Word of the Day – “der Schein”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: July 5, 2021

Hello everyone,a shining sun

and welcome to our German word of the day. This time we will have a look at the meanings of:

der Schein


Der Schein sounds like shine and it also means something like that and it is a word German use all the time, especially in compound nouns. As English doesn’t really use a stand-alone word ‘the shine’ very much, there seem to be various translations for Schein.
There is Sonnenschein (sunshine), Mondschein (moonshine… no, not the “drink”), Kerzenschein (candle light), Lichtschein (flare or gleam of light), Feuerschein (glow of fire) and 100 €-Schein (100 € bill). Wait… maybe the last one shouldn’t be in this list. We’ll get to that Schein a little later on… prepare for some serious philosophical talk there :) .
But lets start with the Schein in Sonnenschein. Der Schein in sense of light comes from the verb scheinen which is related to the English to shine. Both are relatively close but there also a false friend potential there. The German idea of scheinen is that light is emitted actively by an object. This is different to English where to shine can also be done passively as for example by a diamond. The diamond just reflects light and in these cases in German you would use glänzen instead of scheinen.

  • Die Sonne scheint.
  • Mein Auto ist silber und glänzt.

By the way… glänzen is also the word to use if you want to say that someone shines at something in sense of he is really good at it.

  • Maria shines at German.
  • Maria glänzt in Deutsch.

Sorry what? The… the moon does what? …doesn’t shine actively? Well technically that is correct but the moon had been subject of conversations long before we figured out that it is not a source of its own. Anyway… there is  two other meanings of to shine that scheinen does not cover. The first one is to shine in sense of to make something shiny or simply to polish and the second one is to point your light somewhere. The German word in these cases are polieren and some variations of leuchten.

  • I shine my shoes.
  • Ich poliere meine Schuhe.
  • I shine my flashlight down the hallway.
  • Ich leuchte mit meiner Taschenlampe den Flur entlang.

Scheinen has a second meaning or concept because it also means to seem or to appear.

  • Es scheint ein schöner Frühling zu werden.
  • It seems like there will be a nice spring.
  • Mir scheint, dass du schlechte Laune hast.
  • It appears to me that you are in a bad mood.

The corresponding noun der Schein also works for this concept of scheinen. A Schein in this sense is an appearance but not the physical, real one. It is rather the perceived appearance than the real one. So the Schein can deceive you badly and there is some idiomatic expressions where Schein has a negative make-believe touch to it.

  • Thomas hat keine Lust zu arbeiten. Deshalb ruft er seinen Chef an und sagt ihm, dass er krank ist. Zum Schein hustet er die ganze Zeit.
  • Thomas doesn’t want to work. So he calls his boss and tells him that he is sick and he feignedly coughs the whole time.

So the two concepts of Schein we have seen so far are some sort of glow and the perceived appearance which can be different than the facts. And these two are not so different after all. Of course that is only my opinion but the following examples might make it comprehensible.

  • You seem to be in a bad mood.
  • You shine / emit a vibe or a ‘light’ as if you were in a bad mood.
  • Du scheinst schlechte Laune zu haben.
  • Appearances can be deceptive.
  • Emitted vibes / Immediately perceivable characteristics / visible features can be deceptive.
  • Der Schein kann trügerisch sein.

As we are already being pretty theoretical lets now get back to the 100 €-Schein. That is obviously a 100 €-bill. At first sight this seems just another signification for Schein and a pretty boring one at that. But is this piece of paper that says 100 € of any real value or does it just say it is? A 100 €-Schein could be literally translated to a 100 €-appearance. The bill emits the vibe of being worth 100 €, it represents 100 € while its actual value based on the  mere physical properties the real value is significantly lower… so the 100 €-Schein or more generally the Geldschein still has a connection to the main concept of scheinen, which is to actively emit a vibe /light / appearance. And what’s with all the other things that are also build with Schein?

  • Fahrschein – ticket for train or bus
  • Gutschein – voucher /gift certificate
  • Führerschein – drivers license
  • Jagdschein – shooting license
  • Wohnberechtigungsschein – brought to you by…. bureaucracy: a sort of voucher for people with a low income that allows them to rent flats in areas that would otherwise be too costly for a reasonable price

So like a 100 €-Schein all these are sort of visual proves that you have some thing or are able to do something. A Fahrschein proves that you have payed the fee. But maybe you haven’t and your Schein is deceiving.

Now, to wrap up this long rendition, lets do …. yeah grammar. So the plural is die Scheine, and the only extra letter ever required is the x between the e and the i… ok no I am kidding… it’s the n for plural case 3.

  • Ich gehe mit meinen Gutscheinen zu Versace.

The verb scheinen conjugates regularly, the ge-form is geschienen, built with haben of course, and the real past stem is schien. Glänzen is totally regular and it could actually be a good one to work on your pronunciation with.

  • Nachts glänzt so manches Sternchen am Himmel.
  • At nighttime quite some small stars are glittering in the sky.

So when we started to talk about Schein we had Sonnenschein and now it is  night already… yeah I know this was long. But I hope you enjoyed it anyway and see you next time.

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