Word of the Day – “kriegen”

kriegen-meaning-germanHello everyone,

and welcome to another German Word of the Day. And today we’ll take a look at one of the daily-est, colloquialest and most overlookedest verbs of them all. And all that in impeccable English.
Get ready for the meaning of



Now, if you’re vaguely familiar with German history, or if you read the soccer coverage about Germany you probably noticed that not that kriegen looks a LOT like der Krieg – which means war. And that is not a coincidence. The two words are related.
And the evolution of their meanings actually kind of show the stages of war.
It all started with a root that was about the idea of insistence and perseverance….

… which then shifted toward resistance and  obstinacy. Then, it moved on to discord and then finally the armed conflict.
That is exactly how the word Krieg has evolved over the last 1000 years.
And the verb kriegen started out as something positive like “to make an effort”. But just like the noun 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 kriegen never fully clicked with the whole war-thing and slowly focused on something more positive: the result of making an effort, or more precisely the idea of attaining something.
And eventually, it shifted and got the meaning it has today –  to get, to receive.

I mean… clearly I made no effort whatsoever to get these spam emails :).
But yeah, kriegen means to get, to receive. And I am sure most of you are now wondering about bekommen.
Because that’s the word you typically learn in books and courses.

kriegen vs. bekommen

Well, as far as meaning goes, the two words are really pretty much synonyms. But kriegen is MUCH more common in daily conversation.
Let’s look at a few examples…

We could totally use bekommen in all these examples and the meaning wouldn’t change.
The difference is really only tone.
You see, 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.
Kriegen on the other hand… well… kriegen is kinda ugly.

Gekrrrickkttt. That sounds a bit like I’m breaking the poor pony’s spine.
Or how do you like this beauty..

It’s stuff like this that gave German the reputation of sounding harsh. But it does have its own flow.
It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it gargles out the throat. But it’s kind of wicked fun to say it. At least more fun than the noble, accomplished bekommen.
And the fact is… in REAL daily life, people use kriegen a lot more than bekommen.
It’s like… this one friend many people have, you know…  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.
It is just shorter, snappier, has more energy. And it works really well in the daily slur… like here in a random café  in Berlin…

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 and you should definitely start using it, too. It’ll make you sound much more native.

So far we learned that kriegen is the colloquial choice for to get and as such it’s at least as common as bekommen.
Now, the word to get is super broad though, and while kriegen and bekommen both cover a large portion of it, they are not as broad.  So let’s take a closer look at what kriegen can do.

“kriegen” as “to get”

And just keep in mind that whenever I say something about kriegen, you can kind of assume that the same applies to bekommen. The two are really synonyms in terms of meaning.
So… we can divide all the various uses for to get into four main groups. And a dumpster group that catches all the leftovers, but we’ll ignore those today :).
The four main ideas are:

  1. receiving (getting an object)
  2. achieving (getting something done)
  3. becoming (reaching a state)
  4. fetching (go and get)

The underlying theme that unites those is a sense of “reaching”, be it because it comes to you or because you go toward it.
Either way, the examples we’ve seen so far were about the sense of receiving. Here again a typical bar dialogue in Berlin,

  • “Hallo, was kriegst du?”
    “Ein Bier bitte, was kriegst du?”
    “4 Euro.”
  • “Hi, what can I get you?” (Literally: “What are you getting?”)
    “A beer please, what do I owe you” (Literally: “What will you get?“)
    “4 Euro.”

This doesn’t only show just how common kriegen is in daily life, it also contained an example for a get-phrasing that WON’T be translated with kriegen…

  • What can I get you?
  • I’ll get myself a beer.

These are is the fourth type of getting, the fetching. And those are NOT translated with kriegen. Kriegen does NOT have this active component of going somewhere and using it here would be SUPER confusing to a native speaker.

  • Was kann ich dir kriegen?… NOPE!!!
  • Ich kriege mir ein Bier…. NOPE AGAIN!!

