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 one…


For some reason all English words for Ruhe come from Latin: silence, quietness, peace, tranquility, calmness… heck. even rest and reposecan be explained via Latin.
Now you are probably saying “Wow , how fascinating… “ and secretly you’re thinking “Wow, how not very interesting.”
And trust me… I get it. I feel you. There are more interesting questions to talk about with ruhig. Like for example
“What is the difference between ruhig, still and leise?”
“What the hell does the following nonsense mean?”

  • Du kannst ruhig laut sein.

So let’s jump right in and take a look.

If I had to pick one translation for ruhig, it would probably be 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 much broader than that. It can also be peaceful, smooth, still , calm or relaxed so maybe we could say that ruhig is kind of a general word for low amounts of excitement or activity…  without having a notion of boring.

  • 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.

And this broadness of meaning is also present in the related words.

ruhig – the family

In the intro, we already seen 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.

And of course we need to give a shout out to 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 two verbs based on ruhig.
The first one is beruhigen which is to calm down.
Important thing is that you ALWAYS have to have a direct object. So you can’t just say this:

  • Relax/chill/Calm down!
  • Beruhige! (Wrong)

That won’t work. You need to beruhigen SOMEONE… either someone else or yourself.

  • 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, which is often also 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.

And then there is d-form beruhigend, which is also pretty common and also covers the full range of ruhig.

  • Die Musik ist sehr beruhigend.
  • The music is soothing.
  • Die Worte des Arztes waren beruhigend.
  • Die doctors words were reassuring.

And there is also the opposite version beunruhigen,  based on the adjective unruhig (restless, nervous).
And funny story… until the age of 11 or 12 or 18, I had not realized that this  is pronounced be- un – ruhigt. Like… 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.

There are of course more related words out there, but I think you can get them all from context.
What you can’t really get from context, however, is a weird usage of ruhig.
Like in the example I gave in the intro….

  • Du kannst ruhig laut sein.

“ruhig” as a coloring particle

Apparently Germans love the word ruhig soooo much that they used it so frequently that it finally became a flavoring particle. A bit like doch or schon, though nowhere near as obscure.
So what does it express?
Well, we could call it an “allowifier”, an “approvator”. Ruhig is a way to express a soft encouragement, a verbal carte blanche.
And now the example from the into makes perfect sense.

  • 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.
  • Du kannst mich ruhig morgen früh wecken.
  • Oh don’t worry, you can wake me up tomorrow morning, it is not a problem.
  • 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. The phrase “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. It can even make imperatives sound like an approval

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.
  • “Ich mache jetzt den Laptop aus?”
    Mach ruhig!”
  • “I’ll turn off the computer now?”
    Oh sure, go ahead.”

    (“Mach ruhig.” is a pretty common generic way to say “Go ahead.”)

But you can also use ruhig sarcastically, if you want to.

  • 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.

All right, so this was the  “approving”-ruhig and it’s definitely very common in spoken German.
Now, let’s take a quick look at the difference between leise, still und ruhig.
And then we’re done for the day :)

Still, leise and ruhig

When you look in a dictionary, you’ll find that they share a lot of translations, but they each kind of have their own little niche.
Leise is probably the most limited of the three words beacue it is pretty much completely restricted to actual sound 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 actual 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, ruhig is the broadest and it is not really a good replacement for neither of the two. 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 want to check how much you remember, you can take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And of course, if have any questions or suggestions, write me ruhig a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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