Word of the Day – “neigen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German word of the day.
Do you know these words that you only start noticing, once you know they exist. Like… you never see them and you never miss them, but once you learn them they suddenly appear all the time?
Today, we’ll deal with one of those words, because we’ll take a look at the meaning of


Now, just by looks neigen seems like it could be related to the English word for the sound of horses –  to neigh.
But that’s not what it is. The German word for neighing is wiehern, and I have to say, that German does a better job at capturing the sound.
I mean, wiehern isn’t a perfect capture either but “neigh”? That sounds more like something you’d hear in the Senate in a debate on raising taxes. The neighs have it. In both senses.
#emanuelsocialistconfirmed #gme
Seriously though, neigen is absolutely not related to neighing but the visual image of a horse neighing can still be helpful. Just picture a horse on a beautiful meadow. It neighs, head upright upright. And then, it angles the head down to eat the rich
green grass.
And that’s kind of what neigen is… putting at a (slight) angle.

German actually has  a whole bunch of options revolving around the idea of angle. And before you go like “Ugh… Germaaaan.” let  me tell you that English actually isn’t any better, in this case. I mean… there’s angled, slanted, skewed, bent, bowed, crooked, tilted, oblique and inclined. Not all the same of course, but the overlap is huge.
Actually, I’ve kind of been wanting to do a post on that topic for a while. Like… talking about angles in German. I mean… who wouldn’t click on THAT headline.
Anyway,  neigen is primarily used in contexts of things inclining or slanting by themselves and German actually makes that explicit by a self reference.

  • Die Waage neigt sich nach links.
  • The scale leans/tilt to the left.
  • Der schiefe Turm von Pisa hat sich schon während der Bauarbeiten geneigt.
    Heute hat er einen Neigungswinkel von 3,97 Grad.
  • The leaning tower of Pisa inclined already during construction.
    Today, it has an inclination of 3.97 degrees.
  • Die meisten Busse in Berlin haben Neigetechnik.
  • Most buses in Berlin have tilt technology.

Tilt technology … for some reason that sounds really futur-y to me. Like it’s some advanced space tech.
If you don’t know what it is… buses and trains that have Neigetechnik can sich neigen down to one side, so as to make it easier to step in and out.
Anyway, the more common uses for neigen in daily life are actually the figurative ones.
There’s the pretty common phrasing sich dem Ende (entgegen) neigen which expresses the idea of slowly coming to an end and it works for events, periods of time and even for resources like patience.

  • Das Jahr neigt sich dem Ende. *allen gefällt das
  • The year draws to a close. *everyone likes that

But the most useful meaning of neigen is probably the metaphorical sense of having a penchant or inclination.
And here, we actually DO NOT need a self reference.

  • Astrologen haben endlich enthüllt – Diese 4 Sternzeichen neigen zum Abwaschen.
  • Astrologers have finally unveiled – These four zodiac signs are prone to doing the dishes.
  • Thomas neigt dazu, seinen Gesprächspartner zu unterbrechen.
  • Thomas has a penchant/inclination to interrupt his conversation partner.
  • In kalter Umgebung neigt das Handy dazu, sehr langsam zu werden.
  • In a cold environment the phone has a tendency to get really slow.

And this metaphorical inclination is also part of the noun die Neigung and the phrase geneigt sein

  • Auf dem Furry-Festival können Furry-Fans ihre pelzige Neigung voll ausleben.
  • At the furry festival, the furry fans can fully live out their furry inclinations.
  • “Wollen…. wollen wir mal einen Kaffee trinken?”
    “Hmm… ich bin fast geneigt, ja zu sagen. Aber nein.”
  • “Do you… do you want to have a coffee with me some time?”
    “Hmm…. I’m almost inclined to say yes. But no!”

So yeah… if we had to pick one single translation for neigen, to incline is probably the best match, but personally I’d go with the image of the horse. It neighs majestically and then it slants its head down because horses are prone to eating grass between their epic neighs.
I know you think it’s a silly analogy, but it actually also helps with the prefix versions of neigen.

The prefix versions of “neigen”

You see, when a horse puts down its head to eat some grass, that kind of looks like it is taking a bow. And that’s precisely the meaning of sich verneigen

  • Das Einhorn verneigt sich vor der Eichhörnchenprinzessin
  • The unicorn bows before the squirrel princess.
  • Verneige dich vor deinem Meister!”
    “Warum redest du mit dem Bus?”
  • Bow before your master?”
    “Why are you talking to the bus?”

Sich verneigen does sound a little epic or solemn, though. The more common option for bowing is sich verbeugen.
The prefix versions of neigen that are more useful, are actually two nouns:  die Abneigung and die Zuneigung.
I think many of you already have a gut feeling of what they mean.
Abneigung literally is a tilting away from something. Like… if we hold a can of ginger beer under the nose of a horse, that ginger sparkle is probably gonna make the horse go like “Ewwww, neeeeiiiighhh “ and tilt its head away. And yes, I just used ginger sparkle in a sentence. Life goals are coming along great.
Anyway, the logic of Abneigung is the same as for ablehnen, which literally means “to lean away” – another word in the . Only that ablehnen is about the act of declining while die Abneigung is more about the sentiment and translates to aversion.
And Zuneigung… well, that’s when we’re nice to the horse and it comes and puts its head down a little for us to pet it. Or in one word… it shows affection.

