German Word of the Day – “freuen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. It is the 25th of December and I am really glad… not because it is Christmas but because I finally for the first time since the fall of the Berlin wall I haven’t heard THE song… “Last Christmas” by Wham and this song just haunts you… once it is in your head, it just won’t leave. Composed in 1984, this song still pops up regularly on many many play-lists of radio stations in December and even though I do not listen to music radio that much I have gotten my fair “last Christmas” share every year, be it in the supermarket, at a friends place or in a car  … but not this year. I realized that yesterday in my way home from the supermarket and I was amazed. Has humanity finally evolved beyond that song? That would be awesome. My first Christmas without that song in my ears… and Christmas is over now. They will stop playing it so I am in no danger anymore to acciden… hey wait, what that blue thing right there in the next line…. looks like a link… well now that’s odd… I wonder where it takes me…. hold on real quick while I follow that weird intriguing LINK…. … …
Alright, I’m back. That was random. Anyway… no Wham for me this year and for that I am really happy.  And I hope a lot of you guys out there are happy too and today we’ll learn how to say that in German. Ladys and Gentlemen, today we’ll look at the meaning of:

freuen (pron.: froyin

Freuen comes from the core adjective froh which means merry or glad. Froh actually has a brother in English, frolic and both those words can be traced back to the Indo-European root  *preu which meant something like to jump or to skip. Now, guess where the word frog, Frosch in German, comes fr… exactly… from the very same root. So… the original meaning to jump up was the starting point for several meanings like  swift, agile, animated, lively and from there it is not that hard to draw the connection to happy and merry… just think of a dog when you pick up a stick.

Freuen which is a tricky word to translate because it really doesn’t exist as a single verb in English… not even close. If I had to chose one single translation that you should remember for it then this would be this:

  • Ich freue mich.
  • I am happy.

The meaning is about the same BUT the grammatical structures are TOTALLY different. Why? Well, first of, you cannot just freuen around.

  • Ich freue.    … is wrong and means nothing

Freuen absolutely needs a target, it needs to be done to someone… in the example it is done to myself so in jargon we could say it is reflexive.

  • Ich freue mich…. is correct

Now you might think… ok, so freuen is more like to make happy. 
Well, that is not totally wrong…


Freuen can mean to make happy, but only in a situation where a thing or fact makes a person happy.

  • Das Wetter freut mich.
  • The weather makes me happy.
  • Dein Geschenk hat ihn sehr gefreut.
  • Your present made him very happy.
  • Es freut mich sehr, dass du zu meiner Party kommst.
  • It makes me really happy that you are going to come to my Party.

Phrasings like these are fairly common in German, but even more important are theones with the unspecified das/es.

  • Es würde mich sehr freuen, von Ihnen zu hören.
  • I would make me very happy to hear from you (lit.)
  • It would be great to hear from you…. actual meaning
  • “Hey, ich habe Freikarten für’s Kino und auf einer steht dein Name.”
    “Oh das freut mich.”
  • “Hey I have free tickets for the movies and one of them has your name on it.”
    “Oh that makes me happy.” (lit.)
    “Oh that’s great.” … actual meaning

As you can see in the examples, in those phrasings the actual meaning is more a to be great than to make happy… so the freuen-versions sound less deep than the make-happy version would sound. And there is another difference between this freuen and to make happyfreuen does not work with 2 persons.

  • You make me very happy.
  • Du freust mich sehr…. sounds very wrong

In those cases people would rather use the more literal translation

  • Du machst mich froh/glücklich.

Alright… now, let’s get back to the self-referential freuen.

sich freuen (über)

In the beginning, we had the sentence

  • Ich freue mich.

The  mich as a self-reference (myself) and different to the freuen we just discussed this one, the self-inflicted one has absolutely NO notion of making anything. Sich freuen does not increase your happiness-level… the level is already high.  So the verb is just describing your feelings…. kind of like the opposite of to mourn with a self-reference.

  • Thomas freut sich sehr, weil Maria ihn angerufen hat.
  • Thomas is very happy because Maria called him.
  • Wir haben uns sehr gefreut, als wir die Einladung bekommen haben.
  • We were very happy when we received the invitation.
  • Ich habe mich sehr über deine Mail gefreut.
  • I was very happy about your mail.
  • Ich freue mich, dich kennenzulernen.
  • I am glad to meet you.

As you see it really means to be glad/ happy . There is a small difference however in that freuen is more of a situational and short verb… it is something you actively do after all. So it is not used in sense of a general being happy or content.

  • I am very happy at the moment…. does NOT translate to
  • Ich freue mich zur Zeit sehr.

The German freuen-version is implies that there is a particular reason for your being happy. People will expect a sentence with because. The correct German phrasing would be

  • Ich bin zur Zeit sehr glücklich.

So sich freuen is the way to go whenever are happy because… or happy that…. or happy about something.
And since über is a preposition it is normal that there are formulations like these too.

