Word of the Day – “reichen”

Hello everyone,

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


And by meaning I mean meanings. Two to be precise. Observe:

  • Reicht ihr das Salz?
  • Is the salt enough for her?

Yes, it is. But we could add some more pronoun. Maybe a little er.

  • Reicht er ihr das Salz?

I mean… how much damage could such a small little word possibl… OH MY GOD!

  • Does he hand her the salt?

Come on, German… really?
To be enough and to hand is the same word? How could I possible explain that?! You’ve really reached a new level of crazy.
“When all logic seems lost, mind the color of a rose.”
What? Who said that? Is that you, German?
“Yes,it is I. The color of a rose. Mind it!”
Uhm… right, right, uhm.. the color of a rose, that would be… uhm….
“Gee…. Red. Roses are red.”
Ok, so red, still… I don’t get it.
“Jesus Christ, this is getting absurd. Just wake up okay? ”
And so I woke up. I had passed out while reading up on the history of reichen. I continued to read. Turns out, reichen is the brother of …. to reach. And with a little mind yoga, that explains everything. Imagine you’re a caveman and you pass by a tree with a nice, juicy looking apple hanging from a branch about 4 feet above your head. What do you do? Exactly. You grunt. And then you try make your arm and your whole body reeeeaaallly long to get it. That is the very core of these verbs… extending/reaching out (one’s arm). Now, this root is very old and of course it broadened and was used for all kinds of reaching.

  • My hair reaches below my shoulder.
  • Mein Haar reicht bis über die Schulter.
  • Herr Connors Erfahrungen reichen vom tadellosen Kopieren von Skripten  bis hin zur Zubereitung eines bemerkenswerten Flat White aus Instantkaffee.
  • Mr. Connors experience reaches from flawlessly making copies f  scripts  to making a remarkable flat white from instant coffee.

I think the original idea still shines through a bit.
Anyway… over time, more changes happened. In English, to reach shifted toward actually getting  the thing. I reach for the apple and I reach it.
German played around a little more and ended up with the two meanings we saw in the beginning. To be enough and to pass or to hand over.The handing over is not that weird. It totally stays true to the “extending the arm”-core and we just need to add the whole giving thing. And the other meaning? Well… if something being enough is pretty much the same as meeting a certain requirement. And that is not that far from …. reaching a target.

  • Reicht das Bier für heute Abend?
  • Is the beer going to “reach” (far enough) for tonight. (lit.)
  • Do we have enough beer for tonight?

In a way, this reichen is  like the English to reach.  It implies success…. just that the target isn’t always specified.

  • 6 Stunden Schlaf pro Nacht reichen mir nicht.
  • 6 hours of sleep per night are not reaching (my need of sleep) for me.(lit.)
  • 6 hours of sleep per night are not enough for me.

I hope you can see the connection to the reaching :)
Now, reichen in sense of handing over often sounds a bit solemn. It’s not like it isn’t used at all.

  • Die Politiker reichen sich die Hand.
  • The politicians reach out their hands to each other. (lit.)
  • The politicians shake hands.
  • Thomas kann Marias neuem Freund rummachtechnisch nicht das Wasser reichen.
  • … , Thomas can’t give the water to Maria’s new boyfriend.(lit.)
  • When it comes to making out, Thomas is unable to hold a candle to Maria’s new boyfriend in bed.

But in daily life for normal stuff like a pen or the salt I’d suggest to just use geben.
The other reichen is super common, so let’s look at some more examples for that.

  • Reicht das, wenn das Projekt Montag erst fertig wird?”
    “Ja, Dienstag reicht auch noch.”
  • “Will it  reach (the “due by latest” requirement), if the project…. (lit)
    “Yeah, Tuesday reaches (it) too”
  • “Will it be enough if you let me know by tomorrow.”
  • Mein Geld reicht grad’ noch so für ein Bier.
  • My money juuuuust reaches for one more beer.(lit.)
  • I have just enough money for one more beer.
  • “Wir sollten bald mal tanken.”
    “Ach quatsch. Das reicht mindestens noch 100 km.”
  • “We should get gas soon.”
    “Bah nonsense. That‘ll last for at least another 100 km.”

And of course we all want to be able to properly complain in our target language so here’s the fed-up use :).

  • So. Mir reicht‘s. Ich gehe.
  • All right. I’ve had enough/I’m fed up. I’m leaving.
  • Jetzt reicht‘s. Auf dein Zimmer.
  • That’s enough. Go to your room.

