Word of the Day – “stecken”

Hello  everyone,

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


I’m sure it’s not a super crazy reveal that stecken is related to to stick. And the two verbs do overlap. But they also have their differences. And their family as a whole is pretty interesting. So we have lots to talk about and lots of cool words to learn and I’d say, we’ll jump right in.

The origin of the family is the outstandingly ancient Indo-European root *steig-. It expressed the idea of being pointy and possibly poking something with it. And stecken and to stick are not its only descendants. The root is also the origin of German stechen (to sting, to stab) and its noun der Stachel (the stinger). And while that is not that big of a reveal, you might be really surprised that the root is ALSO the origin for stigmata, instigate, stimulus and… drumroll please…  style. Yup, style. Style comes directly from the Latin word stilus, which was a pointy object to write with.
So  “I like your style”or in Latin “Stilum yorum me pleasis”** – basically originally meant “I like your pen.”
(**might not actually be Latin)
Then it shifted toward “I like the way you write.” and then to “I like the way you express yourself.”
Well, I’m not sure if the Romans actually had that phrasing, but that’s roughly the evolution of the word.

Anyway, while style has changed quite a bit over the many centuries (no pun intended), stecken and stick have stuck (ops, again no pun intended, I am really sorry) to the original idea.
A stick, or der Stock in German, is still a pointy object, and the verbs stecken and to stick have a notion of putting something “pointy” somewhere.

But there’s also a new element – the notion of fixation.

And this brings us to the most important difference between German stecken and the English to stick. To stick has broadened the notion of fixation to include contexts where there’s some sort of glue. Just think of the adjective sticky.
German stecken does NOT have that. Instead, you need to use a word of the kleben-family.

Stecken can express the idea of being stuck, but ONLY in a mechanical sense. Like… putting lipstick into your nose and not getting it out.

I think it’s best to think of stecken as a verb about positioning. German likes to be precise about placement and uses a variety of verbs for to put, depending on how and where something is being put.
The special “power” of stecken is this notion of sticking in and fixation. It does translate to to stick sometimes, but German also use it a LOT where English would use …. often it’s used as to put even to be.
Cool, examples.

As you can see, there doesn’t really always have to be a notion of real sticking, or being stuck. In the last example, you could just as well say “Wo warst du?”
The only thing stecken does here is adding a little flavor of hidden.
And this brings us right to the prefix versions.

stecken – the prefix versions

Because one in particular is what we need to talk about actual, factual hiding. Do you want to give it a go?
Here are the options…

  • anstecken
  • verstecken
  • wegstecken
  • einstecken

You have one gif to think about it :)

And? Do you have an idea?
Well… the correct answer is …. verstecken.

Verstecken is the German word for to hide, and if you’ve read my article on ver-, that’ll make perfect sense to you. One of the ideas of the prefix  ver- is away, and if you put something away, it is out of sight. Or in one word: hidden.

And what about wegstecken?
Well, wegstecken is also about putting away, but it doesn’t have the notion of hiding.
You can use it for literally putting away something, or in a figurative sense of coping with something.

And this brings us right to the next one, einstecken. This one has a focus on “inside”. Think of the ein- as a generic pocket. So instead of stecken into X, you can just say einstecken… without the X.
In the right context, that can express the same idea as wegstecken, but it’s also often used in contexts of taking something with you.

The one thing einstecken DOESN’T mean – and those of you who are veterans of the great Prefix Verb Series will know this – the one thing it doesn’t mean is literally sticking something inside of somewhere. For that we need the r-version reinstecken.

  • Thomas’ Nase: *existiert
    Thomas: “Perfekt. Da stecke ich Lippenstift rein.”
  • Thomas’ nose: *exists
    Thomas: “Perfect. I’ll put lipstick inside there.”

Now, there’s one more version of stecken that I want to mention and that is anstecken. If we take it literally, it should mean something along the lines of sticking something somewhere.
Well, it is used in contexts of pinning medals on someone’s chest..

And in a way, the actual real everyday meaning is also about sticking something to someone. But it’s not a medal. It’s a cough, for example. Or diarrhea. Or enthusiasm.
Do you know what I’m talking about?
(sich) anstecken is the word for infecting someone (or oneself ) with a disease or metaphorical condition.

