Word of the Day – “rühren”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time, with a quick summer look at the meaning of


The origin is the exceedingly ancient Indo-European root *k̑erə- . The core idea of this root was “mixing together” with one of the main contexts being the mixing of ingredients of food. Mammoth stew with wild forest mushrooms for instance… hmmmmm. That was a good dish, I can tell you that.
A lot has changed since then. Mammoths emigrated to space, we put a man on a moon and we talk to our computer. But one of the things that hasn’t changed is, we still eat. And rühren is still what we do, if we want to mix it.

I think, you guessed it by now… rühren is the act of moving a spoon in circles through multicomponent food with the goal of mixing it.
Or in one word to stir.

  • “Mit Eis?”
    “Ich habe Bier bestellt.”
    “Oh sorry… geschüttelt oder gerührt?”
  • “With ice?”
    “I ordered beer.”
    “Oh sorry… shaken or stirred?”
  • Die Suppe unter ständigem Rühren langsam erhitzen.
  • Slowly heat up the soup while constantly stirring.
  • “Ich will Rührei.”
    “Und ich will, dass du Zähne putzt. Es ist Mitternacht.”
  • “I want scrambled egg.”
    “And I want you to brush your teeth. It’s midnight.”

And since German likes to be really precise, it is no surprise that there’s a whole bunch of prefix versions of rühren, that all specify the stirring in ways that an English speaker would never want to know.

  • Langsam rührt Maria ihren Kaffee um.
  • Slowly, Maria stirs her coffee. (one up to a dozen full circles)
  • Vor dem Servieren, die Suppe noch mal ordentlich durchrühren.
  • Stir the soup again thoroughly before serving.
  • Als erstes verrühren wir die Sahne, den Jogurt und das Wasser.
  • First, we stir together the cream, the yogurt and the water (until it is mixed completely).

And if you think those are not that bad, well… I challenge you to look up unterheben and unterziehen (in the context of cooking) and then tell me what the difference is and how they are different to einrühren.
Seriously, you can find a LOT of verbs in a German cookbook.

Now, of course we wouldn’t be talking about rühren if it was just about cooking.
But there’s more to it, as this common idiom shows…

  • Maria rührt keinen Finger in der Küche.

This is not about her stirring with fingers or something. It’s about her being a lazy slouch because it means that she is not moving a finger….

  • Maria doesn’t lift a finger in the kitchen.

And it’s not only this idiom, where we see this sense of moving.
It’s actually the core of the phrase sich rühren, which means to move oneselfin the sense of being still and then making a movement.

  • “Äh…. Thomas liegt vor dem Kühlschrank und rührt sich nicht.”
    “Das ist normal, mach dir keine Sorgen.”
  • “Uhm… Thomas is lying in front of the fridge and doesn’t move.”
    “That is normal, don’t worry.”
  • Niemand hat sich gerührt, als der Chef nach Freiwilligen gefragt hat.
  • No one moved when the boss asked for volunteers.

And just like to move we can also find rühren used in the more figurative sense of stirring up emotions, not the verb directly, but related words.

  • Das war eine rührende Rede.
  • That was a moving speech.
  • Ich bin gerührt.
  • I’m moved/touched.

And the second example introduces the third really important idea… the idea of touching. And that’s the core of the verbs anrühren and berühren, which both mean to touch.
only talks about physical touch by a person and it often implies some kind of usage or “harm”.

  • “Wenn du so guckst, trau ich mich nicht, dein Bier anzurühren.”
    “Das ist die Idee dahinter.”
  • “If you look at me like that I don’t dare to touch your beer.”
    “That’s the idea behind it.”
  • “Meine Katze hat seit drei Tagen ihr essen nicht angerührt.”
    “Das ist kein Essen, Mensch!”
    “Was… wer… oh mein Gott.”
  • “My cat hasn’t touched her food in three days.”
    “That is not food, human.”
    “What… who… oh my god.”

Berühren is definitely the more useful one, and it works in both senses – emotional and physical.

  • Der Song hat mich tief berührt.
  • The song touched/moved me deeply.
  • Achtung, bitte nicht berühren.
  • Attention, please don’t touch.
  • Von der Berührung kriege ich Gänsehaut.
  • I get goose bumps from the touch.
  • Tausend mal berührt, tausend mal ist nichts passiert…
  • Touched a thousand times, a thousand times nothing happened…

The last example is actually lyrics of a German song about Harvey Weinstein and the MeToo movement… or was it friends becoming lovers after years?! Not sure, actually.
Anyway, some of you might be wondering if there is a difference between berühren and anfassen, which also means to touch. And yes, there is.
Berühren generally is gentle. It’s the first moment of contact if you will. Grabbing someone’s butt for example would be too strong for berühren. Anfassen can be gentle, too, but it doesn’t have the same gentle tone of berühren.

  • Mein Bier ist voll warm…. fass mal an!
  • My beer is super warm… touch it!
  • Fass mich nicht an!
  • Don’t touch me!

Berühren would sound a little bit too sensual in these examples.
But there’s a second difference. Even though it has this sensual tone when people do it, berühren is also to touch in the purely spatial sense, and it can between things. Like… the sour cream and the open can of beans in the fridge can berühren each other, in anticipation of the tacos to come.
Anfassen on the other hand can pretty much ONLY be done by humans. So if the sour cream in the fridge were to anfassen the can of beans, that would raise some serious questions about how old this sour cream is, whether it is sentient and most importantly how it got arms.

And I think with the image of sour cream with arms, we’ll end this article :).
This was our look at rühren and how it connects a stirring a stew with emotions.
As usual, I recommend you take the little quiz we have prepared to check what you remember.
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 **

rühren = to stir
gerührt = stirred
das Rührei = scrambled egg
umrühren = to stir in cirle
durchrühren = to stir thoroughly
verrühren = to stir together (until it is mixed completely)
keinen Finger rühren = not lift a finger, implies that someone is lazy
sich rühren = to move oneself (in the sense of being still and then making a movement)
rührend = moving
gerührt sein = to be moved/touched
anrühren = to touch physically (often implies some kind of usage or “harm”)
berühren = to touch emotionally and physically (has a gentle tone)
die Berührung = a touch
anfassen = to touch (only for humans, doesn`t have the gentle tone)


Oh by the way… here’s a link to an old German Schlager with berühren :)


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