Word of the Day- “ziehen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time, we will have a look at the meaning of


and by meaning I mean of course meanings. I mean…  ziehen is a basic German verb, so we’re talking two digits :).
And it is not only the verb itself… there are plenty of important every day words that are based off of ziehen. Now you may say: “Wow, plenty… that sure sounds like a lot.” Well, just wait till we talk about the origin of ziehen. The family of this word is incredibly large. It is more of a tribe in fact . Heck, if someone would go as far as to claim that you could in fact communicate ALL your needs just by using words that have the same origin as ziehen, that would of course be utter nonsense but still it is impressive to see how many words can come from one root… I am just saying educate and tear. Yap… and there are more.  Anyway, we’ll get back to that later. Let’s talk a bit about meanings first.
So …  fortunately, there are 2 core ideas of ziehen.

ziehen – core ideas and origin

If you’ve ever been to Germany you’re probably familiar with one of them. It is used in user manuals for doors that are often printed on the sides of the respective doo… ok, it’s not just for specifically that :). Ziehen is and has always been to pull.

  • Das Pferd zieht den Wagen.
  • The horse pulls the carriage.

Basically ziehen expresses the idea of applying a force on something so that it moves toward you or with you as opposed to away from you. As such ziehen can also be a translation of to drag

  • This movie is dragging me down/ This movie is depressing.
  • Dieser Film zieht mich runter.
  • The meeting drags on.
  • Das Meeting zieht sich hin.
  • Thomas zieht an seiner Zigarette.
  • Thomas takes a drag off his cigarette.

In the second example Thomas “pulls” the smoke toward himself if that makes sense. Lastly this idea of pulling is also part of the verb to draw so ziehen can be a translation for that as well…

  • Wir ziehen Streichhölzer.
  • We draw straws.
  • Ich ziehe eine Schlussfolgerung.
  • I draw a conclusion.
  • Es zieht mich ans Meer.
  • I feel drawn to the sea.
  • Ich ziehe eine Linie.
  • I draw a line.

I admit that the idea of pulling something is not totally obvious in the last example… we are not physically grabbing the line and pulling it from one place to another place. But it makes sense if you think more of the pen. Your hand moves and the pen follows “behind”. So you pull the pen along, thereby creating a line. There is a limit to this though.

  • Ich ziehe eine Katze.

This means

  • I pull a cat.

Poor cat. So for a line or other simple geometrical forms ziehen is fine because it is essentially one move but for a real drawing ziehen is not the word. Ziehen is really about the pulling. Although some interpretations are really really abstract.

  • Wir müssen das durchziehen.
  • We have to pull that through. (lit)
  • We have to do that (even if it is hard).

All right. Now, let’s look at the other core idea of ziehen. And that is and has always been to move. Not to move in sense of doing a little movement or moving some object. Ziehen is to move in sense of to relocate yourself on a somewhat bigger scale.

  • Im Herbst ziehen die Vögel nach Süden.
  • In winter the birds migrate south.
  • Maria ist 3 Jahre lang durch die Welt gezogen.
  • Maria moved around the world for 3 years.
  • Ich ziehe nach Prague.
  • I move to Prague.
  • Das Gewitter zieht nach Westen.
  • The thunderstorm moves west.

And also here, we can find really abstract examples..

  • Mach mal bitte das Fenster zu, es zieht.
  • Could you close the window please, there is a draft.

So the air is moving through the room along my neck. But anyway… so… okay, we have to to pull and to move as the main ideas. So ziehen must be actually 2 verbs that are just coincindtall…concinderell… by chance spelled the same, right? Well, no. The origin is the Indo-European root *deuk which meant … exactly the same as ziehen today: to pull and to migrate. Do these 2 ideas have anything in common??? They do. The idea of leading or guiding. If your horse pulls your carriage around up a hill there is clearly some guidance or leading in that. Your carriage would go in a different direction if it weren’t for the horse. Or think of the pen that you use to draw a line… you guide the pen over the paper. And if you and your tribe move to a new hunting ground… well again, there is some guidance and leadership involved too. Ziehen can be seen as to lead… going ahead and being followed. One extreme of that is to pull and the other is to migrate. And my God, did the Germanic tribes derive words from that one root…

