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.

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2 years ago

“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?

2 years ago

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?

4 years ago

Super Post. Nochmal vielen vielen Dank für diese Arbeit.

5 years ago

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.

5 years ago

◾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.

6 years ago

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

7 years ago

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

9 years ago

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 … .

9 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Stimmt! That was actually pretty easy, I must admit. Thanks! And by the way: Thanks also for your blog! Even for native speakers of German, it’s great fun to read.

9 years ago

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

9 years ago

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.

9 years ago

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! ^^

9 years ago

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!

9 years ago

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.”

Sarai Pahla
9 years ago

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! :)