Word of the Day – “weigern”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: February 16, 2024

Hello everyone,

welcome to our German Word of the Day.
And this time, I have one of those YUSIOYKI-words for you.
That looks like Japanese (if you don’t know Japanese like me) and it’s short for “You See it once you know it” and it’s basically one of those words that you never really notice or feel like you could use until you randomly learn them somewhere and then, all of a sudden, they’re everywhere.
Just like opportunities.
Yeah… that’s some deep, spiritual wisdom right there.
But who cares, that’s not what we’re here for.
We’re here for the German freakin’ language and today, we’ll have a look at the meaning of

sich weigern

And yes.
It’s one of those that are always reflexive.
And what is sich weigern?
Well, it’s what Thomas does when his girlfriend Maria asks him to put his dirty dishes into the dishwasher.
*cue quiz music

  1. comply
  2. refuse
  3. start an argument
  4. he doesn’t have a girlfriend

Technically, the correct answer is of course 4, but within the fictitious scenario it would be number two – sich weigern means to refuse.

  • Thomas weigert sich, sein Geschirr in die Spülmaschine zu räumen.
  • Thomas refuses to put his dishes into the dishwasher.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Meine Chefin wollte, dass ich ihr den Rücken massiere, aber ich habe mich geweigert.
  • My boss wanted me to massage her back, but I refused.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Deutsch, wenn du dich weigerst, von mir gelernt zu werden, dann musst du damit leben, dass ich dich nie spreche.”
    “Oh nein!!”
  • “German, if you refuse to be learned by me, then you’ll have to live with the fact that I’ll never speak you.”
    “Oh no!!”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

As you can see, the self reference is in Accusative, so it’s “Ich weigere mich!” and so on.
And just to make sure – sich weigern is NOT about refusing an offer. The German  word for that is ablehnen.

  • Das Einhorn hat mir hausgemachten Moonshine angeboten, aber ich habe abgelehnt.
  • The unicorn offered me homemade moonshine, but I refused.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Sich weigern is really specifically about refusing to do something.
Or actually, we should say refusing to do something that someone tells us to do.  It works for humans, and also for animals

  • Meine Katze weigert sich, ihr Essen zu essen.
  • My cat refuses to eat its food.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

But it wouldn’t work for a door refusing to open. That would sound like the door has some sort of will or something.

So yeah, that’s sich weigern. It does  sound a bit formal and official but I do use it an daily life and I’d say it’s worth adding to your active vocabulary, at least if you’re level B1 or above.
Are there any English relatives that could help remember it?
Well, not really.
The origin is the recalcitrantly ancient Indo-European root *u̯eik- which was about fighting, overcoming, which does fit the meaning we see today quite well.
But the Anglo-Saxon branch of this disappeared a long time ago, so the only relatives are the ones that came via Latin and those are the words around victory... convince, invincible and so on. Not sure if these really are a good mental crutch for the meaning of weigern.
Maybe it’s more helpful to think of it as “Why?????” Like… someone tells you to do something and instead of doing it you go like “WHY?”
Not exactly weigern, but maybe it’s a nice mnemonic.

But anyway, now, of course there are also a few related words, so let’s look at those now.
First up, we have the noun die Weigerung, which of course means the refusal.
It sounds very stiff and formal though, and you won’t find that often in daily life.

  •  Thomas’ Weigerung, zu akzeptieren, dass er keine Freundin hat, führt immer wieder zu immaginärem Streit darüber, wer den Geschirrspüler einräumt.
  • Thomas’ refusal to accept that he doesn’t have a girlfriend, keeps leading to imaginary arguments about who is filling the dishwasher.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Next up, we have the adverb unweigerlich, which means something like inevitably or unavoidably.

  • Werden die Zinsen jetzt gesenkt, werden die Preise unweigerlich steigen.
  • If the interest rate are lowered now, prices will inevitably rise.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

But the most important relatives by far are the verb verweigern and its noun die Verweigerung.
The verb verweigern is about denying someone something.

  • Thomas verweigert dir Zutritt zur Küche.
  • Thomas is denying you access to the kitchen.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And this sense of denying and the idea of refusing that we already had are REALLY close.
Like… take the example above. You want to go to the kitchen and you’re like “Thomas, Bro, let me go in.” but Thomas is like “No, my girlfriend is in there …. studying.” and he blocks the way.
He is refusing to let you enter and thereby DENYING you entry. Refusing is for action, denying is for a “thing”, in a way.
Anyway, grammatically, what is being denied is the direct object (in Accusative) and you MUST have that so that’s not optional.
And if you want to include the person who gets denied something, that’d be the indirect object, so that’ll be in Dative.

  • Maria will wissen, warum ihr das Visum verweigert wurde.
  • Maria wants to know why she was denied the visa. (the visa was denied to her.)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Zugriff verweigert – Sie haben keine Berechtigung, dieses Beispiel zu öffnen.
  • Access denied – You do not have permission to open this example.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And the noun die Verweigerung pretty much carries both ideas, so if the focus is on someone not getting something, then it’s denial and if the focus is on someone not GIVING something, then it’s refusal. Though it is actually more common in the latter sense, overall, it’s mainly used in compounds.

  • Das Team droht mit Arbeitsverweigerung, sollte der Ping-Pong-Tisch wirklich entfernt werden.
  • The team is threatening refusal to work, should the ping pong table really get removed.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Thomas, was du machst ist Realitätsverweigerung.”
    “Du meinst, was Maria und ich machen…”
  • Thomas, what you’re doing is denial of reality.”
    “You mean what Maria and I are doing…”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And that’s pretty much it for today :).

This was our little look at the meaning of sich weigern and its relatives, and even if you think you’ve never seen this verb before… I’m pretty sure you have and I’m even more sure you will now.
As usual, if you want to check how much you remember, you can take the little quiz I have prepared. And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.

I hope you liked it and see you next time!!

 

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