Word of the Day – “raten”

raten-meaning-imageHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
Have you ever asked someone else for advice? Like…  your colleague about your project, your loved one about your hair, or Mr. Alcohol about your problems? (Don’t ask him… he’s just gonna be like “Uhm… you should drink more of me”)
We all need someone to counsel us sometimes and there is one thing we don’t want that person to do… especially if we’re paying the consultant a crazillion dollars… we don’t want the person to guess.
Well… that is gonna be REALLY hard in German because we kind of use the same word for it. And that’s our topic this time.
Today we’ll have a look at the meaning of



And of course not just raten but also at Rat, and Verrat and beraten and erraten and the differences to raten and so on – basically the whole raten-family,the Ratens.  Soar ey our eady… ops, hold on, I really can’t segment today … are you ready for a whole lot of useful words and quite a few really, really cool surprises?
No, not THAT cool…

So…  to give advice and to guess combined in one word. How did that happen. It all started with the kinda ancient Germanic verb rātan,  which came from the jaw-droppingly ancient Indo-European root *re which meant something like “to reason, to count”.  The Germanic rātan was quite close to its origin as it still meant to reason and der Rat (council) was where reasoning was done…. be it in a Familienrat (family council) or, like today, in the Bundesrat (German federal assembly) Oh and also, that’s why the town hall is called Rathaus.
Now, after centuries over centuries of reasoning the word felt that it needed a change. It had always loved to walk through the forest while pondering and one day,as it sat on a trunk next to a bush of forbidden berries, ratan had an idea.
“All this pondering makes me sick. I want to work with my hands, do something practical.”
Back in the villages it told the tribes about it’s new idea… or notion:
You know me as someone to think up plans. From now on, I shall be the one to put them in practice.” And the people were like: “Sure, why not.”
And so started a period when raten would mean to take care of things, especially of the basic needs that most people back then had as their daily business… food, family and shelter. Little is left of that meaning but there are a few words where it still shows. For example der Vorrat 

or this cute little compound:

These were already a surprise for me and I totally did not realize that there is Rat in there but the next one REALLY made me go like
Whaaaaaaat?! THIS is related??
The word I mean is…. drumroll…

  • heiraten

Tadah. Not bad huh? And it’s not a joke. The hei-part comes from home and the Rat… well, that’s the old taking care of things. So heiraten was something like to take care of home… I guess that makes sense.
So… these words are leftovers of the “active” period of raten but that didn’t last too long. Taking care of things can be exhausting, too exhausting for raten’s taste. And so one day, after raten had been whining about work for hours, a friend suggested the next logical step: “You know stuff. You should become a consultant.”

raten – the consultant

That was it. Instead of doing the work, raten would just tell people how to do it. Of course. And this would also be a nice tie in with the council-meaning it already had. Rat now could mean council or counsel/advice.

This word is used a lot and there are quite a few words with it.

And of course there is the verb raten and the “opposite abraten.

Now, I did use advise in the examples but I feel like in real life there are quite some differences to raten. First of, raten doesn’t sound as “lecturing” or formal and I think it is used more in daily life that to advise.  Then, there is the grammar. With to advise the person being advised is the direct object. You can kiss someone or advise someone. The grammar’s the same. With raten it’s different. The grammar is the same like geben.  So raten is actually more like to give advice to someone.  And this brings us to the third difference between raten and adviseraten is a “situational” thing. Someone has a problem, you raten him something. Done. Raten does not work for general long term advising. And some of you probably already know which prefix to chose… exactly… good old be- does the job of constantly “inflicting” advice on someone and that is the difference between raten and beraten, the former is in one particular situation, the other is a general thing.

Now, I think we should mention that beraten has a second meaning… an older one actually.

This is clearly based on the same idea as the old council meaning. You get together and reason about stuff. But I think the consulting-meaning is the more common one, especially when we factor in the nouns.

Actually, Beratung has a second meaning.

