Word of the Day – “schenken”

schenkenHello everyone,

and welcome to our Word of the Day. This time we will look at the meaning of:



Schenken is just great. It is nice and rewarding to be the one doing it… okay, maybe not all the time… like… when it’s like the 23rd and you are running around in the cold carrying bags filled with uninspired stuff you got from the 50% off pile… like, say, a Celine Dion Live DVD … anyways, generally it is a joy to schenken.
But what’s even better is to be the one who schenken is done to… well, okay… maybe not ALL the time… like … you unpack it and it is like this Celine Dion Live DVD and you’re like “Oh… uh… oh.. 3 hours… thanks, I guess.”… but for the most part, it is fun.
And because schenken is such a nice experience for everyone involved we all do it every once in a while and people have done it for centuries… it is a quite human thing to do, after all.
So, one would think that there is a really old verb for this in every language. But… there isn’t. 

French doesn’t really have a word for it, English has some but doesn’t use them … at least not as often as they do the action. And then in Languages that do have a everyday word for it like Spanish, Italian or German the word has developed pretty late… like 500 years ago or so. So… maybe the urge to have an extra word for it isn’t that old after all. Maybe the enlightenment made humans more aware of this basic action… or the start of the capitalistic society called for another word than just to give. But I digress.
Anyways… so what is this schenken ? You probably guessed it: it is to give as a present. It means just that. Nothing more, nothing less. Sure, some dictionaries list words like to present or to bestow as translations but I think those would work only in a few instances. In most situations they would be odd choices.

Now, some comments mentioned the verb to gift as a translation. I was not aware that this even existed and neither Leo nor Pons list it as a translation for schenken… Dict.cc does, though. Anyways…he word to gift is the very same as schenken… at least as far as grammar and structure is concerned. But schenken is certainly used way more often.

Now, before we look at some examples, let’s quickly check out where schenken comes from. It is worth it.

  • der Schenkel – the shank
  • der Schinken – the ham
  • hinken – to limp

What do all those have in common? They are all related to schenken…. Uhhh … right… like… I totally see the connection… it is obvious. Seriously though, they all come from the very old root *(s)keng which meant inclined, tilted or  aslant….  The Schenkel is called after that because it could be…. well… angled I guess, the ham is called Schinken because it is mostly cut from the Schenkel of a pig and hinken is to walk in a tilted fashion… so it is at least imaginable that these 3 words are related… but  to give a present???
 Schenken had a brother in old English once… scencan which meant to pour or give a drink and this is also the original meaning of schenkento pour someone a drink. This origin is still visible in German words like einschenken which still only means to pour a drink into a glass or Schankerlaubnis (public entertainment license) or Schänke (tavern, tabroom)….
schenken itself however has broadened a great deal. I mean pouring someone a drink is nice and I guess it kind of makes sense that this could eventually become the general term for giving a present. So…  schenken certainly has come a  long way. Great. Now that we have the origins out of the w… wait a second!! …

What the heck does pouring a drink have to do with the tilted-origin of all those words???

Well, in order to pour a drink you have to hold your bottle at an angle… don’t look at me like that! I know it sounds stupid but didn’t make that up. This is scientifically accepted knowledge…. check this if you want. And there even something in todays English that comes from there.
So… as crazy as it sounds… holding a bottle at an angle became pouring a drink which ultimately became giving a present in German. Did I mention that schenken came a long way?

Alright, on to more practical things. The grammar of schenken is exactly like to give.

  • Ich schenke/ gebe dir einen Kuli.
  • I give you a ballpoint pen (as present).

When is it used? Of course whenever presents are given.

But schenken is not limited to those festivities. On the market this dialog might take place.

Now, Germans seem to really enjoy schenken, so they use the word not only for actual presents but also of number of abstract things… for instance Aufmerksamkeit, Beachtung or Vertrauen.

Or how about a smile.

Schenken is a positive word so it is really no surprise that the marketing-industry wants to benefit from the niceness associated with it. Hence you can also find it in adds quite a bit. There, they often use geschenkt as an adjective in sense of for free rather than as present.

There is the word verschenken. Its meaning is basically to give away for free … so the focus is not so much on the whole present thing but on the mere fact that you simply don’t take money for it. Verschenken is used a lot by people who want to give away their stuff… for instance furniture

It is even a category in the comprehensive classified-sections.

Now, before we wrap up our present … post… (hahaha)… we need to mention 2 important idiomatic expressions with schenken. The first one is just the ge-form… or in jargon, the best party slipper … or something like that.

  • Geschenkt!

Literally this would be “given as present” or “It’s a present” but the actual meaning is something like.. I don’t care or no need to bother or don’t worry about that.

To me this Geschenkt! does have a slightly negative tone to it… or maybe arrogant is the better word… it’s like you are clearly not taking seriously whatever you deem no problem. So it is actually more like a “Pshhhh… don’t worry about THAT.
Anyways… the other expression I want to mention is similar in that it sounds a bit negative. It is a reflexive schenken… so you give a present to yourself.

So, when someone tells you: “Das kannst du dir schenken.” that is NOT positive :).

