Word of the Day – “leiten”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
And today, we’ll take a look at the meaning of

leiten

Leiten is the German brother of to lead. And they do share a common theme. But leiten does quite a few things that lead doesn’t do. Like giving us water and electricity, for example. Or setting up this Ikea rack Fälör. Or even giving us a nice start into a text, like right now.
So, are you ready to jump in?
Then let’s goooo.

So, the core idea of the family is of course the notion of guidance, leadership and it came from the simple act of walking or travelling in the front, showing the way. And while most modern day leading is actually done from a comfy chair, the vibe of “leading from the front” is still pretty present in the English to lead.
But the better match for that is actually the verb führen. Führen has the same vibe as to lead and it’s often the translation. We’ll look at führen in a separate article at some point, so I don’t want to get too much into the nuances, but let’s look at a few examples.

  • Die Elfe führt mich durch den Einhornwald.
  • The Elf guides/leads me through the unicorn forest.
  • Merkel hat Deutschland durch einige große Krisen geführt.
  • Merkel has led Germany through some big crisis.
  • Zuviel Bier führt zu zuviel Bauch.
  • Too much beer leads to too much belly.
  • Die Führung durch die alte Fabrik ist sehr interessant.
  • The guided tour through the old factory is very interesting.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying that leiten never translates to to lead or guide. It’ just important that you remember that it doesn’t have this vibe of actively leading the way. Leiten has more of a vibe of giving a way/directions.
Like… much of today’s “desk”-leading would actually better called leiten than führen. And you can find it in that sense here and there. In the business world in particular, führen and leiten are equally common and which one is used often comes down to what’s idiomatic in a certain context.

  • Der Geschäftsführer leitet ein Unternehmen und übernimmt die Geschäftsführung.
  • The manager leads the business and is in charge of leading the operations of the business.

Tried my best with the translation there, but I don’t really know business English. Oh and no… didn’t make that sentence up.
It’s actually literally the first sentence of a definition of Geschäftsführer from “Gruenderszene.de” a very BIG German website for founders and founding.
Brace yourself silicon valley, the German Gründers are coming. And they’ll bore you to death.

Seriously though, so the core idea of leiten is not really leadership, it’s a sense of giving a way.
And that’s a makes it much easier to understand and remember what might be the most important use of the verb and its related nouns: to conduct, in the sense of conducting liquids or electricity.

  • Metalle leiten gut Strom.
  • Metals conduct electricity well.
  • Halbleiter sind für Computer essentiell.
  • Semi-conductors are essential for computers.
  • Wenn es in Berlin stark regnet, werden die Abwässer in die Spree geleitet.
  • When it rains heavily in Berlin, the sewage is being channeled into the Spree.
  • Das Leitungswasser in Berlin hat eine echt gute Qualität.
  • The tap water in Berlin has a high quality.
    (literally “conduit water”)

By the way, the verb to conduct is actually closer to leading than you might realize . It’s a combination of the prefix co(n) and the Latin verb ducere. And now guess what that meant… exactly: to lead. And there are other prefix versions of it like to reduce (“lead back“) or produce (“lead/bring forth”) or seduce (“lead to sex“). Meh… okay, not sure about the last one.
But yeah, if you’ve read my articles about prefix verbs way back when 2020 was still normal… duce /duct is a great example for how English has a bunch of prefix verbs hidden in plain sight (I’ll leave a link to the article below, if you want to check that out).

And speaking of prefix verbs… of course leiten also has a few really nice ones, so let’s take a look.

Prefix versions of “leiten”

So far, we’ve learned that the core notion of leiten is a sense of giving a way, a direction. And this totally fits the prefix versions as well.

  • Wegen der Baustelle wird der Verkehr umgeleitet.
  • Because of the construction site, the traffic is being redirected.
  • Ich hab’ dir die E-Mail weitergeleitet.
  • I forwarded you the email.
  • Viele Länder leiten langsam das Ende des Lockdowns ein.
  • Many countries are introducing an end to lockdown.
    (another prefix verion of “duce” :)
  • Aus deinem Gesicht leite ich eine gewisse Unzufriedenheit ab.
  • From your face, I deduce a certain dissatisfaction.

And here are some examples for related nouns.

