ago

I didn’t know about “sich ablösen” and taking turns. What’s the difference between that and “sich abwechseln”?

The main time I remember reading “Erlösung” was indeed epic and related to a person finding it in death (obviously from a Krimi).

Esil
Esil
1 year ago

Thank you so much for this! I am a very fresh member so I’m excited :)

Lew Hann
Lew Hann
1 year ago

I see a couple of other possible problems with the English translation:
“…meine Ablösung is noch nicht da./…my replacement isn’t here yet.”
The word replacement has the sense of (permanently)
removing one thing or person and putting a new one in place. This is not normally used in temporary situations like a work shift change. The word relief would be more appropriate here: “My relief isn’t here yet.”
The other error is a simple change: “But it’s seen from an epic, existential angle and so the translations are to deliver or to relief.”
Relief is a noun; the verb should be to relieve.

Starbuck
Starbuck
1 year ago
Reply to  Lew Hann

I disagree re: “replacement”. I think it can mean temporary or permanent depending on the context.

(I don’t know where you’re from. I’m English, so maybe there are regional differences if you’re from somewhere else?)

Zuckerbaby
Zuckerbaby
1 year ago

“sour loser”? perhaps. The usual English is “sore loser.”

Zuckerbaby
Zuckerbaby
1 year ago
Reply to  Zuckerbaby

Normalerweise würde ich “bitte schön” schreiben, aber neulich hat Duolingo das nicht recht. Ich hätte “gern geschehen” schreiben sollten … stimmt?

Jamie
Jamie
1 year ago

This brings me way back to the second German word I ever learned, when “Major Tom (vollig losgelöst)” made it all the way to the American pop charts.

DEmberton
DEmberton
1 year ago

Toll. Diesmal nur 90%.

Es gibt nicht nur auslösen, sondern auch auslosen (und die Auslosung) – z.B. eine Lotterie. Nur ein Zufall, oder gibt es einen Grund, warum der Umlaut weg ist?

Elsa
Elsa
1 year ago

Hello,
Let’s solve some typo problems:
“I’m talking about something that actually problems” (actually solves)
“Für mich bist du bist ein Verlierer” (one “bist” too many)
“Why is the car not starting to drive?” (ok, so this is not a typo, but in English it sounds like the car itself is supposed to do the driving… “why doesn’t the car go?” is one of the many acceptable alternatives)
“solubale” (soluble)
“problem are kind of like… blocked energy, and solving it means to free it so it can flow” (problems are kind of like… blocked energy, and solving them means to free them so they can flow – or you can go with the singular version, but you used plural before and afterwards, which is why I chose plural)
“He’s modern spirit animal” (He’s a modern spirit animal)
“Ein anderer Parktikant” (Ein anderer Praktikant)
lösen and it’s family” (its family)

Ich hoffe, ich habe das Typoproblem gelöst :)
Ich hoffe auch, dass mein Kommentar dir gefallen hat und bis nächstes Mal!

Elsa
Elsa
1 year ago
Reply to  Elsa

Oh, and can you give an example for aufgelöst = distraught?

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
1 year ago
Reply to  Elsa

Just another little fix – in the example about masks and constitutional rights, you have “while shopping” in the English, but it’s not in the German sentence. Not a big deal, but it could be a little confusing.

Also, at the end, you mention a post on “er-” as something you’re going to do, but you, uh, did that – didn’t you? Like, recently. :)

Elsa
Elsa
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

90% :)
And you forgot the example on aufgelöst = distraught ;)

Jake
Jake
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

As in “shook up”? Similar to durcheinander?

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

“Shaken up” is good, maybe “she was a wreck”…

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Interesting. “Wreck” is associated with a lack of movement, at least in my mind. “Hectic activity” makes me think of atoms getting heated up and vibrating or bouncing around.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I don’t think I’d go with “shaken up” for that, then – to me, that sounds more like being in shock, although a little less severe. Somebody who’s shaken up wouldn’t really usually be active. “Distraught” is a bit too general, to my ear, and I think closer to verzweifelt.

Dict.cc suggests “hysterical,” which is probably closer. Maybe “frantic,” too.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

By the way, at least for AE, “nervous breakdown” is your go-to gloss for Nervenzusammenbruch. :) (Although I’ve seen “nervous collapse” here and there too, I think.)