In German we have:

  • Zeug (stuff… originally: things you “pull” toward you to use them, like tools),
  • Zeuge (Witness… originally: someone you “pull” before court so he or she testifies),
  • zucken (to twitch, to quiver… originally: quickly pull with force),
  • züchten (to breed, … “guide” nature in some sense)

That is quite a range. But it get’s really funny in English … for even more comedic effect you may click here. Can you find out the connections :)?

  • taut, team, teem, tie, tow, tug  and also
  • duke, educate, produce, introduce, deduce, induce, seduce, dock, douche, traduce, abduct, duct, and of course all the words that are based on these

WOW… Can you figure out the connections :)? The first row is pretty much the “pulling” side or *deuk. The second row is entirely based on the Latin word ducere meant…many things but the basic idea was to lead. Here’s the link if you want to find out more. Pretty crazy what can come of  just one root. It can grow into a whole tree of mea… BEEEEHHHHH  oh… the lame metaphor alert.
Anyway… let’s get back to our actual word ziehen now. We have the ideas to pull and to migrate both based on the underlying concept of to lead and this is already something. But the real power of ziehen shows once you combine it with prefixes…

  • anziehen, umziegen, beziehen, nachziehen, zuziehen, entziehen, aufziehen,…

There are quite some more and most of them have ____ meanings (a: too many, b: multiple, c: only one).
The correct answer is b. A is acceptable, too.
If we want to talk about all those prefix-ziehens it is certainly a good idea to organize things a little bit. Luckily, there are 2 very distinct, very different fields of use. Both are pretty important and part of the daily vocabulary and you need several ziehen-verbs in either field… I am talking about: dressing and salad… uh… I mean dressing as in clothes and changing flats. So we’ll talk about those fields first thus getting a lot of meanings and verbs out of our way…

ziehen in context of clothing.

There are 2 main activities you can do in this field… anziehen and ausziehen. Literally, those are pull on and pull out. And  this is how it’s used…

  • Ich ziehe meine Hose an.
  • I put on my pants.
  • Soll ich mir die Schuhe ausziehen?
  • Should I take off my shoes?
  • Thomas hat seinen Anzug angezogen.
  • Thomas has put on/is wearing his suit.

I hope this isn’t too weird to fathom. After all, there is indeed some pulling involved in putting things on or of. Anyway…anziehen is the action of putting it on and ausziehen is taking it off and while we’re at it… the word for the time in between, the word for wearing it is anhaben (check out more on this here).
These words are the ones you need for all this and they work fine with any item that is part of the actual clothes you’re wearing. So you can use them for Socken (socks), Unterwäsche (underwear), Hemden (shirts), shoes and so on. Some people even use them for bracelets although I would prefer ummachen and abmachen in that context. To me the ziehen-ones are somewhat related to fabric.
Anyway, there is a second way of using those verbs… without any specific piece of clothing. Then, anziehen becomes to get dressed and ausziehen is to get undressed.

  • Ich muss mich warm anziehen.
  • I have to dress warmly.
  • Zieht euch an, wir brechen auf.
  • Get dressed, we’re movin’ out.
  • Maria zieht Thomas aus.
  • Maria undresses Thomas.

There is something we should notice about the grammar of the German words… hey but speaking of noticing, I have been following this blog for a while now and I feel like there is actually more going on between Thomas and Maria than just “being in examples together”. .. if you ask me, they’d rather be in a sexample together… but maybe I’m mistaken. Anyway, back to boring grammar.
Unlike their English translations, all 3 German examples have an object in them. Having an object there, be it as a self reference or as someone else, is important because without it the verb might change into the changing flat version.

  • Ich ziehe aus.
  • I’m  moving out.
  • Ich ziehe mich aus.
  • I am getting undressed.