This shows how close the counseling idea actually is to the original reasoning idea of old Germanic ratan. And that was a problem for raten. Raten was a successful consultant now. But it was depressed. One day, at one of its long walks through the forest, it came by the same trunk like decades earlier.  It sat down next to the bush, just where it had sat last time. “Why do I feel so empty.” , it thought. It was late summer and the bush was full of ripe berries. Raten ate one. And another one. And another one. And then it dawned to him. “All my life I have always been reasonable. It is like a prison. I want to do crazy things. Have crazy ideas. I want  be creative. I want to be free!”.
“You should raten, you should. Want another berry?” the bush, who could now talk, said.
Raten wanted and as the world started spinning and raten felt truly happy for the first time… from now on it would not always reason things out. It would reason without reasoning. It would feel them out. It would.. guess.

Raten – the riddler

Seriously, if you try reasoning with less and less information at some point it turns to mere guessing. And that’s where raten got the second meaning it has today.

This is one of the most common uses of the verb and yes, the mal has to be there. Without it, it sounds REALLY demanding.

  • “Private, what did I do last night?”
    “Sir, no idea, sir.”
    “Sir, sleep, sir.”

Now, there are actually some rather big usage differences between raten and guess. We’ve just seen that this works perfectly:

  • Rate mal, was/wo/wie/wer/wen/wann/wieviel…
  • Guess what/where/how/who/whom/when/how much…

What doesn’t work is this:

  • Guess what… I made an A in the German quizz.

You cannot say “Rate was…”. The word is just not used this way. And there isn’t a real alternative either other than making a question out of it.

Of course you’d have to wait for an answer then…. German is always ready to put a break on your enthusiasm, I guess :).
And this is the second super common English phrasing that DOESN’T work with raten at all…

  • He was hungry, I guess.
  • I guess we should go.

All the “I guess” does here, is telling us that the person is not certain. And another way to do that are all those words like probably or perhaps. This is how it’s done in German.

  • Er hatte vielleicht/wohl/wahrscheinlich Hunger.

Another ways would be:

  • Ich würde sagen,…
  • I’d say…

but for most situations this is too long and clunky.
All right. So those were two big difference in usage. Time to get to … uhm… more big differences?! Wait, are those words actually translations?
So… in English, there is a noun the guess and it is used quite frequently. German doesn’t have that noun and people would either use the verb.

And sometimes, even that doesn’t work and people would use a different phrasing entirely…

  • My guess would be
  • Ich würde sagen, dass…
  • Mein Tip wäre

I think, in general raten is much more “guessy” than to guess. If you raten, you REALLY have no idea whereas guess seems to overlap with suppose or reckon a bit.
But anyway… now let’s take a quick look at erraten, which means to guess something right. That’s the difference to raten which, too, can mean that but it also can just mean plain guessing around.

Had I used erraten, pressure would have been on, but with raten, I did everything I said I would do. I ventured a guess. A very VERY stupid guess, perhaps, but a guess, nonetheless. Numbers always kind of make my brain go numb, anyway. I think that’s why they’re called numbers.
… … …
… …

ahem… hey, uhm… how about we just do one example for erraten and move on as if nothing happened.

As far as nouns go, there is Rätsel, which is of course riddle. But I think the German word is a little broader.

Meh… not really actually.
Anyway, we’re almost done here but there is one verb, a very common verb, that we haven’t talked about yet. And in that verb, all the meanings sort of melt. I am talking about verraten.
The ver-prefix can mean something like miss and verraten used to mean to “miss-counsel”. This meaning has since been forgotten but the negative idea influenced another meaning of verraten.
We’ve learned that, for a while, the verb raten used to mean to actually take measures. To see to that something is done. Back in those days, verraten used to be something like to get rid of someone. You wanted a certain person gone (ver- away), so you’d scheme and then take action (raten).. or maybe you’d just give some bad advice (miss-counsel). This verraten was then narrowed down a great deal until it was only used for all the backstabbing and betrayal that was going on at the kings courts, especially the classic of telling someone else’s secrets to the wrong person.
And those are the two meanings verraten has today.. to betray on the one hand

and to spill or tell a secret on the other hand.

