The meaning of ” steigen”

steigen-meaning-germanHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
This time, with a look at the meaning of



Steigen is one of these verbs that kind of flies below the radar of many students even though it is a super useful word that you can hear or see every day.

And not only steigen itself. There are lots of cool prefix versions, some funky differences between these versions, some annoying things about translating them to English and there are also one or two or three or four or five surprising family members.
So we definitely have enough to talk about, and I’d say let’s get on board of the Steigen-Express…
“Einsteigen bitte”
Doors are closing, and off we go :).

Steigen comes from the infuriatingly ancient Indo-European root *steigh, which had a core theme along the lines of striding, walking with the added notion going upward.
Think of  hiking up a mountain. Or walking up stairs, which is actually also the only of the English relatives of steigen.

And hiking up a mountain or walking up stairs are not only good visual images, they’re also contexts where you’ll see steigen in German, because it has kept the original idea alive.

  • Treppensteigen hält fit.
  • Walking up stairs keeps you fit.
    (only used as a noun!! If you need the verb you’d say “die Treppe hochgehen“)
  • Gibt es Müsli extra für Bergsteiger?
  • Is there a muesli specifically for climbers/mountaineers?

If you’re wondering if there is such a musli – the answer is yes, of course! I mean duh! Here   it is, if you want to see it. Musli designed specifically for mountaineers. Oh and the website explicitly remarks that it’s lactose free which is special because we all know that cereals conta… oh wait… it’s not special, it’s actually just stupid. It’s like selling wood and saying that it’s plastic free.
But anyway, the original idea of steigen is also still very visible in the nouns like der Bürgersteig, which is the sidewalk and der Steg, which is basically is a long wooden walk way. Either a dock at the harbor, or as a Laufsteg, it’s the catwalk

  • Ich sitze gerne auf dem Steg und gucke auf den See.
  • I like sitting on the dock looking at the lake.
  • Viele junge Mädchen träumen von einer Karriere auf dem Laufsteg.
  • Many young girls dream of a career on the catwalk/runway.
  • Auf dem Bürgersteig bitte absteigen.
  • Please get off the bike on the sidewalk.

Now, the last example has absteigen in it and that brings us right to a very important group of prefix versions of steigen that are all about getting on or off or in or out of means of transportation.

Prefix Versions of “steigen”

Back in the day people used horses and horse carriages and ox carriage and there you had to “climb up” the Steigbügel (stirrup….  and this is also related to steigen)  or some stairs. Same for old trains, buses and the first cars.
And even today you have to make a somewhat stride-y  step to get on certain trains.

So people kept the verb even though today’s buses with their awesome tilt technology are like “I’m gonna bend down for you so you can get in”… wait… I think that’s what she s… anyways. There are five verbs in total. Einsteigen and aussteigen are getting in/on and off and they work for cars, trams, buses, heck even planes.  Aufsteigen and absteigen are for bikes and motorcycles (because you’re really on top) and leaving one transportation thingy to enter another is  umsteigen. And then there is zusteigen which means to enter a bus or a train in which there are already some people… so it just shifts the focus a bit on the idea of joining the others. But I only ever hear it in trains when they welcome new travelers.
Oh,  and if you need a noun… that’ll be der [blah]-stieg.

  • Thomas steigt aus dem Porsche aus.
  • Thomas gets out of the Porsche.
  • “How was the journey?”
    “Boah the connection sucks balls. I had to switch/change trains 4 times to get here.”
  • “Wie war die Fahrt?”
    “Boah, die Verbindung ist voll scheiße. Ich musste 4 mal umsteigen, um hierherzukommen.”
  • Erst aussteigen lassen, dann einsteigen. 
  • Let people get out before you enter.
  • Nächster Halt Ostbahnhof. Ausstieg links.
  • Next stop Ostbahnhof. Exit on the left.

Now, this traffic context is super important but the verbs are not limited to it. Especially einsteigen and aussteigen are used in a broader, more abstract sense of getting in/out of things… mostly for projects or deals or bets or stuff like that.