  • “Schatz, ich geb dir mal keinen Kuss. Ich bin erkältet und will dich nicht anstecken.
    “Oh, keine Sorge, ich hab’ mich schon bei einem Arbeitskollegen angesteckt.
    “Äh… wie bitte?”
  • “Honey, I won’t kiss you today. I have a cold and I don’t want to get you infected.”
    “Oh, no worries. I already got infected by a colleague.”
    “Uhm… excuse me?!?!”

Now, does that meaning REALLY come from the idea of pinning your disease to someone?
Probably not. Anstecken actually has a third meaning, and that is to light in context of fire. It’s rare these days, but you can find it used in books for lighting a cigarette for example.

This meaning is based on an old medieval usage of the word in sense of pinning an incendiary composition somewhere.  And if we now consider that one type of disease is an inflammation, then it’s not that crazy anymore that anstecken got the sense of transmitting an infection.
Oh and just to give you one more little way of connecting the dots… just think of the word to instigate, which was also a member of the family. Instigating, lighting a fire, getting an infection… they all share aspects.

Anyway, let’s get back to practical things and look at a couple of examples for the noun die Ansteckung (the infection/transmission of disease) and the adjective ansteckend which means contagious.

But you guys are not yawning right now, are you? *worried look
Seriously though, we’re almost done for today.
Just a few cool nouns that we need to mention. First up, we have the noun das Besteck, which is the German word for silverware or cutlery – so the whole of knifes and forks and spoons.

And the origin of this word is surgeon tools, like scalpels and lancets, that they would put (stecken) into a case. Yup, that’s really where this word comes from.
And last but not least we have the … well… couple Stecker and Steckdose. A Stecker is a plug and a Steckdose is where a Stecker goes… a wall socket/outlet. And for once the genders actually make sense, because Stecker is der and Steckdose is die.

Yeah… there’s a lot of things wrong with the last example. But it’s here to show you that Stecker works for all kinds of plugs. Except those to keep water in a sink. That’s a Stöpsel.
A Steckdose on the other hand is ONLY the word for an outlet/socket where you actually get electricity from. The word for a USB port or a FireWire port or whatever is der Anschluss or, in a more technical sense, die Buchse. Depends on the personal orientation of the plug.

And with this dumb joke, I’d say, we’re done for the day.
This was our look at the family of stecken and its prefix version. At its core, stecken is a placement verb that has a notion of piercing and fixation added and that shines through in most of the family members.
As usual, you can take the little quiz my snoring assistant has prepared for you.
And of course, if you have any questions about stecken, or specific uses of to stick or some other prefix versions of stecken … just leave me a comment and we’ll clear it all up.
I hope you liked it, have a great week and see you next time. 



Test yourself! How well did you understand the article on stecken?

1 / 11

What’s the core idea of stecken?

2 / 11

What’s a colloquial way to ask where someone is?

3 / 11

Which of the following prefix versions of stecken means “to hide”

4 / 11

What’s the proper translation for “hidden”?

5 / 11

Which of the following statements is true?

6 / 11

What’s the main meaning of anstecken?

7 / 11

What’s contagious in German?

8 / 11

Ein Stecker is...?

9 / 11

What is this?


Question Image

10 / 11

What do you see in the picture?

Question Image

11 / 11

What do you see in the picture?

Question Image

Your score is

The average score is 74%



** vocab **

stecken = to put (in a stable, fixated fashion, usually inside something), to be (for people and talents)
stecken bleiben = get stuck

klebrig = sticky
der Aufkleber = a sticker

verstecken = to hide
das Versteck = a hiding place
Verstecken = hide and seek (children’s play)

wegstecken = literally to put away something, or in a figurative sense of coping with something
einstecken = to put away, to have with me (inside something)
reinstecken = literally to stick something inside of somewhere
anstecken = to stick something to someone, to pin; to light in context of fire (rare, only in book)

(sich) anstecken = to infect someone (or oneself ) with a disease or metaphorical condition
sich bei jemandem mit etwas anstecken = get infected with something by someone
die Ansteckung = the infection/transmission of disease
ansteckend = contagious
die Ansteckungsgefahr = risk of contagion/infection

das Besteck = silverware or cutlery

der Stecker = a plug (for electronics, NOT a bathtub or sink)
der USB-Stecker = a USB plug
die Steckdose = a wall socket/outlet
der Stöpsel = plug (for bathtubs and sinks)
der Anschluss = a port, a connector
die Buchse = a jack, jack socket, female conector (more technical sense)

der Stachel = the stinger
der Stock = a stick
stechen = to sting, to stab



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Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER

We gonna be schreib styl’n now!

style. Yup, style. Style comes directly from the Latin word stilus, which was a pointy object to write with.
der Stift – stiften- anstiften ?? Die gehören eng beisammen im Umfeld dazu oder???
Die haben auch einen direkten verkabelten Anschluss, denke ich.?
Thomas hat mit seiner schlechten Laune alle angesteckt. angestiftet.????

