Word of the Day – “liegen”

Hello everyone,liegen

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



Did I say meaning… sorry. I meant to say shit-zillion meanings. Just for fun check out how many translations Pons is offering for this word. It seems to be all over the place. It’s like you open your dictionary and you find liegen lying around on every other freakin’ page… …  get it?? Liegen is lying around everywhere! Not funny? Well once we are done you will understand this incredibly clever joke and burst out laughing.

So fortunately the bazillion meanings can be reduced to 3 major concepts.  The first and by far the biggest one is to lie. Just to make sure… it is the one of “God, it made me so happy to see him lie next to me.” and not the one “God, it made me so sad to see him lie to me.” Not funny? Ok ok, I’ll try to take this more seriously… so the main concept or meaning of liegen is to lie as in being placed horizontally.
And boy oh boy is there a lot of things that Germans consider to be placed horizontally … basically anything that cannot specifically be put up vertically and even those can lie.
Let’s look at some examples… we’ll start with real physical objects.

  • Ich liege im Bett.
  • I lie in bed.
  • Mein Buch liegt auf dem Tisch.
  • My book is lying on the table.
  • Meine Haare liegen heute wahnsinnig gut.
  • My hair is in really good shape today / My hair “is lying” perfect today.

So far so obvious. The last one of the examples is already a use case that does not directly translate to English but it makes still sense as long as the hair is sort of lying. And you wouldn’t say that to a guy with a mow-hawk… his hair is standing which would be stehen in German… but let’s not go there today :).

Before we move on let’s have a quick look at 2 verbs liegen loves to team up with: bleiben and lassen. Liegen lassen would literally be to leave lying and it means basically to forget or leave behind depending on whether it was done on purpose or not.

  • Ich lasse mein Portmonaie in der U-Bahn liegen.
  • I forget my wallet in the subway.
  • Ich lasse meine Arbeit liegen.
  • I leave work unfinished.

Liegen bleiben is basically the same idea but from the perspective of the thing so it means something like to remain or stay lying. Snow can do it, although this winter it seems as if not, my work can liegen bleiben, when I am too lazy to do it, I can liegen bleiben in my bed, and my car can liegen bleiben… oh wait that means to break down. So remember liegen bleiben and liegen lassen  because Germans use those all the time.
Liegen is also used for all kinds of geographical information and in those cases it basically means the same as to be.

  • Berlin liegt in Deutschland.
  • Berlin is in Germany.
  • Das Dorf liegt im Tal.
  • The village is in the valley.
  • Die Wohnung liegt in einer ruhigen Gegend.
  • The flat is in a quiet neighborhood.

So cities, streets, flats, and all of those can liegen. You can even use it for a house. Only obviously vertical objects are not “lying”.

  •  Der Eifelturm liegt in Paris.
  • The Eiffel Tower is in Paris.

This still works somehow but it might raise some questions as to how this happened and how the French are dealing with this obvious catastrophe. So in sense of geography liegen doesn’t mean much but simply to be.

Apart from physical things and geographic places, there is a whole dictionary of other stuff that lies in German like faith, life, responsibility, answers, words, causes, erotic, problems, trouble, prices etc. … some of those lie also in English but some don’t.

  • Unser Schicksal liegt in Gottes Hand.
  • Our faith is/lies in gods hand.
  • Das Wort liegt mir auf der Zunge aber ich weiß es nicht.
  • The word is on the tip of my tongue but I just can’t say it.
  • Der Preis für einen Mercedes liegt bei etwa 20.000 Euro
  • The price for a Mercedes is at about 20.000 Euro.
  • Die Verantwortung liegt bei dir.
  • You have the responsibility.
    The responsibility lies next to you. (literal)

Even facts or theories lie in German.

  • Es liegt auf der Hand, dass Bier betrunken macht.
  • It is obvious that beer makes you drunk.
    It (the fact) lies on the hand,… (literal)
  • Deine Theorie liegt nicht sehr nahe, aber sie ist nachvollziehbar.
  • Your theory is not obvious, yet it is comprehensible.
    Your theorie does not lie close by/near, but… (literal)
  • Liebe liegt in der Luft.
  • Love is in the air.