Also, it makes sense that we have to have an object there because this dressing-ziehen is based on the idea of to pull. You pull clothes on and off or you pull yourself out of clothes. Sounds ridiculous, you say? Well, guess what I am wearing at the moment… a pullover.
Now, if you want to pull you have to have something to pull. You can’t just pull the way you can sleep. No object, no pulling. So keep in mind that with any ziehen-verb that you use in context of dressing… make sure you have something there to pull.
All right. We had anziehen and ausziehen so far. But there are actually some others that can be used with clothes. The first one is umziehen, which basically means to change clothes… and again… note the object.

  • Ich muss kurz nach Haus mich umziehen. Ich habe immer noch meine Arbeitssachen an.
  • I have to quickly go home and change (clothes). I’m still having my work clothes on.

Then, there are (dr)überziehen which means to put something on over something else… like for instance a jacket.

  • “Kommst du mit raus rauchen?”
    “Ja, ich muss mir kurz was überziehen.
  • “Are you gonna come outside with me for a smoke?”
    “Yes, I just have to put on something warm.” ( I don’t really know what would be idiomatic in English here)

And the opposite of that is drunterziehen but this is really rare and in summer you don’t actually need it… uh …the word, I mean of course.
All right… so anziehen, ausziehen and umziehen are the ones to remember here. And don’t worry, we’ll see them again soon.

ziehen in context of flats

We’e learned that ziehen can be used in sense of migrating. But it also works on a smaller scale…. changing the place where you live.

  • Thomas ist letztes Jahr nach Berlin gezogen.
  • Thomas moved to Berlin a year ago.

In this field we have 3 prefix words, 2 of which we already know: einziehen, ausziehen, umziehen.

  • Thomas muss aus seiner Wohnung ausziehen.
  • Thomas has to move out of his flat.
  • Jane kann noch nicht in ihre neue Wohnung einziehen, da der Vormieter noch ausziehen muss.
  • Jane can’t move into her new flat yet because the previous tenant still has to move out.
  • Ich ziehe nächsten Montag um. Kannst du mir eventuell beim Tragen helfen?
  • I’ll be moving next Monday. Can you maybe help me carrying things?

So einziehen is to move in, ausziehen is to move out and umziehen is both combined. Now, we already know ausziehen and umziehen in context of clothes. But here we have NO object in the examples.

  • Ich ziehe aus.
  • I move out.

that means something completely different than

  • Ich ziehe mich aus.
  • I take off my clothes.

And there is another difference between the flat-ziehens and the dress-ones.. actually it is a difference for ziehens in general. When we are dealing with the movement-pole of it we use sein for the past, when the verb is at the pulling-end, we use haben.

  • Ich bin gestern umgezogen.
  • I moved yesterday.
  • Ich habe mich heute umgezogen.
  • I have changed clothes today.

So although German is using the same vocabulary for 2 completely different fields, due to the differences in grammar (object vs. no object, haben vs sein) dressing there is almost no ambiguity… except in this sentence

  • Thomas ist ausgezogen.
  • Thomas is undressed.
  • Thomas has moved out.

But context will make it clear.
All right. Now… if you use to move with general locations like cities or countries, there is not really a need for a prefix.

  • Ich ziehe von Melbourne nach Tokyo.
  • I move from Melblah blah blah…

You could say um maybe but it would sound pretty redundant.
So we have um, ein and aus or just simply ziehen. Are there more? Yes, a few. First there are wegziehen and zusammenziehen. The former means to move away and the latter to move together. Zusammenziehen can also mean to contract in sense of to cringe but who cares.
Then there is beziehen which as we’ll see is quite versatile. In sense of flats however it is basically the same as to move in. It just shifts the grammar and the focus in the typical be-manner (I’ll add a link below).

  • Ich beziehe meine Wohnung.
  • I inflict “moving in” on my new flat. (lit.)

This is also used in an abstract sense

  • Ich beziehe Stellung zu einer Sache.
  • I take up position about a matter. / I make a statement.

