Word of the Day – “gewöhnen”

gewoehnen-pictureHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. Today we will have a look at the meaning of:



And I think I am gonna need your help today… not so much because it so difficult but…the thing is… I went running yesterday, as I usually do on yesterdays, and it was quite a long and now my fingers are sore so I can’t really talk non stop or… uh …or think for that matter. But matter it does not and for you it is a chance to be live on the show  so if you want to help me explain gewöhnen go right ahead,  the number is 0800- 414-german-4-u,  I repeat 0800-414-german-4-u and our first call comes from .. oh wow.. Lithuania   … Svajoné, welcome to the show…
“Heeeeeyyyy… wow can’t believe I made it through.. this is sooo cool… “
Well, it is  cool to have someone from Lithuania here… what city are you from? Vilnius?
“Haha… no, I am from Panevėžys… .”
Oh… uh… Pe… Panevezys …?
“Nah … it is Panevėžys… like … Pa – ne- vė – žys “
Pa – ne – vez – ys…
“Hahaha… kind of…”
How big is it?
“Oh… it’s a small town in the central north of Lithuania in comparison to Berlin… but it’s really pretty and we have really great theaters here…”
Oh that’s cool… and why are you learning German?
“Well… I am actually an actress and recently I partook in a play where we had to say all those lines from Goethe’s “A Fistful of dynamite” in the original German version. Most of us did it just by hearing but I was like … uhg… I have to know what that means and how it is build and so I started studying … I’m still a beginner but so far I love it.”
Cool… so will you help me explain gewöhnen?
“Definitely… I’ll be asking question mostly though (laughs)…”

That’s fine… but let me start with a question on my part… do you know the word gewöhnen?
“Yeah… I think like it is something like to get used to or something… “
Exactly. Gewöhnen is a verb and one of the meanings is to get used to … now… do you have any idea where it comes from?
“Hmmm… not really… looks like wohnen with dots and a ge- but that’s probably wrong.”
Not at all.. that was spot on, in fact… gewöhnen is related to wohnen and just has a  ge-form.
“Doesn’t the ge stand for past… like… geschlafen?
Yes, that’s true in a way. Ge is added to many verbs to build the participle 2 form that you need for the spoken past but before ge was this kind of past marker it was a regular prefix just like ver or ent or the others…
“Oh god, thoooose…”
… yeah… and there are other verbs that have the ge as a regular prefix… like gefallen or gewinnen… the ge used to just add a notion of completeness or for-good-ness to the verb but anyway… let’s get talk about wohnen for a second… do you know what that means?
“It is to live in sense of to live in a place right?”
Yap… wohnen is to life in sense of to inhabit and it can also be to stay if you talk about vacation.

  • Ich wohne in Berlin.
  • I live in Berlin.
  • In Paris habe ich erst im Hotel und dann bei einer Freundin gewohnt.
  • In Paris I stayed in a hotel at first and with a friend of mine.

There are some related words, too, for example Wohnung which is flat, wohnlich which is cozy in context of a flat and Mitbewohner which is flatmate. But let’s not stay at wohnen for too long since there is plenty to say about gewöhnen. So…  gewöhnen and wohnen are somewhat closely related and they come from the Uber-Ancient Indo-Germanic root u̯en(ə) and that root originally meant something like to strive for. And you know what else is related to that root?
Gewinnen or to win and wünschen or to wish and even the name Venus.
“Oh wow…”
Yep, that’s what I thought, too… so the root u̯en(ə) meant to strive but was also used in variations for to seek, to desire and to be satisfied… so basically the whole process. You as a hunter gatherer wish for new hunting grounds, you strive towards it, you win it, you’ve won it and you’re happy with it and you life there or in German wohnen… sounds crazy but here’s a link to check it (origin of win,wish and others) … so … basically wohnen used to be more like to be satisfied at a place. Now… this whole idea of satisfied is also the key to the first meaning of  gewöhnen
As you said earlier, gewöhnen  means to get used to something. This gewöhnen needs 2 things… a self reference and the preposition an… so it is actually sich gewöhnen an. Let’s look at some examples

  • Ich muss mich an die Kälte gewöhnen.
  • I have to get used to the cold.
  • Ich habe mich an dein Zuspätkommen gewöhnt.
  • I have gotten used to your being late.
  • “Berlin ist ja echt schön und so aber das Wetter wechselt die ganze Zeit… heute warm, morgen kalt, dann wieder warm… nervt dich das nicht auch?”
    “Ach da gewöhnt man sich dran.”
  • “You know, Berlin is really nice and all that but the weather is changing ALL the time… one day warm, the next day cold, then warm again… doesn’t that bother you, too?”
    “Beh… you’ll get used to it.”

