The meaning of “bieten” (and “anbieten”)

Written By: Emanuel Updated: May 21, 2024


Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time, with a look at the meaning of



And that verb really has a lot to … ahem offer. Because not only does it literally mean to offer, you also get a whole bundle of really cool fascinating related words and prefix versions. And I can promise you that much: even if you are absolutely crushing it at German and you think you’ve seen it all, there will be a couple of surprises for you there.
And to top it all of, you’ll also learn about the origin of the family, which features a very very very very enlightened member.
So are you ready to jump in?
Great then let’s go.

bieten – Its Origin and Meaning


Some of you might have had a hunch already – bieten is the German brother of to bid. And the connection to the actual meaning isn’t that hard to see. Like… if you make a bid at an auction, you do basically offer a sum of money.
But that hasn’t always been the core idea and it’s not helpful with many of the related words.

The origin is the filthily ancient Indo-European root *bheudh-. It expressed a broad idea of awareness and it has offsprings in many of the Indo-European languages. In the Slavic languages for instance, it shifted toward the core idea of waking up, as we can see for example in the Bulgarian verb будя (“budja” – to wake someone up).
And we can also find it used for the “other” waking up. If you’re into meditation, you might have heard of the so called Bodhi Tree. That’s a huge sacred fig tree (also known as peepul tree or  bo tree) under which a certain someone had an awaking experience. The Bodhi tree literally means tree of wisdom and the person under it was of course… Jesus.
Nah, I’m kidding.
But it’s a guy almost equally as famous. His original name was Siddhārtha, but he is much wider known as … Buddhathe wise one, the awakened.
So those of you who speak a Slavic language… next time you curse at your alarm in the morning, remember that it is literally related to Buddha.

So… these were two nice little relations, but what matters most for us is of course the Germanic branch of the family.
There, the core idea of awareness was used with a focus on making aware. And a perfect example for that is the English verb to bode and its prefix version foreboding.

“Maria’s angry face doesn’t bode well for Thomas’ romantic ambitions.”

These are about making aware of information, and it’s pretty much the same for the German noun der Bote, which originally was a person delivering a message.

  • Die Dunklen Woken sind ein Vorbote des Sturms.
  • The dark clouds are an harbinger of the storm.
    Lit.: “foreboder”
  • Lieber Paketbote, ich bin zu Hause! Bitte klingeln!
  • Dear package delivery man, I am at home! Please ring!

And there’s also the noun die Botschaft, which means message (in the more epic sense, for an email or chat the word is Nachricht) and which is also the German word for embassy.  I mean… an embassy does kind of deliver a country’s message, right?

  • Die Aliens verstecken in unseren Träumen geheime Botschaften.
  • The aliens are hiding secret messages in our dreams.
  • Nachdem der Botschafter mehrfach bedroht wurde, schließen die Eichhörnchen ihre Botschaft auf der Einhornweide.
  • After the ambassador was threatened multiple times, the squirrels are closing down the embassy on the unicorn meadow.

For a long time, the verb bieten itself was used in quite a wide range of contexts that revolve around making aware. We’ll see more of that in the prefix versions. But then it eventually focused on the idea of offering. Might seem like a bit of a stretch at fisrst but it makes total sense if we think about it. Because in essence, offering is also about presenting, making aware. You’re like “Look, here’s what I have.“. It’s just that there’s an added notion of “You can take it.”
Time for examples:

  • Ich habe Maria 20 Euro für die Kamera geboten, aber das war ihr zu wenig.
  • I offered Maria 20 Euro for the camera, but that wasn’t enough for her.
  • Die Insel Rügen hat Urlaubern viel zu bieten.
  • The island Rügen has a lot to offer to vacationers.
  • So eine Gelegenheit bietet sich nicht oft.
  • Such an opportunity doesn’t present itself often.
  • So eine Behandlung lasse ich mir nicht bieten. (common phrasing)
  • I won’t accept this kind of treatment.
    Lit.: “I won’t let this kind of treatment be offered to me.”

