Word of the Day – “der Zweck”

zweck-meaningHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we’ll take a look at the meaning of

der Zweck


Back in the 8th century a Zweck was something like a small nail or pin.  to be a small nail and in the 14th century is was especially often used in context of fixing your target on a tree or a wall for archery training. Not everybody was a good shot. One king in particular had a really bad aim. And so one day, at target practice, this happened:

“Ha! Another perfect shot. Tell me, servant, Was that a perfect shot or what?”
“Uh, well, Your Grace… I … you… you hit the Zweck your Grace.”
“The Zweck?! I mean.. of course I hit the Zweck. I wanted to hit the Zweck. The bull’s eye wouldn’t be a challenge. Do you see how small the Zweck is?”
“Yes, Your Grace. It is unbelievably small, Your Grace.”
“And I hit it. Just as I wanted to. Spread the word. Whoever can also hit the Zweck shall have my daughter.”
“Uh, your Grace you have but a so…

Okay, maybe this isn’t 00% historically accurate. But roughly that’s what happened. First, the Zweck was just the nail to hang up the target with, but slowly it added the notion of being the target itself. The meaning of nail  and what remained is the meaning it has today – if I had to chose one translation, I would say purpose is the best but it really depends on context. Zweck is kind of  a blend between target, objective, use and purpose. It’s not target in sense of actually aiming at something. That would be das Ziel. And it’s not purpose in epic contexts of “Everything has a purpose.” That would be Sinn.
Zweck is very factual and down to earth.

  • Zum Zweck der Qualitätssicherung werden einige Gepräche aufgezeichnet.
  • (“For the purpose of improving”)/In order to improve our service some calls may be recorder.

Improving the quality of service is the “use” of the recording, just like “holding the target” was the use of the nail, and it’s also the goal just like nail became a word for the target itself. I hope you can see how the meanings blend. So… if you want one translation, then go with purpose, but don’t get too fixated on that.
Let’s look at a few more examples for Zweck. 

  • Was ist der Zweck Ihrer Reise?
  • What is the purpose of your travel?
  • Ich habe meinem Mitbewohner 1000 mal gesagt, er soll sein Geschirr nicht im Becken stehen lassen, aber es hat keinen Zweck. Er hört einfach nicht.
  • I told my flatmate 1000 times to not leave his dishes in the sink but there’s no point/use. He’s just not listening.
  • Der Sinn und Zweck dieser Übung ist, Lampenfieber zu reduzieren.
  • Sense and purpose of the exercise is the reduce stage fright.
    (Sinn und Zweck is kind of redundant but it’s pretty idiomatic and used a lot)
  • Der Milliardär spendet die Hälfte seines Vermögens für gemeinnützige Zwecke.
  • The billionaire donates half of his fortune to charitable causes.
  • Der Zweck heiligt nicht immer die Mittel.
  • The ends don’t always justify the means.
    (German actually uses the word “sanctify” here)

As you can see, the translations really vary but I hope you could see that it’s always the same idea.
Now, of course there are also compounds with Zweck. A Mehrzweckhalle is a multi purpose arena, Testzwecke are tesing purposes, if you want to wire money somewhere you’ll have to enter a Verwendungszweck and of course we need to mention the wonderful word Zweckehe… 

  • Bitte geben Sie unbedingt Ihre Kundennummer als Verwendungszweck an.
  • Please make sure to enter your customer ID as a reference.
    (context of wiring money)
  • Marias Schwester führt eine Zweckehe.
  • Maria’s sister is in a convenience marriage.

And there are some adjectives, too.

  • Der Lehrer versucht, uns die Grammatiktabellen schönzureden, aber es ist zwecklos.
  • The teacher tried to put a gloss on the grammar tables for us but it is pointless/futile.
  • Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter – nur unzweckmäßige Kleidung.
  • There’s is no such thing as bad weather – just inexpedient/inappropriate clothing.

Ha, the second example is probably one of the most German statements ever. Germans really LOVE their gear and their “Funktionskleidung”. Like… even people who only hike once a decade most likely have special new hiking attire in their closet. Got to spend your money for something, I guess.
Anyway, back to Zweck… hehe… that rhymes. Germans actually loved the word Zweck so much that they made it a preposition : zwecks something means for the puprose of something and while it probably was born in an official context, it is so short and snappy that people use it in daily life, too.