“Ahhhh oh my god, oh my god, I think I get it…”
Get what?
“The connection to the origins and to the satisfied-idea… gewöhnen is to get used to something because you kind of  learn to be satisfied with something or you win yourself over for something…  or you could even think of it as to learn to “wohnen” somewhere … like a new city with a different climate or so… I don’t know if that is correct sense but to me it does.”
I think it does… I especially like the idea of to win yourself over for something because that reflects the  self reference that you need in the German version… you could also say to adept yourself if you want to…

  • Maria hatte am Anfang große Probleme damit, dass ihre Katze Foucault zitiert, aber sie hat sich inzwischen daran gewöhnt.
  • At first, Maria had a serious problem with the fact that her cat is citing Foucault, but she is used/adapted to it by now.

Now… Gewöhnt is also often used as an adjective… then, the self reference is missing.

  • Thomas ist daran gewöhnt, früh aufzustehen.
  • Thomas is used to getting up early.

because you d…
“Can I ask a question?
Sure, sure go ahead…
“So… how would you translate Thomas used to get up early…would that be like : Thomas gewöhnt daran früh aufzustehen?”
Oh great question… but no… those 2 sentences are totally different when you look at the meaning.

  • Thomas used to get up early.
  • Thomas is used to getting up early.

The first one means that it was Thomas’ custom to get up early some time ago but it also at least to an extend implies that he doesn’t do it anymore now… or at least it doesn’t matter what he does now. The second sentence says that Thomas is … well used to it at the moment, presumably because he does it a lot. So the first sentence talks about what Thomas did back then, the second says how Thomas is now and that is pretty different.
“So I can’t use gewöhnen for the first version…”
No absolutely not… gewöhnen won’t work.
 And …how would you say it then?”
Well, there are different options but the best is using immer and maybe add a time word to set it in past.

  • Thomas ist (früher) immer früh aufgestanden.
  • Thomas used to get up early (back then, back in the days).

Immer doesn’t literally mean always here but rather something like normally or mostly.
“Cool… that makes sense…
All right… so far we have gewöhnen which means to get used to something. But since we’re learning German here it is no surprise that  gewöhnen can have prefixes. And the especially the first one might be a little… annoying… do you want to venture a guess?
“I don’t know…. auf?”
Close but no (no pun intended)… the  first prefix is an so we have angewöhnen…

“sich angewöhnen” and “sich gewöhnen an”

And sich angewöhnen means  to make a habit of something.

  • Thomas hat sich angewöhnt früh aufzustehen.
  • Thomas has made a habit of getting up early.

Depending on context to get used to can also be a translation.

  • Gewöhn dir bitte mal an, den Klodeckel zu schließen!
  • Please get used to closing the toilet lid!

Now, I believe this can be really confusing. First of all the 2 verbs looks very similar since both use an and both have need a self reference …

  • sich angewöhnen – to make a habit
  • sich gewöhnen an– to get used to

And besides the the looks they also share common idea and they might have only one translation in a language. However, they are NEVER interchangeable… firstly because the grammar is in fact very different and secondly because there is also a difference in meaning.
So let’s try to flesh this out a little starting with the meaning… what exactly is ich gewöhne mich an? Let’s say there is a situation that I  can’t change but I can’t run away either, then it would be best to just get used to it or to adapt. And that is sich gewöhnen an. The preposition an means something like at. So let’s think of it this way: when you gewöhnen dich an something you kind of take yourself and you move yourself toward that, you adjust yourself to that.
Now, what is sich angewöhnen? Sich angewöhnen works the other way around. The situation IS under your control, you can decide what you do. And now imagine there is a habit you like… you take that habit and you move it toward yourself, habituate it at yourself so the habit then lives at you… it is your habit. Am I being to abstract?
“Maybe a little…”
Then let’s take an example… getting up early. Imagine you have a new job which compels you to getting up early every day. You must get up early or you’ll lose the job. So you can’t change the fact that you have to get up early. You adjust yourself to it,   you get used to it.…. you gewöhnen yourself daran.
Now, imagine you’re rich and you can sleep as much as you please. But you are kind of sad that you never get to see the sunrise and you never go running in the morning. That is a situation that is under your control. There is something desirable – the habit of getting up early. But it is not where you are yet. So you take it and you move it to you and you slowly make it part of your own…. you gewöhnst it yourself an. Here’s the direct comparison:

  • Ich muss mich daran gewöhnen, früh aufzustehen, denn meine neue Arbeit beginnt um 6.
  • I have to get used to getting up early because my new job starts at 6.
  • Ich will mir angewöhnen, früh aufzustehen, denn ich will Morgentau von den Blättern in meinem Garten trinken.
  • I want to start/form a habit of getting up early, because I want to drink morning dew from leaves in my garden.

And here we also see the difference in grammar… for gewöhnen you yourself are the direct object. Like… I see myself in the mirror. That’s why you need the accusative case…  like: mich, dich sich
For angewöhnen, the direct object is whatever you make a habit of. You are just sort of the receiver… like in I bought myself a book. So here you need Dative or:  mir, dir, sich…
Let’s do another example, this time with a noun.

  • Ich gewöhne mich an Höflichkeit.
  • I’m  getting used to politeness.
  • Ich gewöhne mir Höflichkeit an.
  • I take politeness as a habit for myself. (lit.)
  • I take to being friendly. I start being friendly.

In the first example, there is politeness all around me while I come from Berlin where people bark at you all the time. So everyone being friendly irritates me and I have to get used to it first. There is nothing said about whether I am unfriendly or not.
In the second example, I am an impolite person wanting to change that. There is nothing said about how other people around me are. So with all their similarities in looks… sich gewöhnen an and sich angewöhnen are 2 very different things in the mind of a native speaker of German. Now.. Svajoné, does that make any sense at all or am I just talking nonsense?
“Hahaha… no it makes sense.. I can’t repeat it but I think I understood… “
Cool, and there is another help… sich angewöhnen has a reverse… can you guess what it is?
“Hmmmm… we have an so it is either aus or ab… maybe ab????”
Perfect … abgewöhnen means to break a habit or just to give up something. For instance smoking.

  • Ich habe mir das Rauchen abgewöhnt.
  • I gave up smoking.

However, sich abgewöhnen is more of a process than just a full stop.

  • Ich will mir abgewöhnen, so spät ins Bett zu gehen.
  • Ich will mir angewöhnen, früher ins Bett zu gehen.

Both these sentences express the same idea, just from different sides.
“Does sich gewöhnen an have any antonyms?”
“Oh uh… opposite words..”
Not directly… you can’t really get UNused to something. But there is umgewöhnen which means that you were used to something before and you are used to something else after.

  • In meinen alten Job habe ich immer Abends gearbeitet. Beim neuen muss ich früh anfangen. Da muss ich mich auf jeden Fall umgewöhnen.
  • In my old job, I was working the evenings. My new job has early hours. I’ll definitely have to readjust.

And since we’re at related words… let’s maybe play a short jingle so people know where they are…

gewöhnen – other related words

… alright… so… There is also eingewöhnen which is very close to sich gewöhnen an BUT sich eingewöhnen needs no an-part… so you can use it without saying what exactly you are getting used to and that is practical sometimes.

  • Ich bin letzte Woche nach Rom gezogen und muss mich erstmal eingewöhnen.
  • I moved to Rom last week and I have to settle in/acclimatize.

“Ohhh… I have read  Eingewöhnungsphase the other day… now that makes sense… are more related words?
Oh yes, actually there are many. I hope you have your notebook ready.
“Right in front of me…”
I somehow figured. So let’s maybe start with verbs. We’ve learned that gewöhnen comes from something like wonen and the ge– was just a prefix. So naturally other prefixes were used too. And an important one is ver. Verwöhnen has several translations at Leo most of which are negative (to spoil), sound funny (to pamper) or are somewhat rare (to cosset). However,  verwöhnen as a verb is something nice, something positive and marketing uses the word a lot. So the translation the best captures that is to treat like a king or queen.