And at this point I am really really happy to tell you that German was generous enough to cut a really special “two for one”-deal exclusively for you German learners. Are you ready for it?!
So here it is: when you translate to offer, you don’t only get bieten, you also get anbieten.
And the best part is that they’re not even really interchangeable #nuance.
Isn’t that absolutely amazing?!
Well, it’s kinda sorta a mandatory deal so… we have to take it, whether we like it or not :)

The Meaning of “anbieten”

The difference is not that hard to grasp though. Anbieten is the more direct, momentary, singular type of offer from person to person.  Bieten has got more of a long term vibe to it and it can be “done” by things or locations or jobs or whatever. I mean… a person can also bieten something, like but hotel can’t really “anbieten” comfort for example, just bieten.
The distinction is not super sharp, of course, but basically, anbieten is the word we need for the offers we make in daily life.

  • Dealer-Problem im Zauberwald: immer öfter bieten Einhörner Wanderern Drogen an.
  • Dealer problem in the magical forest: more and more often unicorns offer drugs to hikers.
  • Mein Professor hat mir das “du” angeboten.
  • My professor offered the “informal you” to me.
  • “Thomas hat angeboten, mir beim Netflix gucken zu helfen.”
    “Oh, das ist so selbstlos von ihm.”
  • “Thomas offered to help me watch Netflix.”
    “Aw, that’s so selfless of him.”

And anbieten is also where we find the German word for the offer: das Angebot. Which is actually also sometimes used in the sense of available supply.

  • Ich nehme dein Angebot an.
  • I accept your offer.
  • Wenn das Angebot sinkt, dann steigt der Preis.
  • If the supply (“amount offered”) shrinks, then the price rises.
  • “Ey…  pssss… pssss…”
    “Oh Gott…du bist…  ein Einhorn.”
    “Ja! Brauchst du LSD? Oder Pilze? Ich mach dir ein spezielles Angebot.”
  • “Ey… kssss… ksssst…”
    “Oh God.. you’re… a unicorn.”
    “Yeah. You need LSD? Or mushrooms? I’ll make you a special deal/offer.”

Gee, these unicorns. I mean, I know that they’re conniving carnivores and a bane to the forests, but hustling drugs?! That’s something new. But okay, I don’t actually know the laws of the magical forest, so maybe it’s not even forbidden there.
And that’s actually the perfect cue for our next prefix version.

The Meaning of “verbieten”

And verbieten is of course the German version of to forbid.

  • Ich verbiete dir, meinen Jogurt zu nehmen.
  • I forbid you to take my yogurt.
  • Maria hat Thomas verboten, ihre Hosen anzuziehen.
  • Maria has forbidden Thomas to put on her pants.
  • Parken verboten.
  • No parking.
    Lit.: Parking forbidden.

And while English for some reason doesn’t really has a noun based on that, or at least it doesn’t use “forbiddance” that much, the German das Verbot is really common and often the translation for ban or interdiction or prohibition.

  • Du stehst im Parkverbot.
  • You’re parking in a no parking zone.
  • Wegen der Sache mit der Hose hat Thomas in der Bar Hausverbot.
  • Because of the thing with the pants, Thomas is banned from entering the venue.
    (can I simply say “has a house ban”?)

Now, as far as usage and meaning goes I think this verb is pretty obvious. What might not be so obvious is the connection to the plain bieten. And now the origins come into play. Because while verbieten, doesn’t really tie in with the idea of to offer, it does tie in with the core notion of making aware, that we found earlier.
If you’ve read my article on the ver-prefix you might remember that the very core of ver- (as well as its brothers for(e)-, per- or pre-) is the idea of crossing a boundary. And one way to look at that is as a notion of away, out of bounds. And if we now think of making aware as a sort of announcing, then we get “announcing as out of bounds” – and that’s very close to the idea of forbid.
Well, I guess you can also just think of it as “bid away”, that’s a bit shorter actually.
But either way, it makes perfect logical sense that verbieten means what it means. And while we don’t really need that help here to remember the word, knowing the family ties and the inner logic is tremendously beneficial for the next verb… gebieten.

The Meaning of “gebieten”

Well, actually it’s a group of words that are based on gebieten. The verb itself isn’t all that common. But it’s the key so let’s start with that.
Just like the others, it has the core idea of making aware, and for a while it was just a more resolute sounding version of bieten. But slowly, it shifted toward a new concept – the concept of giving orders.
Think about it – if I say  “I want a coffee.” then technically, I’m just “offering” that bit of information. But of course, the implied meaning is that my servants go and get one. I… I mean interns, of course. I… I said servants accidentally, because gebieten eventually became a word for the royalty. Kings and lords were people who would gebieten.
The verb itself is pretty much only used in fixed expressions nowadays…

  • Der Architekt will mittels oberflächenloser Häuser dem Grafitti Einhalt gebieten.
  • The architect wants to bid a halt to graffiti through surfaceless buildings.
  • Jetzt ist Eile geboten.
  • Now, speed/swift action is important.
    (lit.: “the situation calls for it”)

If you read fantasy or history novels you’ll most likely find the word Gebieter for my lord.