Those two make NO sense, and holen and bringen are the proper words here. So, get in a sense of “go and get” is NOT translated as kriegen.
And the other type that’s also NOT translated with kriegen is the third one, the idea of reaching a state.

  • I’m getting tired.

If you translate that with kriegen it makes NO sense.

  • Ich kriege müde…. NOOOOOPE!!

And just to make sure… it also DOESN’T make sense with bekommen. The proper word in German here is werden.

  • Ich werde müde.

So, kriegen does work for the receiving-get, but it doesn’t work for fetching-get and the becoming-get. That leaves the achieving-get. And actually IS expressed by kriegen.
In fact, the notion of getting something done might make up for more uses of kriegen than the notion of receiving.

And it also works in the sense of getting someone else to do something…

So… bottom line is, of the four types of to get, two can be expressed with kriegen (and bekommen).

  1. receiving (getting an object)… Yes
  2. achieving (getting something done)… yes
  3. becoming (reaching a state)... nope
  4. fetching (go and get)nope

And that also extends to the prefix versions of kriegen, which is the last point we’ll look at today :)

Prefix versions of “kriegen”

And kriegen is a REALLY opportunity to see how prefix verbs are actually just kind of a convention. Let’s take this example again:

The sentences are virtually identical. But flach kriegen is not a prefix verb, while wegkriegen is one. And the reason is more or less … well… custom. Like, in a way prefixes are prefixes because everyone they’re typically prefixes. Sounds stupid, but that’s how it is. And in fact, there is a blurry middle where people are not always sure what to do…

  • Ich bin Fahrrad gefahren / fahrradgefahren /Fahrradgefahren …

The first one is officially correct but the others are not unheard of.
Anyway, I digress.
So there’s a whole bunch of prefix version of kriegen where the prefix basically specifies what we’re getting done, like zukriegen , aufkriegen or abkriegen 

Another nice one is rauskriegen, which has a really common figurative meaning besides the factual “getting something out”.


And of course, we need to mention the king of them all… the generic hinkriegen.

If you’ve read my (awesome ) series about The Evolution and Function of Prefixes (I’ll put the link below), then you’ll know that prefixes, in all European languages, add a sense of destination to their base verb.
And if you’ve read my (equally awesome) article on hin (link below) then you’ll know that hin is basically a super generic destination that can stand for anything.

And so hinkriegen is basically a generic version… pretty much like “getting it done”, where it can also be all kinds of things.
Here’s an example with an explicit goal…

And here’s an example where the goal has already been stated …

Here’s another example…

And if you’re wondering, why not just kriegen? Well, that would then sound like “receiving it”. So the hin makes it clear that we’re talking about the sense of achieving a goal.
This hinkriegen is SUUUUPER common. Like…  hinkriegen has 9 million hits, aufkriegen just has 55 thousand.
And oh… if you’re wondering about the difference to schaffen, which is also about getting something done, pulling something off… well.. to an extend they are indeed synonyms

Generally, I would say that hinkriegen is more suitable for small things, like fixing something. It maybe has a little bit of an aura of tinkering. And it would sound  a bit nonchalant for a complicated successful heart surgery.

Now, of course, there are also prefix version based on the other big idea of kriegen – the sense of receiving. Like abkriegen for example. We just had it in the sense of getting something off of something. But it can also mean to “receive” a share of something, good or bad..

And then, there’s the somewhat metaphorical mitkriegen, which is a colloquial option for to notice in the sense of information you pick up. You  “to receive with/alongside other things”, if you will. A little similar to merken and bemerken, but mitkriegen is really information focused and has nothing to do with sensing.

And lastly, here’s a couple of fixed expressions with prefixed versions of kriegen, that are kind of hard to guess.

And I think that’s actually enough for today :).
This was our look at the meaning of kriegen and its prefix versions. Sure, there are some versions out there that we didn’t cover, but I think with what you’ve learned today, you’ll be able to get them from context.
As usual if you want to recap and check how much you remember, you can take the little quiz I have prepared.
And of course, of 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” 


further reading:

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