Ok,… I think we’re pretty much done here. This was our German Word of the Day schenken. It comes from “to hold a liquid containing thing at an angle” and then had a slight shift in meaning so today it means to give as a present and it is used quite a bit in German. Other words are einschenken, which still has the old meaning of to pour a drink and verschenken, which means to give away for free. And then there is of course the actual presentdas Geschenk.

  • Ich gebe dir ein Geschenk/ 243 Geschenke.
  • I give you a present / 243 presents.

Or a bit longer….

Or a lot longer….

Ok… this is too much even for Germans so they would write it

  • Weihnachtsgeschenke-Umtauschaktion
  • Christmas present exchange special/days

But if you say: “Geschenkt. I won’t ever need THAT.” I fully understand :)
If you have questions or suggestion, leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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Sarai Pahla

Hooray! These posts are just amazing – I’m so glad I subscribed! Thank you so much.
Could I say: Sie haben mir dieses Post geschenkt? (assuming blog post is das Post here)
I particularly love how you have given not only the etymology, but also some everyday examples – these are exactly what I have been missing out on during my studies! :)


Hey, I love your blog, and I’d like to point out that there actually is a rough English equivalent to “schenken”! I think it’s more common in Britain than in North America to use the word “gift” as a verb: “I think I’ll gift him a pen.” It’s often used as a gerund, too: “This is a season for gifting.”


Hey, dude, another very informative post!
Actually, it reminds me (errinern, not merken) of a music of the Red Hot Chili Pepeprs named “Give it Away”. Great music, actually…

I’ll try to make an effort to remember (merken, not errinern) the related words, as verschenken and einschenken, but I can’t promise that I will remember
Weihnachtsgeschenkeumtauschaktion :)

Have a nice day!


Hi man, I absolutely love your blog! I’m a native English speaker and Italian and German are my second languages – although I grew up around Italians so it is almost my second mother tongue. I’m really enjoying your blog to bits because I am also incredibly fascinated with etymology and linguistics. Your writing style and explanations are just perfectly worded for me to be enticed and understand clearly.

With that out of the way, I feel that there *is* a one word translation for schenken in English. I noticed you mentioned there’s a verb for it in Italian (regolare) and I’ve always directly translated that as ‘to gift (sth.)’. And the way you’ve explained schenken (aside from the idiomatic expressions) that seems to fit really well.

Keep up the good work, I look forward to some more neat blog posts from you! ^^


As others have mentioned, we do technically have “to gift”, though in North America at least it’s not really in common use. We still understand what it is when it’s used, but we don’t put a lot of miles on it ourselves. I would say it can’t be used as broadly as “shenken”, though.


Just subscribed now! Thank you for your helpful blog, I love it! :)


A friend of mine from Canada was learning German and when he was over here, he noticed the word “Geschenkgutschein” in some stores, which he thought was about the funniest word he could think of. When he pronounced it, it sounded like: “Ghee-shank-goo-shine”. :-) I’m just trying to think of the proper English word for it, though … .


Great fun and I don’t think I’ll forget that word any time soon.


Hi, as always, great post!
a question to that topic:
a present _to_ somebody would be: das Geschenk an jemanden?


◾I present you with my ball pen ◾I bestow my ball pen upon thee…..you might want to use just ‘pen’, or ‘ballpoint pen’, because your ball pen sounds a tad rude ;). [We call it ballpoint pen because the nib/point used to be enlarged and used to swivel/rotate].

We have t.v adverts that claim “It’s so cheap it’s a gift!”.

Schänke (tavern, tabroom)… it’s actually taproom, and many years ago it was a smoking room, within a pub, which was for men only..women not allowed in the taproom.
Just random bits of info you might like.
Thanks for making me want to spend more of my time learning your language.


I’ve tried to think of instances that ‘gift’ is used in English, other than the obvious – buy a gift/give a gift, but I can only think of one, ‘he/she is gifted’ – which means clever. It’s strange that we don’t use it in connection with being lucky.


Super Post. Nochmal vielen vielen Dank für diese Arbeit.


Warum sagt man zum Beispiel zum Geburtsgag aber zu Weihnachten oder ( und deshalb bin ich schrecklich verwirrt), zum Essen / zu Mittag essen / zum Mittagessen. Ich verstehe das nicht. Ich weiss natürlich dass zum bedeutet zu + dem oder einem, aber es ist mir nicht klar mit diese Beispiele, weil es scheint mir dass sie sind gleich, aber das Präposition/Artikel ändert. Könnten Sie mir das erklären, bitte?


“French doesn’t really have a word for it,”

When I think of schenken for French, I associate with the French verb “offrir”, which is of course common.
I understand the direct translation does not always work very well and we would use ‘donner’ in a number of situation illustrated for convenience. Donner is way too broad a verb to properly say it is a translation for schenken, this time… But ‘offrir’ works well is a good number of the situations illustrated, really…
Since I comment on this with all of my 4-5 months of learning German(!), I suppose it unlikely to be correct based on your input… I am not sure how much you can comment on a French input like that, but if you can, how would you say ‘offrir’ is not a proper verb to cover (most of) the idea of schenken?