  • Einhörner haben eine natürliche Abneigung gegen Gemüse.
  • Unicorns have a natural aversion to vegetables.
  • Mein Pferd braucht viel Zuneigung.
  • My horse needs a lot of affection.

Now, just to make sure… the word affectionate is NOT translated with Zuneigung. There are a bunch of options, but I think liebevoll is the best choice.
There is a pretty common phrasing based on Abneigung though: einer Sache (nicht) abgeneigt sein. It’s not exactly colloquial, but people do use this in daily life if they want to sound classy for fun.

  • “Wollen wir ein Bier trinken gehen?”
    “Hmm… ja, einem Bier wäre ich nicht abgeneigt.”
  • “Do you wanna go have a beer?”
    “Hmm… yeah, I wouldn’t mind  a beer.”
    (lit.: “I would not be averse to a beer.”)

Now, that’s already it for the prefix versions… yeah, crazy, I know. But it’s not it for this post because there’s another relative to neigen: the verb nicken.
And if you thought we’re done with the horse imagery, you’re mistaken because I’m totally gonna keep… ahem.. riding that.
So… horses… are you ready to help us visualize what nicken is?

Thanks :)


Yup, nicken means to nod and I think the underlying connection is pretty clear… it’s a (repeated) tilting down of the head.

  • Maria rülpst. Thomas nickt und rülpst auch.
    Der Paartherapeut: Meine Arbeit ist getan.
  • Maria burps. Thomas nods and burps as well.
    The couple’s therapist: my work is done.
  • “Date mit dir? Ich glaube ich habe nein gesagt, als du das letzte Mal gefragt hast.”
    “Aber… du hast genickt.”
    “Ja, aber ich habe auf Indisch genickt. In Indien bedeutet ein Nicken nein.”
  • “Date with you? I think I said no last time you asked.”
    “But … you nodded.”
    “Yeah, but I nodded in Indian. In Indian, a nod means no.”

There’s also the prefix version abnicken, which is a business term for giving quick approval to something, without too much scrutiny.

  • Das Parlament hat das Gesetz in einer Sitzung abgenickt.
  • The parliament approved my side project (without much probing).

But the prefix version that’s REALLY useful, and also a lot of fun and incredibly relaxing is einnicken.
Because einnicken means to doze off for a bit.

  • Ich bin während der Präsentation kurz eingenickt.
  • I dozed off during the presentation for a second.

And that’s also where the really cute noun das Nickerchen is from, which is the German word for nap.

  • Nach dem Mittagessen mache ich immer ein Nickerchen.
  • After lunch, I always take a nap.

Now, I think the meaning of einnicken and Nickerchen is not hard to remember and to connect to nicken and neigen. Just think of this person slowly dozing off in class, their head falling forward. Makes perfect sense.
Science however, has a different opinion. Grrr… stupid science. Always getting in the way of our cool assumptions and beliefs.
Okay seriously though, the direct ancestor of einnicken is actually the German noun der Nacken and its English brother neck.
Those would also fit in perfectly well with the neigen-family, no doubt. I mean, the neck is where we tilt our head.
But their real origin is the monumentally ancient Indo-European root *ken-, which was about the idea of forming a lump, and which is also where the words Nuss (nut), nuclear and gnocchi come from.
I mean, a neck can look like a bit of a lump, I guess. But it’s not as convincing as a connection between Nacken and nicken. So yeah logic 1, science 0. Do better next time, stupid science.

Seriously though… just because something really looks like it has to be related doesn’t always mean that it is. That said though, for a learner, it doesn’t really matter. If thinking of a connection helps you remember a word better, then do that, even if it’s not accurate.

And with that, our post neigt sich dem Ende entgegen :).
This was our look at the meaning of neigen and its family and even though neigen itself is not the most common word ever, I hope you got some new insights from this.
As usual, if you want to check how much you remember just take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And of course if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.


** vocab **


neigen = to be prone to, to have a penchant (“neigen zu”); to tilt, to slant to the side (“sich neigen”, only for things doing it themselves, always with a self reference)
die Neigung = the inclination (in sense of people); the inclination (geometrical)
der Neigungswinkel = the inclination (geometrical, more common than just “Neigung”)
geneigt sein = be inclined to doing something
verneigen = to bow down (“sich verneigen”, solemn and slow sounding, “verbeugen” is more common in daily life)
die Verneigung = the bowing down
die Abneigung = the aversion
einer Sache(+Dat) nicht abgeneigt sein = not mind doing something
die Zuneigung = the affection
liebevoll = affectionate
nicken = to nod
das Nicken = the nod
das Genick = the neck
der Nacken = the back side of the neck
einnicken = to doze off
das Nickerchen = the nap


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