Word of the Day – “schlagen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time, we’ll have a look at the meaning of



The main translation for it is  to beat. But that’s not all there is. Schlagen has some really nice prefix versions that take us to surprising contexts like reading books and choosing paths. And we’ll also discover that schlagen has awful lot to do with gender.
“Emanuel, that sounds kind of sexist.”
Well, I totally am sexist so that’s not a surpr… oh… oh wait… I meant sexiest. I’m a sexiest.
Gee, what a start… let’s jump right in.

So yeah, the number one meaning of schlagen is to beat and just like in English it works for actual punches as well as for the more figurative sense of besting someone, winning over someone.

Wow, that woman really can’t lose. Anyway, the noun der Schlag has a couple more abstract meanings besides a punch but it’s still pretty clear, I think.

There are lots of really nice and useful compounds around the idea.

And then there are of course like a gazillion prefix versions that basically tell us more specifics about how exactly something is being beaten.

  • Maria erschlägt das letzte Einhorn und schlägt ihm das Horn ab.
  • Maria beats to death the last unicorn and hacks off its horn.
    (The idea of “er-” adds here is “out, all the way”)

Holy shit… what is wrong with that woman. So violent. And… oh my God, she keeps going…

Maria STOP! The poor book. It did you no harm. Leave it alone!!
Oh… wait, she actually just opened it. That’s what the sentence actually means. Because… there’s actually more to schlagen than just punching.

off-beat  “schlagen”

So yeah, aufschlagen is used for cracking up eggs and whipping up cream, but it also means  to open in context of books, magazines or chapters. And maybe you have a guess what the opposite is… it is zuschlagen. Oh, and then there’s also nachschlagen, which is a not so common alternative for nachgucken  in sense of looking for something in a book.

Now, the old Germanic warriors were not only avid readers (according to these sales stats on Amazon.germ) , they were also rough and tough so maybe they really did open and close their books in a very manly way and we’re still right on track with the punching-schlagen.  But aufschlagen and zuschlagen are not the only prefix versions with weird, off-beat meanings.
The most famous one is probably vorschlagen, which means to propose (we’ve talked about it in a separate article, link below :). That’s still pretty clear once you realize that it’s basically the same as propose, except that in German you don’t just pose something pro… you smash.
But what about abschlagen? We saw that earlier when Maria hacked off that horn, but it’s also a colloquial word for to turn down in context of little requests.

Or let’s take ausschlagen. One of the meanings is the kicking out of horses, another is for the fingers of a gauge going to extreme values. So far so good. But trees also do it in spring because auschlagen means to sprout (for trees). And while this is pretty much useless, humans have their own kind of sprouting called der Ausschlag… it’s just not as pretty as what the trees do because Ausschlag is acne.

Now, we could think of that as pus “punching” its way outward. Pretty gross, but we’d still have a connection to punching.
But then, there’s also  umschlagen.
And this one is NOT about knocking something or someone over. Instead, it is a technical term in economics for turning over goods (in a harbor for example). AND it’s also used in sense of to (suddenly) change for weather.

Oh and let’s not forget about the noun der Umschlag, which is the German word for envelop.

I have a black belt (with pink dots) in mind yoga but I really can’t come up with some wacky connection to the idea of punching.
If you look at all the verbs we had in this section, it makes way more sense to think of a second core idea. And that idea is … drumroll please… turning.
Think about it… aufschlagen and zuschlagen a books means turning pagesVorschlagen makes quite a lot of sense as turning an idea forward, an Umschlag is “turned” around the content. And when we have Ausschlag, the skin turns outward.
But the clearest example is einschlagen.
Yes, we had it earlier when Maria went on her rampage, but besides smashing in, it also used for… get ready… choosing paths and directions. Which is basically turning.

And this (vague) notion of turning doesn’t only help with the prefix versions, it also helps with one use of the stand alone schlagen, which is admittedly rare but super super weird.

Based on what we’ve learned so far, this sentence sounds like Maria punches her dad more than she punches her mom. And it can mean that… I mean… we’ve seen what a savage Maria is. But what people would normally understand is that she’s more similar to her dad:

  • Maria takes more after her dad than after her mom.

She leans, or “turns” more toward her dad personality-wise. And also the noun Schlag can carry that idea.

And brings us to the connection with gender, or biological sex. The German word for that is das Geschlecht. Looks like it is related to schlecht but it’s actually an off-spring of schlagen. And it’s based on exactly that notion of “leaning, going into a direction” . Originally, Geschlecht was referring to your tribe or your family and was in line with the Latin genus (which comes from a root that’s about origin). And then later, it shifted toward making the distinction between the basic two sides male and female.

