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.

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. 

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… 

And there are some adjectives, too.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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

for members :)

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

Ein Versuch lohnt sich.


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


zweckentfremden sounds like ‘to repurpose’

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



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!

Jerielle Pershing

great work…..nice word


Anyway, back to Zweck… hehe… that rhymes

…if you have a German accent. ;)


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


der Libyer
der Libyer

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

Félix LeChien
Félix LeChien

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…

Jo Alex Sousa Gomes

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


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?



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


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


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


Thanks Emanuel :-)