Word of the Day – “ruhig”

Hello everyone,

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?”

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.

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.

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 is also part of one of THE MOST important phrases you can say to your partner when you are substantially pissed off.

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:

That won’t work.

The ge-form of beruhigen is beruhigt. This can be simply translated as calmed down, but it is very often used as relieved.

The corresponding adjective is beruhigend… and of course it can be used for all meanings of ruhig.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.

This ironic ruhig is also very common if you complain to people about something they haven’t done.

So… knowing the flavoring power of ruhig, we can also make sense of sentences like this.

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.

And quite often people the generic phrasing “Mach ruhig!” as a simple nice way to approve of something.

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.

Now when a mom or your partner tells you:

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:

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 :

and also the following idiom is using still.

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.