All right. So… reichen has 3 meanings, to reach (in sense of to extend as far as), to hand (as in give) and to be enough, which is the most common one. And at the very core is a caveman reaching for an apple. Cool.
Now let’s get to the related words and there we come across all 3 meanings.

word with the reach-meaning

The most important one is certainly the verb erreichen, which means to reach. In sense of to get it.

  • Ich erreiche mein Fitness-Ziel.
  • I reach my fitness-goals.
  • Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, in wenigen Minuten erreichen wir Berlin Hauptbahnhof.
  • Dear ladies and gentlemen, in a few minutes we’ll be reaching Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Berlin central station).

Why does it mean that? Well… the er-  just adds the idea of completion … you reach for it and then you “er-reach” it, if that makes sense.
Next, there’s the word die Reichweiche. Literally, it means reach-width, but English who needs width if there is context ;).

  • Die geringe Reichweite ist bisher das größte Problem von E-Mobilen.
  • The low reach is the biggest problem of electric vehicles to date.

And finally, the weirdest one in this group is der Bereich.

  • Weil es im VIP-Bereich stinkt, hat Lily Allen das Konzert abgesagt.
  • Because it smells in the VIP area, Lily Allen has cancelled the concert.
  • Der Fachbereich Physik an der Uni Münster ist einer der größten in Deutschland.
  • The department (lit: subject-area) of physics of the Uni Münster is one of the biggest in Germany.

This is the good old be-prefix at work. In our show on the be-prefix we’ve found out that it changes the meaning to “to inflict verbing on something”. Sure, der Bereich is not a verb, but a verb bereichen actually existed a few centuries ago. Originally it was just a variation of reaching, pretty similar to erreichen, but then it was narrowed down to local reaching. And the noun der Bereich is what is left of that. The couch, the lobster-buffet, the  lounge, the minibar… all within the reach of the VIPs. Cigarette smoke reaches every corners of the Raucherbereich and making coffee is totally within the Aufgabenbereich (“reach of tasks”) of the interns.
So …one double espresso, please.
Hey… hey guys, this is no joke.  I really want an espresso. Marc, Alicia, Meagan, Cory… someone please go to the break room and get me one.
Oh and could you bring me a a slice of lemon also.
I have a bit of a headache.

word with the handing meaning

While I’m waiting for my coffee let’s talk about the handing-reichen. We’ve already learned that the bare reichen sounds a bit formal when used as to hand.  Still, there are a bunch of prefix-versions though that are good to know. Einreichen and nachreichen for example are very useful for all kinds of “paper-work, be it a bachelor thesis or an application or something… stuff that you hand in.

  • Ich musste 3 Ausdrucke meiner Masterarbeit sowie alle Quellen, die ich verwendet hab’, einreichen.
  • I had to hand in 3 printouts of my master’s thesis as well as all the source material that I used. ( no joke… they wanted me to scan every single reference)

And if whatever you have handed in is incomplete… which is usually the case for bureaucrazy-things … then you’ll get a letter telling you what you need to nachreichen.

  • Bitte reichen Sie die fehlenden Unterlagen bis zum 18. 7. nach.
  • Please hand in the missing documents by July 18th.

So nachreichen is the same as einreichen, only that it has the additional idea that you already handed in something.
Then, there is überreichen which is kind of to hand over but it sounds more ceremonial, so the better translation is probably this

  • DerPolitiker überreicht dem Wissenschaftler den Preis.
  • The politician presents the scientist with the award.

When we add an r and make it rüberreichen, then all the ceremony is gone and we’re back at the dinner table.

  • Reich mir mal den Rettich rüber. (Iconic line of a German cabaret-song about yuppies… find it here)
  • Could you pass me the raddish.

Rüberreichen is just a colloquial to hand over … maybe it implies a little more distance than geben but whatever. Now, the dinner table is not always in the kitchen. Often it is between the couch and the plasma. And the way into the kitchen can be pretty far.Good thing then to have eine Durchreiche – a window in the kitchen wall. Maybe if we had one in the studio I’d have my freaking espresso by now. Gosh, these interns.
Anyway,a couple of less important ones are  (Essen) anreichen, which is the politically correct term for spoon feeding adults who can’t eat by themselves, and verabreichen which is often used in context of medication and it means basically means to give. Because ver + ab + reichen = to give. Duh!
Okay seriously… I have no idea why this word even exists. But anyway… it’s enough to know that it is something about giving.
And speaking of being enough… let’s move on to our last segment.

words with the enough-meaning

We already mentioned that to be enough or to suffice is the most common use of reichen alone. But there are again a few prefix-versions. The first one is ausreichen and that is really pretty damn similar to reichen.

