Word of the Day – “schenken”

schenkenHello everyone,

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



Schenken is just great. It is nice and rewarding to be the one doing it (most of the time) and it’s a joy to be the one it is done to (again… most of the time).
And no..  it’s not THAT act.
But it’s still an act that is probably as old as humanity itself: the act of giving a present.

And even though it’s such an old basic human concept, English doesn’t really have its own word for it. Well… at least not one that’s actually used.
Technically, there are to present and to bestow and to gift, but as you can see here, those aren’t really idiomatic….

  • Ich schenke dir meinen Kuli.
  • I present you with my ballpoint pen… hmm maybe not
  • I bestow my ballpoint pen upon thee…. yeah, much better (NOT)
  • I give you a ballpoint pen (as present).

… and to give (as present) really is the most fitting translation in my opinion.
Let’s look at a few more examples…

  • Ich schenke meiner Freundin zum Geburtstag ein Kochbuch.
  • I’ll buy / get my girlfriend a cookbook for her birthday / as a birthday present.
  • Meine Oma hat mir zu Weihnachten 100 Euro geschenkt.
  • My granny gave me 100 Euro for Christmas.
  • Ich weiß nicht, was ich meiner Mutter zum Geburtstag schenken könnte.
  • I don’t know what I could get my mom for her birthday.
  • “Wieviel kostet der Apfel?”
    “Ach den schenke ich dir.”
  • “How much for this apple?”
    “Oh, that one‘s on me.”

It’s really quite a practical word. And Germans seem to really enjoy schenken, and so they also used it metaphorically for giving a few abstract things like  Aufmerksamkeit, Beachtung or Vertrauen.

  • Ich schenke ihm viel Vertrauen.
    “I give him a lot of trust as a present” (lit.).
  • I really trust him.
  • Der Manager schenkt dem Problem keine Beachtung.
    The manager doesn’t give consideration to the problem as a present. “(lit.)
  • The manager ignores the problem.
  • Die schöne Frau schenkte ihm ein Lächeln.
  • The pretty woman gave him a smile.

And that’s still not all. Sooner or later, you’ll probably come across schenken used with a self reference: sich (Dative) schenken. And that could very well be about the literal idea of giving a present to oneself. But it has a second meaning. One that can be quite confusing…

  • Diese Oper ist so langweilig, die zweite Hälfte kann man sich echt schenken.
  • This opera is so boring, you can definitely skip the second half.
  • Deine Ausreden kannst du dir schenken.
  • You can save your fake excuses (for yourself).
  • “Ich versuche Maria anzurufen, vielleicht verzeiht sie mir”
    Das kannst du dir schenken, die ist immer noch total sauer.”
  • ”I am trying to call Maria, maybe she’ll forgive me.”
    That is pointless, she is still very angry.”

As you can see, the translation varies, but the core idea is that you “keep” something for yourself, or don’t even bother taking it.  So, when someone tells you the following about a movie: “Das kannst du dir schenken.” then that is NOT a recommendation to watch it :).

Now, of course there are also a few related words we need to mention.
First of, the ge-form geschenkt , which literally means given as present, is often used with the idea of for free.

  • Billiger wäre geschenkt.
  • Cheaper would be for free.
  • X-Box fast geschenkt.
  • X-Box, almost a steal.

Which brings us right over the prefix version verschenken. The ver–  adds its notion of away here and verschenken basically means give away for free. It’

  • Couch zu verschenken.
  • Couch for free.

Then, we have of course the noun das Geschenk, which is the present, the gift. 

  • “Was ist das?”
    “Das ist dein Geburtstagsgeschenk.”
    “Ist das dein Ernst?!”
  • “What is that?”
    “That’s your birthday present.
    “Are you for real?!”

And then there is the verb einschenken which means to pour in the sense of pouring a drink.
Wait, wait…. hold on.



Pouring a drink?!
Sounds strange, but it’s actually true.

  • Maria schenkt den Wein ein.
  • Maria pours in the wine.

I guess it makes sense if you think of the act of serving a drink as some sort of present. But that’s quite a surprising meaning.
But that’s nothing compared to the surprise you’ll have when you see which words schenken is related to. Behold:

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

It’s virtually impossible to believe that these are all connected.
But they are.
The origin is the eerily ancient Indo-European root *(s)keng which meant inclined, tilted or  aslant.
The Schenkel (shank) has its name because it’s at an angle to the upper leg. The ham is called Schinken because it is mostly cut from the Schenkel of a pig and hinken (to limp) is to walk in a tilted fashion. These make a lot of sense, actually.
But what about schenken itself? Well, get ready for the final surprise of the day… because schenken, too, originally was about… pouring a drink. Which is usually done by tilting the bottle or jar, so there’s the connection to the original root.
This sense of pouring still lives on in einschenken, and we can also see it in words like Schankerlaubnis (alcohol license) or the old fashioned die Schänke (tavern, tabroom).
And schenken itself then indeed broadened from giving, gifting a drink to the act of gifting in general.

I don’t know about you, but I find this to be one of the cutest word origins ever.
Etymology can really be a gift sometimes.
And on that note, I think we’ll wrap it up. This was our look at the meaning of schenken – the German word for giving a present.
As usual, if you want to check how much you remember, just take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestion, leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

5 5 votes
Article Rating