  • Ich war heute zwecks Ummeldung beim Bürgeramt.
  • Today, I was at the citizens office for the purpose of a change of address.
    (the German version sounds way less scripted)
  • Thomas und ich feiern am Samstag seine Beförderung und würden uns freuen wenn ihr zwecks Biertrinken, Tanzen und Spaßhaben vorbeikommt.
  • Thomas and I we’ll celebrate his promotion and we’d be glad if you all come by “for the purpose” of drinking beer, dancing and having fun.
  • Der Cappu hat weder wachwerdenmäßig noch zwecks Kacken was gebracht.

Okay, the last one is really as colloquial as it gets so I’ll it up to you to translate that :).
So that’s Zweck… pretty useful, don’t you think?
Now, before we wrap this up let’s also have a look at the two verbs that are based on Zweck. The first one is bezwecken which is a pretty technical, stiff sounding option for to intent, to try to do. 

  • Thomas fragt sich, was Maria mit ihrem Kommentar bezwecken wollte.
  • Thomas doesn’t understand what Maria was trying to accomplish with her comment.

The one that’s really cool though is zweckentfremden which is the idea of “using something for a purpose other than the purpose it was intended for” condensed in one word. I guess to misuse is the closest translation but zweckentfremden doesn’t sound nearly as negative.

  • Thomas hat Marias iPad als Sushi-Teller zweckentfremdet.
  • Thomas (mis)used/repurposed Maria’s iPad as a Sushi Tray.
    Lit.: Thomas alienated the iPad from its purpose by using it as a Sushi tray. 

It’s also used in legal jargon. In Berlin for instance we have somewhat of a problem with people illegally using their rental homes as vacation apartments, making the housing shortage ever worse. Keeping that at bay is the Zweck (purpose) of the  ZwVbVO, and if you’re now like “Dude, this acronym is longer than many words.” then take a look at what it stands for:


Daaamn. You do not want to mess with that word. That word eats you alive. Some people say the name alone has lead to a 20% drop of illegal vacation apartments. But those are the same people that say that a king with a bad aim is the reason for the meaning of Zweck…. so… yeah. Only me :).
And I think that’s it for today. This was our look at the word Zweck. At first, it simply was a word for small nail. It was used a lot ion context of fixing the target for archery practice and over time it shifted from simply being the nail to being the target itself.
By the way, the old nail meaning has been preserved in the German word for pushpin, tack … die Reißzwecke.

  • Ich bin in eine Reißzwecke getreten.
  • I stepped on a push pin/tack.

Outch. If you want to review the words in this post check out the vocab section and if you need some material to bore people at parties with… I got you covered with the new trivia section :).
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to try out some examples just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** random trivia **

There’s very little evidence but Zweck might be related to Zweig and twig. And those are based on the root of two (a twig is where the branch splits in two)
With a bit of mind bending, the word “purpose” is kind of similar to Zweck. It’s a combination of putting (pose) and forth (pro). So the “forth” adds some notion of future to the mere putting, thereby shifting it from mere use toward goal… meh, let’s make that a LOT of mind bending. 

** vocab **

der Zweck – purpose, goal, aim, use
etwas hat keinen Zweck – there’s no point in doing something

zwecks – for the purpose of

die Mehrzweckhalle – the multi purpose arena
die Zweckehe – the convenience marriage (marriage for a purpose) 

zwecklos – futile, pointless’
zweckmäßig – fitting for the purpose (stiff sounding)

bezwecken – have as a goal
zweckentfremden – use something for another purpose than the one it was made
Zweckentfremdungsverbo… actually you won’t need that one

das Ziel – the target, aim, goal
der Sinn – purpose, sense
die Reißzwecke – the push pin/tack
der Nagel – the nail

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4 years ago

Thanks Emanuel :-)

4 years ago

Der Zweck von Präsentation ist zu allen abteilung über das Thema einführen : is these correct formation ? or here more appropriate is Ziel?

6 years ago

I just read today that zwicken and Zweig are related, too. I guess the Zweig’s were zwick’d with the Zweck.

6 years ago

mmmhh… I had naively thought the “s” in zwecks was already a
leftover of an article.

By the way, “restricting” the search to German websites, I get

“zwecks meinem” site:de
4.760 results

“zwecks meines” site:de
11.100 results

so don’t know what google is up to here

PS: thanks again for all this. you are doing a good service to the German language

6 years ago

I see “zwecks” requires the genitiv. Dazu hätte ich zwei Fragen:

Is it really important to get the case right, since it seems
no article is eigentlich needed before the noun?