Liegen is also used VERY frequently to give reasons namely in constructions equivalent to the Englisch “due to” or “That is because”

liegen an

  • “Warum quietscht mein Auto immer so, wenn ich losfahre?”
    Das liegt daran, dass das Motoröl alle is.”
  • “So why is my car squeaking whenever I start?”
    Well, that’s ’cause there is no more oil in there.
  • Der Erfolg von George Clooney  liegt nicht nur an seinem Aussehen.
  • George Clonney’s success is not only due to his looks.

Germans use these phrasings A LOT …. hmm not enough emphasis yet… A LOT !!! So try to do it yourself or at least make sure, that you understand it right. The crucial thing for those uses of liegen is the little preposition an… so generally the structure is

  • the effect liegt an the cause

This basic idea is also used for questions.

  • “Why is it that  I just can’t remember my girlfriends birthday?”
    “Maybe it’s because you don’t have a girlfriend?”
  • “Woran liegt es, dass ich mir den Geburtstag meiner Freundin nicht merken kann?”
    “Vielleicht daran, dass du keine Freundin hast?”

Now we have made our way from simple basic object to reasons and all kinds of things that are somehow located. I could give you guys more examples and more and more and more but I think and hope you got the main idea so …
Hey, where are you going guys? It’s not like we are done here! That was the first of three concepts, we have two more ahead of us or as a German would say “2 liegen noch vor uns.”

The two other concepts of liegen do not really make sense when you look at it as being positioned horizontally. They are not used extensively, yet they are not ancient either. Unfortunately their grammar is as twisted as it is awfully similar. Just take a look at the 2 sentences and try to spot the difference.

  • Mir liegt viel an Deutsch.
  • Mir liegt Deutsch sehr.

These two mean totally different things. The first one means that you feel strongly about German or that you care a lot whereas the second means that I am very talented for German. Depending on the context especially the first one can have a tone ranging from almost love to be important to. Let’s look at some more examples.

  • Dem Aktionär liegt viel daran, dass seine Aktien steigen.
  • It is very important to the stockholder, that his shares go up.
  • Maria liegt viel an Thomas.
  • Maria cares a lot about Thomas.

Note that Maria and the stockholder are not the subject. The grammatical subject is the mysterious it , you know, the one that rains or gets cold or amazes you. It just is not visible in the German sentences as they are arranged in … well … let’s just say ways :).
The liegen in sense of to be skilled is also grammatically a little twisted. Here are 1 more examples for that one:

  • Mathematik liegt mir nicht.
  • I ain’t very skilled at math.

So here the subject is math and not you.

So now, as we are all already tired, it is…. grammar time… can’t dodge this… (I hope they get my MC Hammer reference… that will make them forget how long this is… these thought parantheses are so convenient…)
Liegen mostly builds it’s past with haben and only in a few occasions you might see it with sein. Those cases are geographical indication, so where something IS located. The ge-form of liegen is gelegen… I write it again… gelegen… with -en, if you say gelegt then you have the ge-form of legen which is to lay.

  • Ich habe den ganzen Tag im Bett gelegen.
  • I have been lying in bed all day.
  • Das Hotel ist am Fluss gelegen.
  • The hotel is at the river.

The real past stem of liegen is lag and it is one that you can actually hear every now and then in spoken German. There is also a lot of words that are based of of liegen and having read this post you can actually see that they are all related. But before I give you a list of those, let me say good-bye for this time. I know this was a long post but liegen is a really really really versatile word so we had to do it justice.

So I hope you enjoyed it and see you next time.

Here are some examples together with the explanation of the origin:

  • die Lage – the situation, the location (it is not standing upright so it must liegen :) )
  • das Anliegen – the request (the to be important to someone liegen)
  • naheliegend – self evident (to lie close )
  • Angelegenheit – the issue, the matter (like Anliegen)
  • gelegen – well timed
  • ungelegen – badly timed
  • Das kommt sehr gelegen – That is good timing (ok I don’t know what that could be related to)
  • gelegentlich – occasionally
  • die Gelegenheit – opportunity
  •  Anlage – attachement (to lie next to it)
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