and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we’ll have a look at the meaning of:
Ruhig is the corresponding adjective to the German noun die Ruhe, which itself has its origins in the Germanic word rowo. And rowo has relatives in pretty much all other Germanic languages … except English. Boooh.
For some reason all English words for Ruhe come from Latin… silence, quietness, peace, tranquility, calmness… hell even rest can be explained via Latin.
Now you are probably saying “Wow , how fascinating… ” and secretly you think “Wow, how not very interesting.”
And that’s no wonder, because you probably have other questions in your mind… like
“What is the difference between ruhig, still and leise?” or
“What the hell does the following nonsense mean?”
- Du kannst ruhig laut sein.
So let’s take a look.
Some of you may know ruhig as a translation for silent. That is … passable but ruhig is by far more broad than that. Others may know ruhig as the German word for quiet. That is way better than silent because ruhig is not limited to sound … actually it is not the best word at all if you are specifically talking about sound, maybe there are some other words (hint hint)… but we’ll about that later on. Here some examples with ruhig as quiet.
- Sei ruhig!
- Be quiet!
- Ich gehe in ein ruhiges Café.
- I go to a quiet café.
- Thomas ist im Kurs immer sehr ruhig.
- Thomas is always very quiet in course.
But ruhig is even broader than quiet. Ruhig is kind of a word for low amounts of excitement or activity without having a notion of boring… so it might be peaceful, smooth, still , calm , relaxed… here is the complete list from Leo.
- Bleib bitte ruhig: ich habe deinen Laptop kaputt gemacht.
- Please stay calm / don’t freak out: I’ve broken your laptop.
- Die Kerze hat eine ruhige Flamme.
- The candle has a steady flame.
- Das Meer ist sehr ruhig.
- The ocean is very calm.
- Der Film war ruhig aber gut.
- The movie was slow/calm but good.
IF you want more examples, I recommend the Linguee-Dictionary. It translations in context using parts of real texts… so here is the link.
Now, there are a number of important words with ruhig... we already learned die Ruhe, which is equally broad. It can be silence, but also peace or rest … so basically low activity or little excitement :).
- Ruhe bitte!
- Silence please.
- Ich will in Ruhe meinen Kaffee trinken.
- I want to drink my coffee in peace.
- Thomas ist krank und braucht viel Ruhe.
- Thomas is sick and needs a lot of rest.
Ruhe is also part of one of THE MOST important phrases you can say to your partner when you are substantially pissed off.
- Lass mich in Ruhe!
- Leave me alone!
Then there are 2 verbs with ruhig – one is beruhigen which is to calm down. Important thing is that you always have to beruhigen SOMEONE… either yourself or someone else., but you can’t just say:
- Beruhige! (Wrong)
That won’t work.
- Beruhige dich!
- Calm (yourself) down!
- Maria ist vor der Prüfung sehr nervös, aber Thomas beruhigt sie ein bisschen.
- Maria is a little nervous before the exam but Thomas calms her down a bit.
The ge-form of beruhigen is beruhigt. This can be simply translated as calmed down, but it is very often used as relieved.
- Als ich gehört habe, dass Dativ nicht Thema der Prüfung ist, war ich beruhigt.
- When I heard that Dativ will not be part of the exam I was relieved.
The corresponding adjective is beruhigend… and of course it can be used for all meanings of ruhig.
- Die Musik ist sehr beruhigend.
- The music is soothing.
- Die Worte des Arztes waren beruhigend.
- Die doctors words were reassuring.
Ruhig goes together very well with the prefix un- and we get unruhig, which again is awfully broad and can mean anything from restless to agitated to troubled. However all meanings have in common that it unruhig sound quite negative and ruhig is positive. So if you have a very active person or a vivid discussion, unruhig is NOT the word for it.
- Ich kann mich nicht konzentrieren. Ich bin irgendwie unruhig.
- I can’t concentrate, I am feeling kind of restless.
The prefix un- can also be squeezed into the verb beruhigen which yields beunruhigen. Until the age of 11 or 12, I had not realized that this is pronounced be- un – ruhigt…. I always read it beun (boyn) – ruhigt and I perceived it as a nice old fashioned German verb without realizing that it is beruhigt with un in there. Anyways, beunruhigen is almost exclusively used in sense of to worry.
- Meine Mutter geht seit 5 Tagen nicht ans Telefon. Das beunruhigt mich ein bisschen.
- My mom is hasn’t been answering her phone for 5 days. That worries me a bit.
Other words with ruhig are ruhelos – restless, ruhig stellen – sedate (for example for a leg), die Unruhe – the unrest but I don’t want to give examples for all of those… and I’d rather get back to the word ruhig itself. We already have seen, that it is very broad. But:
IT IS EVEN MORE B R O A D E R E R !