  • Es reicht (aus), wenn du mir morgen Bescheid sagst.
  • I’ll be enough, if you let me know by tomorrow.

In this example, they are really interchangeable. But I think ausreichen is a little more about really being enough in sense of having enough material or meeting some requirement. Or the other way around: it is not so much about feeling. So for all the stuff that’s like “I’m fed up”, ausreichen won’t work.

  • Jetzt reicht’s!
  • That‘s enough./That tears it!
  • Jetzt reicht’s aus!
  • Now it is sufficient!

I don’t use ausreichen as a verb very much but I do use it as an adjective or adverb… ausreichend is pretty literally and even grammatically….  sufficient.

  • Wir haben ausreichend Bier.
  • We have enough Bier.
  • Ich fand das Theaterstück zum Kotzen, aber es bietet zumindest ausreichend Gesprächsstoff für einen lustigen Abend in der Bar.
  • I found the play awful but at least it offers enough/plenty of conversation fodder for a fun night at the bar.

It is even a school grade.

  • Ich habe im Geographietest nur ein “ausreichend” (short: 4) bekommen.
  • I got only a D in the geographies quiz.

Reichend alone… well, based on logic it should mean the same, but it just sounds odd. I’m not even sure I’d immediately understand. Anyways, very similar to ausreichend  is hinreichend but where ausreichend just meets the requirement, hinreichend has a little bit of a buffer. Not really  more than enough maybe  a little more than enough…. I don’t know… just a feeling that I have.

  • Dr. Müller ist ein sympatischer Arzt, der sich hinreichend Zeit für seine Patienten nimmt.
  • Dr. Muller is a likeable physician who makes enough time for his patients.

Now, there is also a reichen-word for not enough or insufficient.

  • Der Gewerkschaftsvorsitzende bezeichnete die Lohnerhöhung als unzureichend.
  • The labor leader described the wage increase as insufficient.

Maan, these examples… I really need that espresso ASAP. So… unzureichend, huh? Wouldn’t unausreichend make more sense? Yes. Is there even zureichen or zureichend? No. But that’s just how it is. German is rich in weird words.
“Yes, I am.”
What? Who said that? Is that you again German?
“Yes. And  I have a surprising reveal for you.”
Ohhh … a surprising reveal. That sounds cool.
“Mind the color of a clear summer sk… wait, never mind. The word rich… think about that.”
Uhm… rich is what I’m not. Looks a little like reach. And in German it is… uhm… oh gee… it’s reich, like reichen. Wait, so what’s the connection?
“Well… if  what you have is enough then you’re rich.”
Yeah, true. That makes a lot of sense.
“Do you get the fine irony in it?”
Uhm… no…
“Well, rich is seldom rich enough.”
Uh… I don’t get it.
“Rich people often think they need more.”
Still.. no idea what you’re hinting at.
“Jesus Christ, never freaking mind! Just wake up and check your books.”
And so I woke up. I had fallen asleep again in the library. I continued to read. Turns out that reichen and reich are indeed related at a very basic level. The common root is the super ancient root *reg which meant to be/make straight, to lead. From this comes the branch of reichen with the whole extending idea but also other branches like the whole right- branch (right as in correct) or the rex and royal branch. And that’s where rich belongs to. A king is wealthy and mighty… he is rich. And he has a realm. A “royalm”. Or Königreich in German. If you know the word bishopric, then now you know the connection. And in Game of Thrones, there is a kingdom called The Reach. Queen Margery comes from there. Oh Margery.
And then I woke up. I had passed out in front of my microphone.”I’m awake Steve, don’t panic.”, I said, as my producer ran into the studio.
“That’s enough!!!”
Oh gee… he is pissed. I can tell. But no problem. We’re done here anyway. That was our German Word of the Day reichen. At the core is the idea of extending a hand and it has taken on the three meanings to reach, to hand over and to be enough, the last one being the most common one.
As always if you have any questions about reichen or one of the related words, or if you want to try out some examples just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.
Gotta go talk to Steve now and apologize. It wasn’t my fault though. I didn’t get an espresso when I needed it…