  • Das war eine gute Überleitung.
  • That was a good transition.
    (only for switching topics!!)
  • Eine gute Einleitung ist sehr wichtig.
  • A good introduction is very important.
    (only for texts and topic, NOT for introducing people)
  • “Thomas ist soooo kompliziert.”
    “Ach ja… warum gibt es keine Bedienungsanleitung für Männer.”
  • “Thomas is soooo complicated.”
    “Oh well… why isn’t there a user manual for men.”
  • “Was ist das auf dem Dach?”
    “Das ist mein neuer Designer-Blitzableiter aus Mahagoni-Holz.”
    “Äh… sorry, ich will nicht negativ sein, aber… “
  • “What’s that on the roof?”
    “That’s my new designer lightning rod made from mahogany wood.”
    “Uhm… I don’t want to be negative but… ”
    (Lit.: “flash away-conducter”)

Now, the contexts in these obviously vary quite a bit. But I hope you can see that in all of them, there is sense of a path being offered, a direction. Traffic is directed elsewhere, the reader is directed into the text or to a different topic, the lightning is directed down into the ground.
There’s really only one prefix version that’s kind of surprising. And it’s not surprising because of the meaning. It is surprising that it’s actually a prefix version of leiten. I am talking about begleiten, the German word for to accompany.

Begleiten looks like it’s the be-version of gleiten, which is the German version of to glide. But that’s not what’s really going on. Begleiten is actually the be-version of geleiten, which itself is the ge-version of leiten. Geleiten used to be more or less a synonym for leiten in a sense of guiding, bringing but it sounds quite theatrical nowadays and I only ever see it in the phrase freies Geleit (safe conduct).
Beg(e)leiten on the other hand, which had an emphasis on guiding “in person”, became the German word for to accompany and is still very much around today.

  • Der Hund hat uns beim Wandern fast einen Tag begleitet.
  • The dog kept us company/came with us at hiking for almost a day.
  • Der Wein ist eine ausgezeichnete Begleitung zu dem Steak.
  • The wine excellently accompaniment the steak.
    (lit.: “is excellent company”)
  • Seit der Nacht im Zauberwald ist eine unsichtbares Einhorn namens Bob mein ständiger Begleiter.
  • Ever since the night in the magical forest, an invisible unicorn with the name Bob is my constant companion.

What… what do you say, Bob? No, I have not told them about the German word for ladder… yes… yes, I know it’s die Leiter, but that comes from the Indo-European root *klei, which is also where climate and climax are from and which was about leaning. So it’s got nothing to do with leiten.
And no, I also haven’t told them that leiten is related to leid. I already talked about that in the article on leiden. Could you shut up now, Bob, and let me finish? And stop nagging, we’ll go to the park so you can graze as soon as I’m done.
Gee, so annoying.
Anyway guys. I think that’s it for today. This was our look at the meaning of leiten and its family. And the main takeaway is that leiten DOESN’T have this leadership vibe that the English to lead has. Now, there are a lot more cool leiten-words out there, and I’ll add some of them to the vocabulary, so if you have a question about any of them or if you come across one that I forgot… let me know in the comments. Same goes for other questions of course, and if you want to check how much you remember, as usual, you can take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
I hope you liked it, have a great week and see you next time.

 

further reading:

Thinking about Prefix Verbs – A General Overview
Word of the Day – “leiden”

** vocab **

leiten = guide, leade, conduct (core idea is “showing way”, not about leading from the front)
der Leiter = the director, the manager (“die Leiterin” for women, sounds a bit bureaucratic)
die Leitung = cable, conduit
das Leitungswasser = the tap water
aus der Leitung = from the tap
der Halbleiter = the semi conductor
die Leitplanke = the guarding rail
das Leitmotiv = the leitmotif (music)
der Leitfaden = the guideline (informal)

überleiten = to transition (only in texts, if for things and people you’d say “übergehen”)
die Überleitung = transition (only in texts, if for things and people you’d say “übergehen”)

einleiten = to introduce (rare!)
die Einleitung = the introduction (only for texts, not getting to know someone)

anleiten = give step by step instructions (not very commonly used, “zeigen” and “vormachen” are more common)
die Anleitung = the manual
die Bedienungsanleitung = the user manual

ableiten (aus, von) = to deduce, to derive, derivate (math); “lead away” (for electricity or substances)
die Ableitung = the derivative (math)
der Blitzableiter = the lightning rod

umleiten = redirect (traffic, travelling entities)
die Umleitung = redirection, re-routing, route diversion (traffic)

weiterleiten = to forward, to pass on (only for emails and information)

freies Geleit = safe conduct

begleiten = to accompany
die Begleitung = the company (person/thing accompanying someone/something)
die Begleiterscheinung = the side effect, accompanying effect

die Leiter = the ladder

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jsmh
jsmh
9 months ago

Emanuel,
eine frage Bitte,
Ist es als Deutschlerner besser, das Uvuler (r) zu vergessen, als es falsch aufzutragen oder gar den vorderen Zungenspitze-Triller aufzutragen? oder vergessen zu versuchen, das gewürfelte (r) ganz zu verwenden? Ich gehe davon aus, dass ich als Lernender verstanden und sowieso nie mit einem Muttersprachler verwechselt werde?
Viele Grüße,
jsmh

angelicus
angelicus
10 months ago

“the Leitfaden” is so informal that I can use English article for it! :D Yay!