Ami slang-
Steckdose “plug in” -‘reinstecker Where’s a plug in? A verb turned into a noun. Oft wird auch “plug” für outlet falsch verwendet.

Aber bei mir schon lange eine Frage-
Sind die Wörter –
stiften to sponser -to dontate
das Stift monastery
die Stiftung -foundation

alle mit “Stift” stilus verwandt?


A Steckdose on the other hand is ONLY the word for a an outlet/socket where you actually get electricity from.
the only word from which you actually get electricity.
Stimmt nicht. USB ist Unter Strom Beladen! so zu sagen “Kraft Busses”!!! :+)
5 volts
The standard USB port, be it USB 1.1 or USB 2.0, delivers 5 volts of electricity and allows your connected device to draw 500 milliampere. As this is standardized among USB devices, any device that can charged via USB is safe to plug in to your computer.

Nach Deiner Erklärung ist ein USB Anschluss doch eine Steckdose.
Die Antwort im Quiz ist
sicher richtig aber es muß einen anderen Grund dafür haben. ????


Hat ein Verlängerungskabel eine ”Steckdose” genanntes Ende)?



Wenn es um Stecker und Steckdosen geht, was tut man mit dem Stecker? Man steckt den Stecker (in die Steckdose) (r)ein?


Great post. The colloquial word for Steckdose in English is “outlet” or just “plug” (even though the latter also means Stecker). You probably wouldn’t ask at a café “is there a (wall) socket somewhere?” though I think that would be correct as well. “Outlet” is probably the most common.

Matthew Taylor
Matthew Taylor

From my generation/part of the world, we would say “power outlet.” As opposed to a phone or ethernet outlet I guess. But saying “outlet” or “power” would also be understood.


I always wanted to know when German kids play verstecken, what do they say at the end of the count. In English it’s coming, ready or not. Any idea?

Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER

Versteckt! ENTDECKT!

”Eins, zwei, drei, vier Eckstein,
alles muss versteckt sein.
Hinter mir und vorder mir gilt es nicht,
und an beiden Seiten nicht!
Eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs, sieben, acht, neun, zehn – ich komme!“

Oder auch einfach

„Eckstein, Eckstein, alles muss versteckt sein. 1 – 2 – 3 – ich komme!“

regional auch beispielsweise

„Dürkheim, Dürkheim, alles muss versteckt sein.“

Verstecken (Gemälde 1881)

Nun darf es die Augen öffnen und beginnt die anderen Kinder zu suchen. Wenn es ein Kind gefunden hat, muss es je nach Variante dieses berühren oder auch nur laut dessen Namen ausrufen („Ich sehe Anna hinter der Mauer“ oder auch „Anschlag Anna“). Die so entd
eckten Kinder sind gefunden oder gefangen. Als Strafe wird meist aus einem von ihnen der nächste Sucher erkoren. Die Runde ist beendet, wenn alle Kinder gefunden wurden.

Umlaut macht den Meister
Übung Ue alt Taste halten und 0220 eingeben = Ü



So much more makes sense from this video after this article and your comment.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuLPJg2gwjQ (Oomph! – Augen Auf)

I got the hide and seek thing in general from the counting, but I didn’t know about verstecken or if they were saying “Eckstein” for any real reason.

Is it just because the name rhymes?


As kids we always said “I am coming”/”ich komme”. Or just saying the last number really loud.


Thanks! This was very helpful. And when I’m in a cafe, I ask if they have any outlets available because my laptop is about to die.
I wouldn’t say socket, or even electrical socket in that situation. However, I would say socket if I was making a repair or reprimanding a (hopefully) small child, “Don’t put that knife into the socket!”. Languages are weird. So are kids.


