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:

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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 ;).

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

It is even a school grade.

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.

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


3 1 vote
Article Rating

for members :)

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments