Word of the Day – “kriegen”

kriegen-meaning-germanHello everyone,

and welcome to another German Word of the Day Prefix  Verb special. That means we’ll take a basic German verb look at it’s meaning and then prefix it up in every way imaginable. And today we’ll take a look at the verb



And I’m gonna tell you right away… at the end, there will be a little surprise. A nice one. But it’s not there yet because… you know… we’re live.
Kriegen means the same as bekommen and bekommen means to get as in to get something / to receive.

Now,  kriegen looks a lot like der Krieg and in fact both words are related. Krieg means war but it hasn’t always been that way. Much like in a real life, in the beginning there is insistence and perseverance. Then comes resistance and  obstinacy, then discord and then the armed conflict. And that is exactly how the word Krieg has changed over the last 1000 years. The verb kriegen started out as something like “to make an effort”. Just like Krieg it became more and more confrontational for a while…

  • Der König hat sich zum Geburtstag ein Land gekriegt.
  • The king “war-ed” himself a country for his birthday…

Something like that at least. But after being to strive and to make war, kriegen changed its mind went for something more positive: the result of  making an effort  as in you attain something… and one aspect of that is to get something.

Hold on… I didn’t really make an effort for THAT. Nor for the very bad cold I had two years ago… but oh well.  The word settled around this whole to get idea and by today most German aren’t even aware of the similarity.

All right. So we have those two words bekommen and kriegen and they both mean the same. But which one is used? Bekommen comes from this very old and accomplished basic verb kommen  and it has a prefix which we all know Germans hold so dear. Also it sounds quite nice …

These sentences almost sing themselves.
And then there is kriegen. There is the warmongering family (Krieger – warrior, kriegerisch – warlike, bekriegen – wage war against and so on) but even that aside, kriegen is…. kinda ugly.

Gekrrrickkttt. That sounds like I’m breaking the poor pony’s spine. Or take this..

I mean … come on… k-r- i – g – s – t. One vowel sound versus 5 consonants. If you find that hard to pronounce just grind your teeth for a second… it’ll be about right :). Kriegen sounds harsh and not the least bit tuneful.
So, with that said… which one do you think people use in their every day talk? They use kriegen. It’s like… many of us have this one friend… not very pretty, not very charming, not rich, not athletic, not even all that interesting… and yet he gets all the girls. Kriegen is that guy. Objectively, bekommen has all that it takes. Kriegen gets the girl, if you will. But in their every day life people use kriegen. It is just shorter, snappier, has more energy. And it works really well in the daily slur… like here in the café…

Kriegen is a common word for the common people. It doesn’t have a membership in the poets society but it’s out there in the supermarket, in your shared apartment and around the corner at the kebab stand. Sometimes it’ll even pop up in a use that you wouldn’t expect…

What? Oh…. that’s the tourist price ;).
All right. Now, there are also prefixe-versions with that idea in them… for instance abkriegen which means to get a share… in a good way

and in a bad way

Similar to that is the word mitkriegen. Literally that would mean “to receive with/alongside other things” but the main meaning is a little more abstract

Think of it this way… you strolling through your day and there are all kind of information offered along your path. And some of them you take. Mitkriegen is kind of close to merken and bemerken but it is a little more passive and, unlike merken, has little to do with sensing. It is really about information that you pick up.
So… kriegen is really quite useful. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. The real power of kriegen lies in its other meaning…. dun dun dunnnn

oh … right… I should probably continue.
Take the word to get. It is super broad. It can mean to receive but it can also mean to achieve or attain and even to become.

  • I get it done.
  • I get tired.

At the core of it is an idea along the lines of “reaching something”, be it because it comes to you or because you go toward it.
Now, if kriegen is this huge lake then to get is the pacific ocean, meaning that kriegen is by far not as broad as to get. For example it does not mean to become.

  • Ich kriege müde…. nope, not even understandable

But kriegen certainly has the idea of achieving in it. Remember.. it used to mean “to make an effort”and then it  changed to “to successfully make an effort”… or put in more normal vocab.. to manage to do or  to get done.
and oh my god, are there many uses with that… guess how many hits Google has for the phrase “Wie kriege ich”…
10 million (check ’em out here). That is more than there are for “Ich war”. Sure,  how can I get” has a stunning 696 million but still…

This is a very useful construction actually…

Just remember that you need the clunky da-word dazu in there. But of course kriegen is not limited to those kind of sentences. It also works without a second verb.