Apparently Germans love the word ruhig soooo much that they used it so much that it finally became a flavoring particle… what does it express? Well, it kind of is an “allowifier”, an “approvator”, a soft encouragement, a verbal carte blanche. And as words say much more than … words, here are some examples first.
- Du kannst mich ruhig morgen früh wecken.
- Oh don’t worry, you can wake me up tomorrow morning, it is not a problem.
You are not saying that you WANT to be woken up, but you indirectly promise that won’t mind it. I’ll leave it up to you to draw the connection to the original quiet-ruhig…(lazy me) and rather give you another example.
You and your flat mates want to go to the park. But you have an important e-mail to write so you mind say something like:
- Ich muss noch eine E-Mail fertig schreiben, aber geht ruhig schon los.
- I have to finish an e-mail, but just go ahead (and I’ll join you then).
I don’t think that there is an adequate equivalent in English “feel free to …” sure transports the meaning but to me it sounds way to formal. Ruhig as a flavoring particle is always sounding really really nice and friendly… unless you use it ironically of course.
- Kein Problem, du kannst ruhig immer dein dreckiges Geschirr tagelang in der Spüle stehen lassen. Das stört mich garnicht. Wer braucht schon eine Spüle.
- Oh no problem. Of course you can leave your dirty dishes standing in the sink for days. That does not bother me at all. Who needs a sink anyways?
This ironic ruhig is also very common if you complain to people about something they haven’t done.
- Ok… es ist nicht deine Schuld, dass du zu spät bist, aber du hättest ruhig mal anrufen können.
- Ok … it is not your fault that you’re late but it would have been nice if you had called / but at least you could have called.
So… knowing the flavoring power of ruhig, we can also make sense of sentences like this.
- Du kannst ruhig laut Musik hören. Die Nachbarn sind nicht da.
- Don’t worry, you can listen to loud music. The neighbors are not around.
About the usage of this flavoring ruhig... well grammatically people often use it in imperative sentences, but it does not sound like an order at all… it is more a statement.
- Sprich ruhig schnell!
- You can speak fast.
And quite often people the generic phrasing “Mach ruhig!” as a simple nice way to approve of something.
- “Ich mache jetzt den Laptop aus?”
- “I’ll turn off the computer now?”
“Oh sure, go ahead.”
As ruhig is used to express some sort of direct approval , it is hard if not impossible to use in contexts other than a dialog. This is different to other flavors like doch or schon, which may be used in novels as well. Ruhig doesn’t really work outside of face-to-face conversation… but there, Germans use it every day.
Alright… so we have a little time left here. What could we do… hmmm hmmm hmm… oh I have an idea. We could talk about the difference between leise, still und ruhig. Yeah… let’s do that.
Still, leise and ruhig
Leise is probably the most limited of the three words as leise is almost completely restricted to the sound domain and it basically means… not loud.
- Im Fahrstuhl läuft leise Musik.
- There is soft / low level music in the elevator.
Now when a mom or your partner tells you:
- Sei leise!
it is often meant in sense of
- Be quiet!
but technically you are only told to turn down the volume.
If they really want absolute silence, they should tell you this:
- Sei still!
Still means without sound. You can leise sprechen but you cannot still sprechen.
Still however is a little more broad than leise. If you call someone a leiser Mensch, that sounds odd as it means the person is emitting little sound. Calling a person still however doesn’t mean that he or she is mute, it means quiet person. And still is not limited to the sound domain. In school you are often told to sit still :
- Thomas! Kannst du nicht mal 5 Minuten still sitzen.
- Thomas! Can’t you sit still for 5 minutes.
and also the following idiom is using still.
- Stille Wasser sind tief.
- Still waters run deep.
So we have leise as with low volume and still as no volume (plus some abstract meanings). And how does ruhig fit into this? Well, it is not really a good replacement for neither of the 2. To sit ruhig would sound very positive while still sitzen just means sitting without moving all the time. Ruhige music is music that is soothing and not very energetic while leise music is music at low volume … even Panthera can be leise music but ruhig? Not so much.
I hope you get the idea. I actually think it doesn’t really make sense to give translations here as it is really dependent on the situation. Leise has overlaps with calm, quiet and silent and so do still and ruhig. Just remember the idea behind the words. So what would that Björk song be? You know.. “it’s oh so quiet.”? Tough one… could be either word actually so you have to decide for yourself, which fits best to the rest of the song :).
Alright… so I think this is it. This was our German Word of the Day ruhig. Generally a good translation is quiet, but ruhig is incredibly broad and can even be a flavoring particle with a nice , approving sound.
If you have any questions or suggestions, write me ruhig a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.