  • Ich freue mich darüber, dass heute die Sonne scheint.
  • I am happy that the sun is shining today.

If you are like…. what does darüber mean? Well, in a nutshell it means about that or thereabout and if this is not enough then you should read this article to get the full low down on da-words.
Now, can’t we just say

  • Ich freue mich, dass die Sonne scheint.

This would work as well and the meaning is pretty similar but the tone is a little different… I don’t want to get into too much detail here anyway. IN many phrasings like this you may or may not add darüber without much of a difference. Only sentences with when and if are exceptions and you mustn’t add it there.

  • Thomas freue sich, wenn Maria kommt.
  • Thomas is happy, if/when Maria come.
  • Ich habe mich gefreut, als du angerufen hast.
  • I was happy when you called.

Adding a darüber will imply that you are happy about something else and other part of the sentence is only an indication about when exactly I am happy about this mysterious it… here is how it sounds.

  • I was happy about that when you called.

Alright… so sich freuen, (dass, weil, über, …) is a every day situation-specific being happy… sometimes it is even more a being excited.

  • “Also, dann treffen wir uns heute um 8 in der Bar.”
    “Ja, ich freu’ mich schon.”
    “Ich (freu) mich auch.
  • “Alright so we’ll meet tonight at 8 in the bar.”
    “Yep, I’m excited.” (“I am already happy … lit.)
    “Me too.”

Now… this is already a pretty useful verb but there is more…. a minor change in preposition can make a huge difference in translation.

freuen auf

Just what is the difference between sich freuen auf and sich freuen über? Auf as a preposition of location means on top of and über means above… that seems awfully similar. But when used in abstract sense, über is kind of stationary… at least way more than auf. Auf in combination with the 4th case (the n-one, or in jargon accusative) has a strong notion of direction, while über has not.

  • Ich warte auf den Bus.
  • I am waiting for the bus…. bus is my objective of sorts but it is NOT present yet.
  • Ich rede über den Film.
  • I talk about the movie… I can hold the DVD in my hand an talk about it… so the movie is there, it is present and if not physically then at least in my mind.

So… sich freuen über is to be happy about something that is present or reality. Sich freuen auf is being happy about something that isn’t there yet. It is being happy in anticipation of something or… in real English.. looking forward to something.

  • Ich freue mich auf mein Bett.
  • I am looking forward to my bed.
  • Thomas freut sich auf Dienstag, denn da hat er frei.
  • Thomas is looking forward to Tuesday, because he won’t have to work that day.
  • Ich freue mich darauf, surfen zu gehen.
  • I am looking forward to going surfing.
  • Maria hat sich den ganzen Tag darauf gefreut, abends mit ihren Freundinnen ins Kino zu gehen und Twilight Eclipse zu gucken.
  • Maria has been looking forward all day to going to the movies with her friends tonight to watch Twilight Eclipse.

With sich freuen auf there are only those 2 structures possible…

  • Ich freue mich auf [insert thing here]…
  • Ich freue mich darauf, …. zu [insert verb].

and there is no way that you can leave out the darauf. If you did that it would automatically become the other freuen, the being happy one.

  • Ich freue mich darauf, dich zu sehen.
  • Ich freue mich, dich zu sehen.
  • I am looking forward to seeing you.
  • I am happy to see you.

The German sentences are really similar and that is actually why German do the following mistake a lot :).

  • I am looking forward to see you.

So… freuen auf is to look forward to and that is the pretty much the only way to say that so … LEARN IT. In spoken the darauf often gets shortened to drauf.

  • Ich freu’ mich drauf.
  • I’m looking forward to it.

And no… there is no such thing as

  • Ich freue mich auf das/es…. is wrong and sounds really bad.

Can’t do without the d(a)rauf here.

Now, where almost done for today but as usual I want to mention a few words with freuen in them. First of there is die Freude which is the happiness or the delight. And there is the nice word die Vorfreude which is happiness in anticipation… like the joy and delight kids feel the day before Christmas. And there is a nice idiom using both those words.

  • Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude.

I am not going to translate that because it would sound just too clunky. When you have a surprise for someone but you don’t want to give it away just yet despite the other person being really curious and nagging… then just say it and smile mysteriously.
Another nice or at least useful word is Schadenfreude. Schaden is damage or harm and Schadenfreude is the delight you feel when someone you don’t like slips on a banana peel or gets bitched at by your boss. It is not really appropriate for really serious thing… like someones house burned down. You shouldn’t feel Schadenfreude then, and if you do you had better not admit it.
And lastly I would like to mention that Freund and related words do NOT have the same origin as freuen… but it is an awfully nice learning hint :).

So.. this was our German word of the Day freuen. The main meaning is to be happy and with auf it becomes being happy in anticipation. And don’t forget the self reference… like mich, dich sich … because freuen is always done by something/someone to someone.
If you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment. Ich freu mich drauf :)… hope you liked it and see you next time… with a box.