Now, the step from the last example to a prefixed kriegen is only a formality. . All we need to do is replace clean by open (auf).

You’ve probably already guessed what the verb is… exactly… aufkriegen. Or here’s another one

What are the verbs? Exactly… wegkriegen and just kriegen with flach as an adverb. Kriegen is one of those verbs where you can really see that what is a prefix and what isn’t just depends on … well.. custom. Auf is one, sauber isn’t… weg is one, flach isn’t. And it has nothing to do with grammar. It is just an expression of how close people feel the two parts are. And there is a blurry middle where people really don’t know

  • Ich bin Fahrrad gefahren / fahrradgefahren /Fahrradgefahren …

The first one is correct but the others are not unheard of and that’s because people are uncertain what to do… the words feel as close as hinfahren but can I really do that? Isn’t Fahrrad a noun that ne.. hey.. hey are you dozing off?!
Wake up!!
What?… oh… okay, there won’t be more boring background, I promise… So where were we… uh,… uh yeah…
have some more examples for kriegen prefixes.

Wait, didn’t abkriegen to get ones share? Can it really mean two thin… oh wait, of course it can. Another one that has two meanings and that is super useful is  rauskriegen. You can use that in the literal sense as to get something out of “there”

But it has also taken on an abstract use … to find out.

And then there is hinkriegen which literally means to get it there and that is really almost the actual meaning: to get it done. Wait… wasn’t that just kriegen? Well, no. For kriegen you always have to fill in the done part… like…

Hinkriegen is generic. It can fill in for all of the above. For example… your friend asks you for help with a computer program.. because you’re “that guy” you know. And so you sit there hammering code into the keyboard. Now, a nerd friend of yours would say this to ask for progress…

But your friend has no idea what exactly you’re doing. And here’s how they would inquire about the progress

That is what hinkriegen does. By itself it means nothing other than do it. But it can stand for anything, really. And people do use that A LOT. Hinkriegen has 9 million hits, aufkriegen just has 55 thousand. And that makes sense because we replace things that have been said before all the time.

Now, those of you who know the word schaffen may be asking at this point “Wait a second, are hinkriegen and schaffen synonymous?” And they kind of are.

I would say that hinkriegen is more suitable for small things… like fixing something. It has a little bit of an aura of tinkering. It would sound out of place for, say, a successful heart surgery. Or maybe not out of place but it would definitely sound a little youfemis…. uhm youmphem.. er that doesn’t look right…umm… you know what, never mind.
We’re almost done here but I want to tell you about two more kriegens that are basically just part of fixed expressions. The first one is unterkriegen

People say this as a soft encouragement…. if your project is stressing you out or you are having trouble at school.
The other one is sich einkriegen. It is quite colloquial but I thought I’d mention it anyway. It is kind of the opposite of to freak out… you get yourself back in.

And that’s it. That was kriegen. Hope you liked it and see you next ti … what?… oooohhhhh right… the surprise. Well… in the beginning we’ve learned that kriegen means the same as bekommen. And with possibly very few exceptions that is true for EVERY single use we’ve seen today…

  • hinbekommen, aufbekommen, abbekommen, trocken bekommen

They all exist and mean the same. Are they used? Well, definitely in writing. Kriegen is more for spoken German. I also feel you’ll see more and more bekommen the more south you go. I don’t though. My last relationship did and it wasn’t nice.
Oh well… so that was our German Verb Prefixed for kriegen. It used to mean “to make an effort”and then changed to “to successfully make an effort” and that’s where the basic idea of to attain comes from. One aspect of that idea is the simple getting of things be they solicited like a kiss or not like a cold. But maybe the even more important idea is the manage to do stuff idea and many of the prefix-versions like zukriegen, aufkriegen, auskriegen or hinkriegen have this at their core. And if you don’t like kriegen because it sounds like grinding stones… well, just use bekommen. It works exactly the same.
If you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment… I love Kommentare kriegen :).
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Oh and in case you haven’t had enough and you want more examples, check out the video from the amazing Jenny over at her YouTube-channel “German with Jenny”. Loads of examples and also some uses we didn’t cover here :)

YouTube – German with Jenny – “kriegen” 


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