Here’s an example where they both sort of superimpose.

Now, although the word has a negative origin, it is not always used in negative contexts…. at least the secret-telling-one is pretty neutral.

People often use verraten instead of to tell to create a certain conspiri… contispa…uh…  conspritrilola.. geez… this certain high school girlish bond you have when you share secrets.

Or if they want the stuff their telling to sound  more exclusiverer.

Ohh.. that sounds exciting. I mean it can’t be fried potatoes because that wouldn’t be a s… oh it’s fried potatoes, never mind.

This is it for today. That was our German Word of the Day raten and its family. It comes from the same root as reason, then it went on to taking care of the household, then it became a consultant and then, after trippin’ on some berries, it also meant to guess. And actually… this may not have been the first time it ate from that bush because guess what English word is related to raten… you’re doing it right now. Reading. Yes, to read is based on the reasoning and the guessing idea of raten. You’re trying to make sense of weird symbols… and at least for some my handwriting, that can turn into guessing quickly :)
If you have questions or advice about today’s post or if you want to play around and do some examples with the words we’ve learned, just leave  a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Further reading:


for members :)

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Excellent post. I absolutely love your detailed explanations.

Sales people give ADVICE. Someone who gives you COUNSEL is generally someone who has been educated in that field to counsel you on matters (think attorneys, politicians, clergy). Generally someone who’s working as a sales clerk can advise you of ideas or what color goes best with those pants. Your contractor would advise you of marble or tile in your kitchen and the cost. Or your relatives could advise you that your sweater is ugly or you had some good/bad ideas. You could listen to the “counsel” of your father… but that is generally not spoken in this day and you’d only be listening to his advice anyway.

The average educated American would/could write the word counsel but in common conversation they would really use the word advice or advise.
“I seek your advice.”
“I advise you.”


It is a mystery to my – ein Editorfehler. Ich mag die Idee, das verheiraten könnte sich zwei bedeutungen haben. Einmal für ein paar, die zusammen sein wollen und zweimal für die “unklug” Raten, wenn du weißt was ich meine. z.B warum wollt ihr verheiratet werden, weil die Idee so dumm ist? Geht das?

Gute Post auf jeden fall. Freut mich immer zu lesen.


Ich glaube, die zweite Bedeutung lässt sich schwierig in “verheiratet” reinlesen. Wenn man sich das Substantiv “die Heirat” anschaut, wird es deutlicher. “Die Heirat” meint ursprünglich die Zusammenführung zweier Haushalte.

hei = Heim/Haus
Rat = das was man benötigt, um zu leben / Haushalt /Dinge, auf die man aufpasst
ver = wie im Post genannt kann die Bedeutung von “gone” oder “away” haben

Wenn man das zusammenführt, bleibt für “verheiratet” sowas wie “schon mit einem anderen Haushalt zusammengeführt”. Schaut man sich den Kontext an von damals, fällt auf, dass die “die Heirat”, die Zusammenführung zweier Haushalte war und außerdem etwas Gutes war. Etwas, das es sich lohnte zu tun, etwas das gesellschaft angesehen und angestrebt wurde.

Ich glaube, dass die zweite Bedeutung, die du erwähnst, nicht wirklich passt. Zumal “verraten”, wie im Post genannt, ursprünglich die Bedeutung von “to get rid of someone” hatte. Der Focus von “verheirtet” liegt eher auf dem weggeben, auf eigenen Beinen stehen, im eigenen neu gegründeten Haushalt. Die Bedeutung von “unklug” kann es meiner Meinung nach aufgrund des historischen Kontextes nur schwer haben.