(Apparently, this C1 level word has a masculine Article… FMI for the time when I need to pass my exam.) :D

Sylvie
Sylvie
11 months ago

Emanuel, guten Abend! Kannst du mir erklären was der Unterschied ist zwischen “zuleiten” und “weiterleiten”. Auch, bei “thinking about prefix verbs” sind ihre Kaninchen sehr niedlich :-) ich bin beim Lesen geschmolzen…Du läufst mit unglaublicher Geschwindigkeit!!

Sylvie
Sylvie
11 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ja Emanuel, ihre Beispiele sind sehr hilfreich! Ich versuche, dir auf Deutsch zu schreiben obwohl ich mich noch sehr schwer tue, so ich möchte, wenn du einen Fehler indem sehen, was ich schreibe, mir mitzuteilen. Ich versuche, dir auf Deutsch zu schreiben, obwohl ich noch viele Schwierigkeiten habe. Wenn du einen Fehler in dem, was ich schreibe siehst, bitte, zögerst du nicht es mir sagen. :-)

Sylvie
Sylvie
11 months ago
Reply to  Sylvie

Emanuel, concerning the message above, neither do I understand what I
wrote!! :/ ??? I think its better for both to write to you in English from now and on

Sylvie
Sylvie
11 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ok dann! Nur noch eine letzte Sache auf English, sorry if I send you twice an answer, but sometimes after I click the green arrow to send, the message is not appeared on the screen and only wien after I send the 2nd one, is appeard…oh yes! So, I’m not able to know if you’ve got the first one I wrote..So I drove you a little crazy with the massages today… (und jetzt in Deutsch) Ok, Entschuldigung!!! Das ist es! :-D Ich werde es schaffen….irgendwann!!!!! Und lächelt öfter, (ich habe dich heute in Caris Podcast gesehen) sehr süße guten Nacht Emanuel! :)

Sylvie
Sylvie
11 months ago
Reply to  Sylvie

Emanuel concerning the mesage above, neither I do understand what I said.. :-/ Maybe, it’s a better idea for both of us, to write to you in English instead, oder? ;-)

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 months ago

b

Nicho
Nicho
11 months ago

I need a little help. Here is a sentence from a book about the Oktoberfestattentat of 1980. The author is a journalist.
“Damals äußerte Gundolf Köhler sich im Anschluß gegenüber einem Bekannten positiv beeindrukt” I understand this as “At the time, Gundolf Köhler claimed to an aquaintance that he was positively impressed.” I hope that’s acceptable as a translation. My question is more about the style of the German, in particular about “im Anschluß”, which I have not translated as it is superfluous, and also the general style of the writing. It seems odd to me to leave “positiv beeindrukt” stuck out on its own at the end of the sentence. As a test, I put this sentence through two internet translators and both came back with gobbledygook. Would “Damals äußerte Gundolf Köhler sich positiv beeindrukt gegenüber einem Bekannten” sound wrong, or lack force?

Ñicholas Mcaulay
Ñicholas Mcaulay
11 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks a lot Emmanuel. Very Helpful. The next sentence is:
“Später führte er dieses Gewahlt-Erlebnis dagegen als Grund an, sich von der WSG Hoffmann abgewandt zu haben”. Perhaps this change in Köhler’s attitude influenced my choice of “claimed” in the translation. Köhler is accused of planting the Munich bomb, so his reasoning is very confused.

Alan
Alan
11 months ago

So admit it, Bob is a vegetarian?!

Kara
Kara
11 months ago

I am new to the community and am glad to have this chance to learn. I would like to thank all who donated extra to help others. I was not able to pay due to co- vid 19 but the generosity of others you Madea wish come true.thank you

Subhanya
Subhanya
11 months ago

Vielen dank!! Thank you everyone for helping me to get the membership.It helped me a lot to study Deutsch for my Abitur

Ann Coffin
Ann Coffin
11 months ago

So, führen is about active leading, including decision making and reacting to a changing environment, etc while leiten suggests a guiding through a pre-defined pathway, process, pipe, channel. Is there a connection to the English word, light, in the sense of not dark and revealing a path, etc?

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
11 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I think it might really not be bad to think of führen as to lead and leiten as to direct, at least as a quick and dirty gloss.

Margie
Margie
11 months ago

Fantastisch, wie immer. Das Wort “begleiten” ist mir sehr wichtig, weil ich Pianistin bin und oft andere Musikern begleiten.

I would love to type more, but my autocorrect is having a heyday over the German words… Ach, so…

Dance, Emanuel! (The autocorrected version of danke.)