So… we’ve seen that schlagen isn’t only about punching, hitting but that there’s also a notion of turning in it. And now the question is why. How did these two meanings get in there? Do they connect in any way?
And the answer is … I don’t know :). Together with the German word die Schlacht (the fierce battle) and the English slaughter and slay,  it comes from the super ancient Indo-European root *slak which was about punching, hammering. And that notion of turning, going toward one side was just kind of there at some point in the German word. So you can just make up your own connection, and share it in the comments – the crazier the better :).
Now, there’s actually lots more we could mention about schlagen, like several niche uses, more prefix versions and loads and loads or nice nouns and compounds, not least of them the infamous German Schlager, the worst thing in music since The Beatles.
Ohhhhhhhhhh…. that’s right.
But I think we’ve already done enough for one day and more would be a bit overwhelming. I added quite a bit to the vocabulary list below, so you can check that out if you want, and we can talk about all the other schlagen-words and uses you come across in the comments.
I’m out for now, I hope you guys had a fun time and learned a bit and I’ll see you nächste Woche :)
Bis dann.


The way Maria was portrayed in this article was fiction. In reality, she is a very loving person with a very kind heart and incredibly sexy hair.

** vocab **

schlagen – punch, beat

der Schlag, die Schläge – the punch(es)
der (Stromschlag) – the electrical shock
der Hitzschlag – heat stroke
der Herzschlag – the heart beat
der  Schicksalsschlag – the stroke of fate

der Schlaganfall – the stroke, brain attack 
die Schlagader – the artery (big ones)
das Schlagloch – the pothole
das Schlagzeug – the drumset
Schlagzeug spielen – play drums
die Schlagsahne  – whipped cream

der Schläger – the bat, rack (sports), also: person who beats up someone
die Schlägerei – the fist fight

der Schlager – specific kind of (bad) popular German music, think Helene Fischer
der Verkaufsschlager – very popular item that sells very well

schlagartig – suddenly
schlagfertig – quick to come up with a witty response, quick witted

abschlagen – turn down (for little requests), hack off

der Anschlag – the terror attack
angeschlagen – a little under the weather, slightly sick

aufschlagen – open (for books and magazines), crack open (for eggs), whip (for cream)
der Aufschlag – the service (in tennis)

ausschlagen – kick (horses), move quickly (fingers of a gauge), sprout (trees)
der Auschlag – the acne
den Ausschlag geben – fixed phrasing for “being the determining factor for the decision”
ausschlaggebend –  crucial 

einschlagen – punch in, take a turn (in combination with direction)
der Einschlag – the impact (of a meteorite)

der Nachschlag – the second serving (mostly for food, but also used in a figurative sense)

sich überschlagen – flip (for vehicles)
überschlagen – roughly calculate (mostly for costs)

umschlagen – change (only for weather), something boring with trade
der Umschlag – the envelope

vorschlagen – to suggest, to propose
der Vorschlag – the suggestion

zuschlagen – punch (used when we don’t specify a target), colloquial for taking an opportunity, close (for books)
der Zuschlag – the addition (mostly for costs)

zerschlagen – smash into bits
erschlagen – beat to death, also: as an adjective for really tired
beschlagen – fogged (that layer on windows and glasses), also: skilled (as an adjective)
beschlagnahmen – confiscate

die Schlacht – the battle (fierce one)
schlachten – slaughter

for members :)

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Hallo Emmanuel! :)

Obwohl ich zum Schluss beim Lesen deiner Artikel bin (88% hooray), muss ich dich irgendwas fragen. Aber zuerst muss ich dir zugeben, dass deine Artikel mega krass sind! Ich hätte nie gedacht, dass nach einem Jahr, ich würde diskutieren und dass ichein bisschen Deutsch sprechen könnte wohooo. Naja genug mit dem Plaudern. Okay. Das Verb ”Abschlagen” verrwirt mich. Wenn du Zeit hast, erleucht mich mal bitte! Die Unterschiede zwischen:

– abschlagen
– ablehnen
– abweisen
– ausschlagen

I really enjoy reading your articles and they are helping me a lot! I’ve expanded my vocabulary ”bedeutend” . I just love saying random gibberish and sounding native-ish , then people ask where did you learn that lol. Just finished B1, and I am planning to achieve at least B2 level, maybe C1 with time, since this is my third language. Now I am dreaming German and talking German constantly with myself, which
i know sounds horrifying but i kinda ”stehe das”. Du bist ein cool(er) Lehrer (that twisted my tongue, like a lot). Ich wünsche dir viel Glück beim zukunftigen Projekten. :)

Grüße aus Nürnberg,



Just a few proofreading things…

– translation for “schlagfertig” should be “quick-witted”
– Der Musiker schlägt mit dem Album eine neue Richtung ich ein. <= typo
– for "Umschlag": "envelop" is a verb; the noun is "envelope" (at least in AE)
– I know "sex-traffic" translates "Geschlechtsverkehr" literally/word-for-word, but for native speakers, it really always sounds like human trafficking for forced prostitution.