Deine Idee gefällt mir aber trotzdem, denn zumindest hat sich der Kontext von damals mittlerweile geändert. Vielleicht könnte man deine Bedeutung in ein paar Jahren/Jahrzehnten hineinlesen :)


Sehr interessant. As a native English speaker, I believe “household content insurance” would be homeowner’s insurance or just home insurance. Insurance for a house usually includes both damage to the house and the contents within the house (at least in the states).


I’m pretty sure ‘household content(s) insurance’ or just ‘contents insurance’ are perfectly acceptable terms.

Not everyone owns their home, and in a rental situation obviously the landlord would be reponsible for the home insurance (i.e. for building and fixtures) and the tenant could insure their posessions (the contents) if this were required by and affordable to them.

‘at least in the states’ – is not a good way to back something up :-D sorry I am half-joking :-)


Der Artikel ist sehr interessant. As a native English speaker, I believe “household content insurance” would be called homeowner’s insurance or just home insurance. One thing to keep in mind is that homeowner’s insurance typically covers both the house and the content within the house (at least it typically does in the states). Also, I don’t think you would use counsel when referring to a salesperson. I think advise or recommend would be better. Counseling in English is typically used when talking about professional advice given by a psychologist or someone else qualified to give life advice.


Household Content Insurance – that term in ‘English’ may vary between countries. Here in Australia it’s usually Home and Content Insurance, but really there are a few different ways to discuss it. ‘Household Insurance’ is not really used but as easily understood. But a ‘Household’ is a word the usually refers more to the family within the house – and all the interactions between that family (or group of people or whatever). How you split bills, daily choirs (household duties) and the like. So on a very technical level you can’t really insure a ‘Household.’ You insure the House or the Home. And of course the contents.


Konnte immer nicht zwischen raten und erraten unterscheiden. Vielen Dank fuer Die Erklaerung.


Noch ein ratsamer Post , aber bin ich ratlos wegen eines wort in dieser Ausdruck ” Or if they want to sound the stuff their telling more exclusivererer” .
Excusif (adj or adv) , exkusiv+er : more exclusiv in comparative sens , exkusivste+r or in exkusiver+er Bedinungen ( Akus) . Ich verstehe nicht warüm ” More exklusiv+er+er+er ” ?????
Voraus, ich danke dir .


Ich würde sagen, dass er es mit dem Wort “exklusivererer” betont, wie komisch der Komparativ “exklusiver” klingt. Das, was exklusiver ist, ist schon exklusiv (und umgekehrt).


vielen Dank .

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

> Excusif


> Voraus, ich danke dir .

Im Voraus. As in “Danke im Voraus”.


Einen typofehler: EXklusiv . Verzeihe mir .


Es ist keine leichte Übung, es zu erraten, was das nächste Word of the Day sein wird, aber auf jeden Fall kann ich es allen schon verraten, dass der Blogpost darüber gleichmäßig informativ und witzig sein wird wie die früheren. Hut ab!

(Meine Vermutung ist, dass ein von den Pronomen “es” im oben geschriebenen Satz überflüssig sein darf.)


This is great! I have two questions regarding the post (both rather pedantic, I’m afraid)
1. I find your history of these words and their earlier meanings quite useful as I have to read a lot of mittelhochdeutsch for my studies. Is there anyway to include approximate dates of their earlier usage when you write about these histories? If it’s too time-consuming, no worries – I’ll survive without them. (Perhaps survive is not the best word, as I’m not sure anyone can survive trying to learn and read mittelhochdeutsch on their own…)
2. Is it possible to use other modal verbs to express that you are guessing or are uncertain about what you are stating without using würde sagen? I vaguely remember learning the different degrees of uncertainty/possibility that modal verbs indicate EONS ago, so this might be totally wrong – but I thought it was also possible to use the Konj. II conjugation with sollen, müssen, können, mögen, etc. and that could indicate uncertainty. For example “Er könnte zu Hause sein.” Basically, you’re guessing that he’s at home, without actually saying “I guess” he’s at home. The verb “mood” expresses that on its own. Is that correct? Or am I over thinking this?

I can’t believe I went this long without knowing your website. It is so helpful!