Eric Rachut
Eric Rachut
11 months ago

Your English is tremendous – native – level. In regard to the sentence, “When it rains heavily in Berlin, the sewage is being channeled into the Spree.” “Sewage” is OK, but sewage the noun is more a word for human waste (granted than sewers do carry everything, however). “Run off” (as a noun) might be used in the context of rainwater. Also, the word “being” should be omitted. Its presence in the sentence kind of implies that the channeling is responsible for the heavy rains (nonsensical). Hard to explain this, but the implication is there.

kofa
kofa
11 months ago

A great article, as usual. A few typo notes to the vocab list:

  • leiten = guide, leade -> lead, conduct (core idea is “showing way”, not about leading from the front)
  • der Halbleiter = the semi conductor -> semiconductor
  • die Leitplanke = the guarding rale -> rail
  • ableiten (aus, von) = to deduce, to derive, derivate -> not really used as a verb (math); “lead away” (for electricity or substances)
Elsa
Elsa
11 months ago

I’ll repost my comment ;)
Typos:

the vibe of “leading from the front” still pretty present (the vibe of “leading from the front” is still pretty present)
Führen has the same vibe of as (“of” is surplus)
doesn’t have this vibe actively (doesn’t have this vibe of actively) 
there are other prefix version (there are other prefix versions)
this leadership vibe that English to lead has (this leadership vibe that the English to lead has).
let me know in the comment (let me know in the comments)

Ok, hope it works now and the comment actually shows up this time!
Bis bald!

Elsa
Elsa
11 months ago

Hey, what’s happened to my comment?
I posted it and now it’s disappeared :(((

Elsa
Elsa
11 months ago

Hello,
Let me lead the way into correcting some typos;)
“the vibe of “leading from the front” still pretty present” (the vibe of “leading from the front” is still pretty present)
“has the same vibe of as to lead and” (“of” is surplus))
“doesn’t have this vibe actively” (doesn’t have this vibe of actively)
“other prefix version of it” (other prefix versions of it)
“there is sense of a path” (there is the sense of a path)
“leadership vibe that English to lead has” (leadership vibe that the English to lead has)
“let me know in the comment” (let me know in the comments)

Thanks, I never understood the difference between leiten and führen till now :))

Have a good week and bis bald!

Pia
Pia
11 months ago
  • Mir ist überrascht. The wine is an excellent accompaniment to the steak would be a better translation.
  • Der Wein ist eine ausgezeichnete Begleitung zu dem Steak.

After all the previous articles on nouns verbs adjectives etc, nobody has picked up on this error in translation. Mir ist überrascht.

Venkatesh
Venkatesh
11 months ago

ausgezeichneter Artikel.!! Es löscht alle Zweifel, die ich mit diesem Wort hatte.
Eine kleine Korrektur: “Oh well… why isn’t there a user manuel for men.” ——(manual)

Zuckerbaby
Zuckerbaby
11 months ago

Es ist wirklich Schade, aber ich könnte diesen vermutlich sehr interessanten Artikel nicht ansehen, deshalb nicht lesen—kurz um, wurde ich verboten, obwohl komischerweise bin ich erlaubt hierher zu schreiben. (Was soll das meinen?) Ich bin an das Wort “leiten” sehr interessiert, denn ich mache Begleitung für Balletklassen. Nochmal: Schade.

marko
marko
11 months ago

Und nun eine wirklich depperte Frage: Gibt es eine Verbindung zwischen “umleiten/die Umleitung” und “der umlaut”? Ein Umlaut leitet den Klang eines Vokals um…gell?

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
11 months ago

“Leitstelle” makes a lot of sense to me now. Giving the firetrucks or whatever a direction to go in. It looks like “livelihood” is related too. Your life’s way. I thought that was kind of neat.

I never really thought about the different meanings that “lead” can have, but there are definitely several. Being at the top or front, or going ahead. Showing or setting a course or direction. Those two blend together a lot:

The waiter led us to our table.
The fearsome warrior led the charge.

But not always:

The road leads over the mountains.
The water is led to the field by a pipe system.

And sometimes the result or destination is important:

The adoption of the new law led to protests.
The report led me to believe that unicorns don’t exist.

I think I can see the idea of being on top in the context of “ein Unternehmen leiten”. (And how it’s not there in the other examples.) I’m trying not to open the “führen” box too much, but I think that would probably be an option for when the thing at the end of the path matters? Like “führte zu Protesten”.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
11 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Hmm, must be something specific to my English brain then. I do seem to hear “führen” more often than “leiten”.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
11 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Hey, salt is necessary for life and makes food taste good:) I like to push the edges, sometimes it works out, sometimes not so much. The process and discussion are fun, but you’re right, I don’t want to give anyone a bum steer.