Hi, Emanuel,
It’s typo time:
“And they family as a whole is pretty interesting” (their family)
“surprised that teh root is ALSO” (the root)
“placement and use a variety of verbs for to put” (uses, as German is the subject)
“alpha boss musli” (muesli)
“There is lots of hidden messages” (are lots of hidden messages)
“the word for a an outlet/socket” (word for an outlet, you have an “a” too many)
“stecken and it’s prefix version” (its prefix versions)
“most of the family member” (members)

The most common English word for “socket” is…. IMO…socket :)
Also, “fixation” and “fixated” are mostly used for “obsession”, “obsesssed”, but feel free to contest me on this one, because your meaning is also valid, just not what most people would use. BTW and going back to your comment on your previous article, I don’t get in the least offended when you comment on English usage and contest my corrections. You’re pretty much a native speaker as it is! Besides, most native speakers disagree upon finer points of the language anyway (plus we have this AE/BE thing going on).

Thanks for another great article!
Oh, by the way, your article about the relative pronouns helped my ace some piece of homework I did at the time :))))
Till next time!


Ooops, I was rereading the article and I realised I missed one typo (“the genders actually makes sense” – make sense).
I also rememberd two very common English expressions that are somehow related to “stecken”, which I though would be interesting for you to know, if you don’t know them already! I think they’re mostly BE, but maybe our American friends use them as well:
“stuck-up person”, meaning snobbish, arrogant, e.g. “She’s too stuck up to enjoy a beer with us common folk!”
“stick your nose into sth”, meaning to try to discover things that are none of your business, being nosy :)

Another thing, do you reckon you could write an article about the use of “damit” (like the one you wrote on “dabei” in the near future? I’m a bit confused about its two (or maybe more) meanings. As far as I can understand, it can be used as a pronoun, as in “with which”, e.g. “Ich habe einen Kuli. Ich schreibe den Brief damit”, but it can also mean “so that”, as it does in your example “Wenn klein Thomas krank ist, darf er nicht in den Kindergarten, damit er die anderen Kinder nicht ansteckt” and, in the latter case, does the subject need to be the same, or can the sentences have different subjects?
If you have already written about this (I searched your site, but couldn’t find a specific article; I only found the one about da-words in general), I apologise and could you please provide me with the link?
Bis bald!


Given the connection between German “stecken” and English “stick” I wonder if you know of (or can invent) any link with “ersticken,” “stickig” and one of my favourite German words, “der Stickstoff”.


Another word for socket is power point


I would ask for a wall socket or a plug point or somewhere I can plug in!


Das zieht mir echt den Stecker! That’s a colloquialism I first encountered in Tshick, which takes place in Berlin. I’ve heard it’s not terribly widespread.


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Steckst Du in Schwierigkeiten?


If I want a “Steckdose” I’ll ask for an outlet, or a power outlet. An electrical socket is correct but it sounds soooooo nerdy.


Hallo zusammen!

Seit einige Jahre lerne ich die deutsche Sprache und von Anfang an habe ich diese Seite ab und zu gelesen, um mein Deutsch zu verbessern. Ich muss sagen, dass diese Seite ganz hilfreich für mich ist, deswegen bin ich mit Emanuel und alle anderen Beitragenden wirklich dankbar.
Heute will ich alle Mitglieder danken, denen für diese Seite Geld gespendet haben, so dass andere Studenten auch lernen können.
Ich freue mich sehr auf die kommende Beiträge, und hoffentlich kann ich euch bald den Gefallen erwidern!

Ich wünsche euch viel Spaß beim lernen!
Bei mir können euch gern einen Freund finden.

Viele Grüße aus Mexiko!



Outlet. People will understand socket, but it sounds old-fashioned. People will probably figure you mean outlet if you say plug, but it sounds wrong. Never power point. People would think you were speaking of MicroSoft PowerPoint. lol. But I live in Silicon Valley. In less developed areas they might just not have a clue what you were asking for.

After counting, kids say, “Here I come, ready or not.” In some variations one can get to “base” while the seeker (known as “It,” as in “You’re It!” or “Not It!”) is away after someone else. One would then be “safe.” In simpler versions there is no “base,” and no “safe.”


Late to the party as ever, but I think “plug” is pretty common in Britain for “socket”. A bit like the confusey-switchy of itch and scratch. Someone with an itch will scratch their itch, and claim they’re itching it. Likewise I’ll stand there with the plug in my hand and ask if there’s a plug somewhere I can use to charge my laptop

Ein Typ
Ein Typ

I’ve secretly been following you for a few years now and I must say, your posts are getting better and better. After you appeared on “Easy German” with Cari is when I really started to pay more and more attention to you. Now I hardly miss a post. Good stuff mister German man. Keep it up

Maria Myers
Maria Myers

Sorry, what is the difference between stecken and einsetzen
Thanks a lot