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

1. http://www.dwds.de/?qu=raten

Guck mal unter “Etymologisches Wörterbuch”.

2. Du hast recht, und es gibt sicherlich mehr Weisen, auf welche man diese Unsicherheit ausdrücken könnte, z.B. “ich vermute, dass…”. Der Konj. II ist aber nicht explizit, und ich glaube, Emanuel hat explizite Ausdrucksweisen gemeint, also, die “Wörter” und nicht die “Wortmodifikationen”.

Darüber hinaus kann man in vielen Vergangenheitsfällen die Modalverben selber (ohne K.II) als Unsicherheitsindikatoren benutzen:

*Er muss Hunger gehabt haben.*

Das klingt für mich wie eine “starke” Vermutung, fast wie Gewissheit (ich bin aber kein Muttersprachler). Sowieso ist es ein bisschen länger als die anderen Varianten.

*Er will Hunger gehabt haben.*

Er behauptet so. D.h. wir verlassen uns auf seine Angaben – sie könnten auch falsch sein.

*Er soll Hunger gehabt haben.*

– nach den Angaben einer dritten Person.

Dann kann man auch das Futur II verwenden:

Er wird (wohl) Hunger gehabt haben.

Das ist aber wieder ein komplizierterer Ausdruck, wo man sich auf einfachere einschränken könnte.


Ah, wonderful! This is very useful. Vielen Dank!

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Übrigens, Emanuel, hast du mal “Treppenwitz bis Sauregurkenzeit: die verrücktesten Wörter im Deutschen” von Christoph Gutknecht gelesen?


Ich habe ein Raetsel das mich seit langem verfolgt und ich will es unbedingt klarhaben: ich denke naemlich, du hast ein anderes Wort der “raten”-Familie vergessen und ich habe manchmal dieses Wort beim Lesen gefunden. Wofuer steht das Verb “zuraten” und wie wird es normalerweise in einem Satz gebildet? es geht wahrscheinlich um eine ganz unwichitige Vokabel, aber meine neugierigkeit laesst mich nicht in Ruhe……
Danke im Voraus, und geh’ immer noch so weiter!!! Dein Blog ist fantastisch!!!!

Christopher Kellen

Ich möchte nur zu sagen, dass ich NIEMALS meinen Pony verraten würde! =)

Ein anderes ausgezeichnet Post, wie immer. Vielen Dank.

almanya ilanları

Danke schön


Meine Frage ist… geraten? :)


Ich habe disese sätze in Internet Zeitschrif Deutsch Perfect gefunden betrefend des Einflus Deutschlands Deutsch über österreichises Deuscht .
” „Eine Folge ist, dass spezifisch österreichische Eigenheiten und Ausdrucksweisen unserer Sprache langsam aber sicher in den Hintergrund geraten“, fürchtet Heinisch-Hosek ( österreichs bildungminister ) . Was bedeutet hier ” geraten ?

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Das ist das Verb “geraten”, das nicht mit “raten” zu verwechseln ist. Man gerät z.B. in eine Situation, in einen Unfall, in Verdacht…


Das war eigentlich meine Frage. Geraten muss mit raten viel zu tun haben, weil geraten/gerät/geriet.


Danke schön


Guter Artikel
eine offtopic Frage: Kannst du bitte den Unterschied zwischen umdrehen und drehen kurz erklären?


Excellent Website….Excellent teaching method. I want these lessons in my inbox. Is there a provision for this ?


Entschuldigung… aber ist es nicht “mit wem ich gestern getroffen hatte”? statt “wen ich gestern getroffen hatte”?
Als du die Post über “Treffen” gemacht hatte, hattest du gesagt, wenn man “treffen” ohne “mit” oder “uns” (oder irgendetwas) verwendet, dann bedeutet das Wort “to hit”. Habe ich recht oder bin ich doch verwirrt?
Diese Kommentar war auch für mich verwirrend zu schreiben…


und anraten? was würde das bedeuten?