As far as I can tell, "nachschlagen" is the standard word for finding a reference in the Bible; is there any difference at all in usage between it and "nachgucken," or is it just the more formal synonym?

I wondered about "Ausschlag," too – is it only acne, or is it a more general word for a rash? If not, what would be the generic term? Parents of small children need to know…

With "nach jmdm. schlagen," I'd learned "nach dem Vater/der Mutter geraten" – would you say the "schlagen" version is more common? More colloquial?


In English, we say “crack open a book” as well. Probably comes from the idea that, historically, books were often pretty tight when first purchased, and had to carefully opened so as not to “break” the spine. The literal sound of opening a new book the first time was quite a crackling sound! Just a thought.


I love this website, but I don’t have the money to be able to pay for the membership. I contacted them via Email and they kindly gave me 6 months for free, as there are some amazing users who pay more in order for other people who can’t afford the membership to enjoy this website. I’m really thankful!


Before machinery, an envelope was glued by hand, du musstest es zusammenschlagen?

Intervene Immerly

Emanuel has the sexiest voice in all of German language-learning.


I know, right?


Du hast auch der Schlagbaum.
Er schlägt Leute mit Baum :)

In Russisch das Wort Anchlag (natürlich aus Deutsch gekommen ist) bedeutet etwas gut z.B alle Tickets waren ausverkauft.


Some of the audio files don’t seem to be working. From the examples of “Maria erschlägt das letzte Einhorn und schlägt ihm das Horn ab.” onwards. I encountered issues in both Chrome and Firefox. In case it was my laptop, I tried it on my phone (android 6.0.1) with chrome browser. Maybe its a system glitch. Anyone else having these issues or is it just me!! Thanks for your help and time in advance.


The examples are a bit violent for my liking. Sorry, I am rather sensitive and struggle with stuff. Maybe I will use this as an opportunity to re-write the example sentences with something gentler, whilst trying not to lose the essence. I just want to say that I really appreciate the in-depth detailed explanations you offer.


Ich mag Maria. :) Sie ist sehr gutsy (don’t know the Deutsch word)…you make learning German fun


The sexist part was when you tried to explain violent tendencies as a result of PMS. I suggest you remove that.


I thought of another expression that’s worth knowing: “Wurzeln schlagen,” meaning “put down roots” (either literally or figuratively, when someone becomes settled and connected to a place/community).

Mary Sova
Mary Sova

This post says so much about why I love German!

Jeff Höltzl
Jeff Höltzl

In Wien sagen wir ‘mit Schlag’ für die Sahne auf einer Nachspeise!


Und wenn ich Campen gehe, schlage ich mein Zelt auf? Oder baue ich mein Zelt auf? Oder schlagen nur Pfadfinder ihrer Zelte auf? (Oder Soldaten oder so was…)


ausschlagen – kick (horses), move quickly (fingers of a gauge), sprout (trees) In English sometims we come across an “outbreak of acne” or measles or shingles. Its not exactly colloquial, yet it does encourage one to think about leaves and zits in an outbreaking way.


Yeah, I forgot to mention this – not only “an outbreak,” but “to break out” is pretty common, either with acne or some other rash.

– Strawberries make me break out in hives. (describing an allergic reaction)

Cooper Graham
Cooper Graham

It might be kind of dumb to even point this out, but one almost literal translation of “auf einen Schlag” is “in one stroke” as well as “in one instant.” Love your blog.


Thankyou so much to the people who helped me got this account :) i will study very hard and get my scholarship to Germany!! Thankyou again. You make the world a better place to live in.


I’m reading a novel in German and have come across a few expressions with schlagen in them. Can you give me some native speaker insight into the meanings? Are they formal or umgangssprachlich? Below are my guesses…

einen bestimmten Ton anschlagen – to change your tone of voice in a striking way?
schlagkräftig – something that makes a strong impact? When would you use this?
“Alkohol schlägt mir nie auf die Nerven” – Alcohol never affects me
Das schlägt mir aufs Gemüt – That lowers my spirits/makes me despondent


After I read this post, I heard aufschlagen used in two other ways in conversations on the same day.

One was in the context of prices being raised “Sie haben aufgeschlagen”, “They raised prices”. But, the other usage I thought really fit well with the turning idea was “to turn up” at a place. (The dictionary mentions aufschlagen meaning “to turn up” in the sense of rolling up a sleeve. But, I heard it used in the sense of arriving or appearing somewhere (by chance).)