Finally, there is the super useless verziehen. This is basically to move away to an unknown location… quite similar to weg but it sounds more definite and unknown. And that’s it for the flat-ziehens.
All right.
So far we’ve seen the 2 basic ideas of ziehen and we’ve looked at 2 specific fields of use.
Now, let’s see what other words ziehen has to offer… after we take a look at what our sponsor has to offer, that is.

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  • Nivea Extra sensitive skin sensation – Diese Hautcreme zieht so schnell ein, dass man sich direkt anziehen kann.
  • This skin cream moves in so quickly, you can dress up right away.(lit.)
  • This skin cream is so fast absorbing, you can dress up right away.

Really??? Was all that necessary for just one example? No… it wasn’t.

Other important ziehen prefixes

We’ve already gotten to know anziehen in sense of to put on or just to dress up. But if you do that right, you might just also do the other anziehen.

  • Will man Menschen anziehen, muss man sich gut anziehen.
  • If you want to attract people, you have to dress (yourself) well.

Anziehen is to attract or more generally to pull towards oneself. Earth pull us down with the Erdanziehungskraft (earth-pulling-force aka. gravity). Light anziehen bugs. The difference to simple pulling is that anziehen has already a destination implied: the person or thing that does the pulling. Also, anziehen is usually connected to some invisible force. When you use a rope, it is not really anziehen anymore.
Another really really important word is beziehen. It literally means to inflict pulling but the actual meaning is something like to relate and to refer

  • Ich beziehe mich auf das Buch.
  • I pull myself onto the book, so that support my stand. (this is how it could be interpreted.)
  • I refer to the book.
  • Du solltest nicht immer alles auf dich beziehen.
  • You shouldn’t always pull everything upon yourself. 
  • You shouldn’t always take things personal/relate things to you.

I think to relate is actually closer to the core of beziehen. Beziehen completely lacks the sending part of to refer (I refer you to). Also, the German word for reference has NOTHING to do with beziehen. All words that are based on beziehen do mean something relate-related.

  • Ich habe eine gute Beziehung zu meinem Boss.
  • I have a good relationship with my boss.

Anyway… I’d say to keep beziehen in your passive vocabulary for now. You can understand it in context, I am sure of that but you just shouldn’t use it as translation for to refer or to relate. Sometimes it’ll work, sometimes it’ll be totally wrong.
Now, there are yet 2 other meanings for beziehen. One is to get… usually used in context of money from the government.

  • Ich beziehe Arbeitslosengeld.
  • I pull unemployement money.(lit.)
  • I’m on welfare.

And finally beziehen is also the word you need if you talk about dressing up your bed… that is putting on new sheets

  • Ich muss das Kopfkissen neu beziehen.
  • I have to put a new sheet on the pillow.

But maybe those are not the most important ones anyway.
All right, let me think what else is there… uhm… ah yeah… there is erziehen, which is to raise and educate children. As usual the er-prefix makes the mundane to pull into something bigger, more divine.

  • Des Bäckers Sohn ist schlecht erzogen.
  • The baker man’s son is ill bred…. bun intended.

Erzieher is actually a job title in Germany … for a  kindergarden teacher. Now, there are definitely more we could talk about … einbeziehenzuziehen, mitziehen, vorziehen, entziehen, überziehen, unterziehen, hinterziehen… but that would ziehen on forever. The meanings are all kind of specific and although they are all part of the normal speech, you need them maybe once per day at best. And I think when you see them in context you will be able to guess the meaning… just check our 2 options to pull and to move. The worst one of them all is aufziehen though, so at the end of the post I will list some examples for this….
But now let’s finally look at other words with ziehen.

The ziehen dictionary

BY FAAAAAR the most important word based in ziehen is der Zug. It means so many things… we could actually use our comedic background music here.

  • Ich sitze im Anzug im Zug im Zug, der vom Fenster kommt. Ich nehme einen Zug von der Zigarette, trinke meinen Kaffee mit einem Zug aus und überlege welchen Zug ich als nächstes mache. Ich spiele Schach auf meinem IPhone und ich will unbedingt gewinnen. Das ist ein Charakterzug von mir.
  • Wearing a suit, I am sitting in a train in a draft coming from the window. I take a drag of my cigarette, empty my coffee with one sip and ponder my next move. I am playing chess on my IPhone and I want to win at all cost. That is a streak of mine.