  • Lassen Sie sich von unseren Masseusen verwöhnen.
  • Enjoy our  masseuses.
    Let yourself be pampered by our masseuses (lit.)
  • Ich verwöhne meine Freundin.
  • I give my girlfriend a treat.
  • Gönnen Sie sich ein Verwöhnwochenende in unserer Wellness-Oase.
  • Treat yourself/Allow yourself a relax and beauty weekend at our wellness oasis.

Then, of course when you treat someone especially kids like a king ALL the time chances are that the person starts feeling a little too special and then we get to the negative side.

  • Das Kind ist total verwöhnt.
  • This kid is spoiled.

So verwöhnen itself is a good thing… just the effect of over-verwöhnen can be negative.
Now, as far as prefixes go there is also the word entwöhnen but that is really rare and useless so let’s get back to gewöhnen and check out some other related words to that.
A very very useful one is ungewöhnlich which means unusually, strange or out of the ordinary.

  • Es ist schon um 10 und Thomas hat noch keine Pause gemacht… wie ungewöhnlich.
  • It is already 10 am and Thomas hasn’t had a break yet.. how unusual/strange.
  • Lebe lieber ungewöhnlich.
  • A life less ordinary. (movie title)
  • Für um 6 ist es ungewöhnlich früh.
  • It is unusually early for 6 am.

“You’re last example was ungewöhnlich stupid…”
Indeed… I’d even say it was aussergewöhnlich stupid.
“Oh.. like extraordinarily?”
“Ah cool… so gewöhnlich without any prefixes means usual or ordinary?”
Uhhhh… yes but no…  the problem is that gewöhnlich has a negative touch to it… at least as an adjective…  like…

  • Blue jeans und ein T-shirt… also bitttttttte… das ist SOOO gewöhnlich.
  • Blue jeans and a t-shirt… pleaaaaase… that is SOOO normal/basic.

You can find examples where gewöhnlich is used without this subtext and dictionaries will list it as a translation for ordinary/common BUT…. no matter what the situation… I think I would always prefer a synonym. I rarely use or hear gewöhnlich without un or ausser… except in the negative sense.

  • Thomas hat einen normalen Job.
  • Thomas has an ordinary/normal job.
  • Für gewöhnlich/normalerweise gehe ich um 1 ins Bett.
  • Usually, I go to bed at 1.

As far as nouns go, we have die Angewohnheit and die Gewohnheit..
“Without Umlaut?”
Yeah, without Umlaut…  Those 2 remind of the verbs sich gewöhnen an and sich angewöhnen but the meaning of the nouns is very similar. It basically is just custom or habit. I think Angewohnheit is a little more negative… I mean… it is not the word itself… it is just… you can often find it in combination with schlecht.

  • Eine schlechte Angewohnheit von mir ist, dass ich  immer ohne anzustoßen trinke.
  • A bad habit of mine is that I always eat butter without waiting for the toast.

“Huh?… why butte.. oh ohhhhh… now, that was dumb.”
I know, I’m sorry… I am just getting tired.
“Oh me too… are there many more?”
Well, not many… maybe a few but I think we can wrap up here. So folks… this was our German Word of the Day gewöhnen. It is closely related to wohnen and comes from the same root as win, wish and wean. The core idea is “used-to-ness” so whatever word you see with gewöhn/gewohn in it.. it probably has something to do with that.
The verb mich gewöhnen an means to get used to something… something you can’t change something exterior to which you have to adapt not so much your ways but your perception, attitude or being. Mir angewöhnen means to make something a habit. There, you do change your ways.
Svajoné.. thank you sooo so much for your call your patience and your questions. It was really great to have you on the show…
“Well, thanks for having me… it was really interesting…”
How do you say Thank you in Lithuanian?
Well then… atchoo a lot and keep on studying.”
“Hahaha… I will … bye.”
And to all the rest of you… thanks for staying with us, I know it was long but I hope you learned something useful. If you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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