  • “Hol mir Kaffee!”
    “Jawohl, mein Gebieter.”
  • “Fetch me coffee.”
    “Yes, my ruler/master.

A bit more common in daily life is actually the noun das Gebot. It can be the bid in the context of an auction, but it’s also the word for a kind of general order, in the sense of how to behave. Like… when the king said “Mondays are henceforth wig days, everyone shall wear a wig.”, that would be a Gebot.
The most famous example might the 10 commandments

  • Wer kennst alle 10 Gebote?
  • Who knows all 10 commandments?

But there are other examples as well, like for instance the very fundamental Rechtsfahrgebot, which is the obligation to drive on the right side of the road. And yes, that really is an official word.

The most useful and common word in this branch, however, is a noun that actually looks REALLY similar to the verb, and yet, I’d bet most Germans are not even aware of it.
I am talking about das Gebiet, which is a German word for a somewhat bigger area. And it’s also used as a metaphorical field.

  • Das ist ein Wohngebiet.
  • That is a residential area.
  • Wegen dem Einhornschwarm ist der Stadtpark jetzt ein Naturschutzgebiet.
  • Because of the unicorn flock, the magical forest is now a natural reserve/nature conservation area.
  • Auf dem Gebiet von Netflix und Chill ist Thomas ein Neuling.
  • Thomas is a newbie in the field of Netflix and chill.

And even though it feels like a completely unrelated word when we just find it in the dictionary, it’s no problem for us now to see why Gebiet means area… it used to be the land ruled by a certain lord. That was the area of which he was Gebieter, that was the area over which he would gebieten.
And as I said, I’m sure most Germans have no clue about this, so if you’re on a date with a German person and the conversation stalls… you can whip it out, this bit of trivia.

Now, there are a few more prefix versions, actually, like aufbieten or erbieten or entbieten but they’re all kind of rare, so I’ll leave it up to you to find out about them and we can clarify them in the comments, if need be.
Oh… well, and there’s überbieten and unterbieten which are about making a higher or lower offer, basically. Those are actually common and useful, but there’s not much to explain for those, so I’ll save those two for the quiz :).

So I think that’s pretty much it for today. This was our look at the meaning of bieten and its family and I really hope it helped remember the words a little better.
As always, if you want to check out how much you remember from the article, you can take the little quiz I have prepared.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
And if you’ve been wondering the whole time what about bitten well… that is actually a completely different family.
And because there’s also quite a bit to explore, we’ll look at that soon in a separate article :).
I hope you enjoyed it, have a great week and see you next time.

** vocab **

bieten = to bid; to offer (“long term”, can also be done by things and locations)

der Bote = the messenger, the delivery guy (old school, person delivering something)
der Postbote = the mail man
der Vorbote = the harbinger

die Botschaft = the message (grand sense, NOT for SMS or chat); the embassy
der Botschafter = the ambassador

anbieten = to offer (short, singular offers by humans)
das Angebot = the offer; the supply (in economics and for food)
das Sonderangebot = the special offer
im Angebot = on offer/on sale
der Anbieter = the provider (utilities, internet)
der Stromanbieter = the electricity provider

verbieten = to forbid
das Verbot = the ban, the prohibition, the interdiction
verboten = forbidden
das Parkverbot = no parking zone
das Hausverbot = the ban to enter a property

das Gebot = the commandment, the order to behave (general); the bid (at an auction); 
die zehn Gebote = the ten commandments
das Rechtsfahrgebot = the obligation to drive on the right side

Eile ist geboten. = Speed/hurrying up is crucial. (fixed phrase)

der Gebieter = the lord (historical, Gebieterin for female)

das Gebiet = the area (big); the field (metaphorical, like  “field of math”)
das Naturschutzgebiet = the natural reserve area
das Wohngebiet = the residential area

unterbieten = to beat (by going lower)
überbieten = to top an offer, to beat (by going higher)

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