And those are not all. Zug is the most common noun for ziehen so you can find a version for any prefix…

  • Einzug (the moving in),
  • Auszug (the moving out, the excerpt),
  • Aufzug (elevator, dress),
  • Abzug (trigger, retreat),
  • Vorzug (advantage),
  • Anzug (suit),
  • Umzug (parade, the moving to a new place),
  • Entzug (withdrawal, rehab),
  • Bezug (relation, bedding)

It really is just the noun for ziehen. That is why it is so incredibly broad. So if you know Zug as train and you think “Why are they using the word train so much?”… well, we don’t. We use the word “the pull” so much and we use it for train, too.
And Zug is also part of many adjectives…

  • In Bezug auf deine Frage/ Bezüglich deiner Frage muss ich sagen…
  • In relation to your question/ Regarding your question I have to say….
  • Die Suppe schmeckt vorzüglich.
  • The soup is exquisite.
  • Die Tickets kosten 10 Euro zzgl. (zuzüglich) 3 Euro Mehrwertsteuer.
  • The tickets are 10 Euro plus VAT.
  • Wir konnten die Fragen im Meeting zügig klären.
  • We were able to sort out the questions in the meeting quickly.

And there is even a verb with it.

  • Viele Leute trinken früh gerne Kaffee aber ich bevorzuge ein Glas Stutenmilch.
  • Many people like to drink a coffee in the morning but I prefer a glass of mare’s milk.

The second important variation of ziehen is zog. We have already seen it in the examples with the past tense.

  • Ich bin nach Berlin gezogen.

This is the core of the verb zögern which means to hesitate.

  • Ich habe ein bisschen gezögert.
  • I have been hesitating (lit.)
  • I was hesitant at first.

How does this relate to ziehen? Well, zögern originally was to move or pull repeatedly back and forth or left and right … as if you can’t decide or don’t want to. Makes at least some sense to me.
When we combine it with ver we get the verb for to delay

  • Die Abfahrt verzögert sich um einige Minuten.
  • Departure delays itself … (lit)
  • Departure will be delayed for a few minutes.

And finally there are the things with Ziehung like Einbeziehung (inclusion), Beziehung (relationship), Entziehungskur (a stay in rehaband of course all kinds of combinations with the verb itself… like abziehbar (“pull-off-able”).

All right… I think  that is enough :). This was our German Word of the Day ziehen and word is an understatement… ziehen is like a whole world really. German is durchzogen (streaked) with it.
What you should remember from today, are the 2 poles of ziehento pull and to move as well as the underlying idea of to lead. Also, remember the words in the 2 specific fields .. to dress and to change flats, because they are useful, and they are clear. Many of the other ziehen-prefix verbs more like… meh… here it works and here it doesn’t so take your time and absorb them as you come across them. And then finally, whenever you see Zug or zog in a word… then chances are very high it has something to do with ziehen.
If you have any questions or suggestions or you find a bad typo (I’ve done a lot of changes to the post so I’m sure there are editing mistakes in there) just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and zieh you next time.

And here as promised the different meanings of aufziehen

  • Ich werde andere Saiten aufziehen.
  • I will put on different strings. (lit.)
  • No more mister nice guy. / I will change tune now.
  • Ein Gewitter zieht auf.
  • A storm is coming.
  • Tarzan wurde von Affen aufgezogen.
  • Tarzan was raised by apes.
  • Ich ziehe meine Spieluhr auf.
  • I wind up my musical clock.
  • Meine Kollegen ziehen mich wegen meiner neuen Brille auf.
  • My colleagues are making fun of/mocking me because of my new glasses.

Oh German how I love thee :)

Further reading:

haben and all its prefixes (including anhaben for clothes)
prefixes explained: be