Can the Mehrzweck-dativ be used instead?


Jo Alex Sousa Gomes
6 years ago

You make learning German so much fun! Thousand thanks once more!

Félix LeChien
Félix LeChien
6 years ago

For the benefit of the French-speaking readers, it might help to consider “zwecks” as being a translation for “afin de”. Well, at least it is helpful to me…

Félix LeChien
Félix LeChien
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

You are right! Your French is not that rusty… ;-)

When you write “Ich war heute zwecks Ummeldung beim Bürgeramt”, I feel it’s natural to translate it with “afin de” like this: “Je suis allé aujourd’hui à la mairie afin de faire un changement d’adresse”. As you pointed out, “afin de” is followed by an infinitive verb (“faire”), not a nounified verb. An infinitive verb is always required; it could have been “… afin de changer d’adresse” too.

If one insists on keeping the nounified verb (without the verb), one could use “aux fins de” like this: “Je suis allé aujourd’hui à la mairie aux fins de changement d’adresse”. The sentence is correct, but it sounds a bit too formal. An example of a good use of “aux fins de” would be: “Le rapport a été transmis à l’ingénieur aux fins d’évaluation” (or “… pour fins d’évaluation”, an older form) – “The report has been sent to the engineer for evaluation purposes”.

In the end, “zwecks” is actually better translated by “aux fins de”, but in everyday language we would preferably use “afin de” and replace the nounified verb with the corresponding verb.

It’s funny to note that “aux fins de” is actually the plural form of “afin de” (a contraction of “à fin de”)… Crazy, isn’t it?

Thank you for your awesome blog, and not-less-awesome comments!!!

der Libyer
der Libyer
6 years ago

About Zweck-WG, I think it’s the same Zweck of Zweckehe, in this specific sense of “cold pragmatic purely self-interest purpose” it can nicely be translated to “maṣlaħa” in Arabic.

zawaj maṣlaħa زواج مصلحة

der Libyer
der Libyer
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Not necessarly, that’s not the main focus of the exoression. It would more likely be used when you marry someone only to get citizenship for example.

6 years ago

Hey dude,

Fantastic post once again. I hope you really fulfill your new year`s resolution and make a better navigation to the site! I am trying to find all your posts that I still haven`t read and that requires me to keep going back the pages until the start of time ;)

Also I am leaving Germany in the end of february, but I would like to take your book with me. Is it going to be ready by then? If not I guess we gotta find out how much it costs to send it to Brazil, hehe


6 years ago

Anyway, back to Zweck… hehe… that rhymes

…if you have a German accent. ;)

Jerielle Pershing
6 years ago

great work…..nice word

6 years ago

Es gibt jetzt in amerikanischen decorating circles ein neues Begriff to repurpose. Es scheint ein hammer uebersetzung von zweckentfremden zu sein! (Aber ich kann dieses Begruff nie vorstellen als Teil von irgendeine agency name) Vielen Dank fuer noch ein sehr interessantes Post!

6 years ago

zweckentfremden sounds like ‘to repurpose’

Cool word, let’s see if I can slip it into conversation anywhere.


6 years ago

Hi! thanks for everything.. what about the in-famous Zweck-WG??

6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Everyone who searched housing in Munich come to the glorious website WG-Gesucht dot de, and visited it quite a lot (housing in Munich is kind of a problem: no space but a lot of people that want to live there). You have different kinds of WGs (Wohngemeinschaft): Studenten-WG, Party-WG, Business-WG (flatmates are at home only when working on town, so they are there rarely), Frauen-WG, Männer-WG.. and Zweck-WG (I lived there for a while). Zweck-WG is a room in a shared apartament where sharing is made only to save money. There is no need “to get along with other flatmates” (and trust me, in Munich situation is so crazy that people even specify the kind of Music they like to listen). In a Zweck-WG you WILL NOT find: students that have parents living in the nearby city and decide to live in the big city to have parties with flatmates.

6 years ago
Reply to  Antonio

Wow, I wonder if there is a UK equivalent to such sharing. Also, what is Zweck here – sharing for the purpose?

6 years ago

Ich Der Cappu hat weder wachwerdenmäßig noch zwecks Kacken was gebracht.
Cappu(ccino) is useful netiher for awakening nor defecating.

Ein Versuch lohnt sich.