  • The Lumix 60E camera is the perfect model for beginners/novices.
  • Die Lumix 60E Kamera ist das perfekte Einsteigermodel.
  • Legalisierungsgegner bezeichnen Marijuana als Einstiegsdroge.
  • Those opposed to legalization call Marijuana a starter drug.
  • Der Regisseur ist aus dem Projekt ausgestiegen.
  • The director (film) left the project.
  • Der Atomaustieg ist nicht unumstritten, und der Umstieg auf erneuerbare Energien geht nicht von heute auf morgen.
  • The exit from nuclear power is controversial and the  a transition/switch to renewable energies can’t be done overnight.
    (umsteigen sounds a bit more like work that transition or switch… like… get your luggage off the train, search for the new track, get all your luggage on the new train find your seat blah blah blah)

All right.
Now, let’s get to the other part of steigen. And that is all about the upward notion.

steigen – going up

This is actually the main meaning of the stand alone steigen – to go up. Not in sense of walking stairs but in sense of rising and increasing  in context of all kinds of numbers or measures but also for things

  • Die Spannung steigt.
  • Excitement is building.
    Lit.: The tension is increasing.
    (The German phrase is super common  in positive contexts… like some
    cool event coming closer… what would be idiomatic in that situation?)
  • Im Herbst lassen Kinder gerne Drachen steigen.
  • In fall kids like to fly a kite.
    Lit.: In fall kids like to let dragons soar/rise.
  • Die Chancen auf ein Date sind nach der Sache auf der Party nicht gerade gestiegen.
  • Chances for a date didn’t exactly increase after that thing at the party.
  • Heute haben in Berlin 10.000 Menschen gegen steigende Mieten demonstriert.
  • Today 10.000 rallied against rising rent.

Of course there are also prefix versions here…. mainly two. The first one is ansteigen and this one is really super similar to steigen. In fact, I don’t really know how to tell them apart. Sometimes steigen is more idiomatic, sometimes ansteigen is. Sometimes it’s just a rhythm thing …. like… maybe having a prefix at the end of the sentence makes it flow better. But the meanings are essentially the same. What’s really important is the noun der Anstieg because that’s the noun for both, steigen AND ansteigen

  • Die Nachfrage nach glutenfreien Produkten steigt seit Jahren kontinuierlich an.
  • The demand for gluten free products has been increasing continuously for years.
    (here, having the an there really gives it a better flow than ending
    with kontinuierlich… an brings closure, if that makes sesen)
  • Die Politik will einen Anstieg der Arbeitslosigkeit verhindern.
  • Politics wants to prevent an increase in unemployment.

All right.
The second important prefix-steigen is aufsteigen and aufsteigen is definitely different from the other two because while it does mean to rise, it does NOT mean to increase. Aufsteigen is never about numbers… it’s always about something or someone moving upward. The difference to steigen alone is that steigen just by itself is more of a technical description of an upward movement. What does the balloon do? It steigen. Combined with auf it gets this vibe of “from the bottom to the top”… like…

  • Thomas steigt in der Firma auf.
  • Thomas makes a career in the company/rises through the ranks.
  • Vom Teich steigt Nebel auf.
  • Fog is rising from the pond.
  • Der steile Aufstieg der Partei ist schwer zu erklären.
  • The rapid rise of the party is hard to explain.

So these were the most important steigen-words, I think. There are a few more out there and you might find the ones we’ve talked about in some new situations too but I think with the help of context you’ll get the meanings just fine. Here are a few examples where you can train.

  • Die Straße ist super steil. Die Steigung ist fast 40°. (btw. steil is actually also related to steigen)
  • Popcorn übersteigt leider mein Budget.
  • Wenn das Team nicht absteigen will, müssen sich die Spieler sehr steigern.
  • The road is super steep. The incline is almost 40°.
  • Too bad, popcorn exceeds my budget.
  • If the team doesn’t want to be relegated/go to a lower division, the players will have to step it up/play better.
    (opposite is “aufsteigen”)

Now, before we wrap up there’s one more thing we need to talk about… the verb steigern. With an extra “r”

(sich) steigern

We’ve seen that steigen can mean to increase. But if you want to increase something, then it’s the wrong word. Because grammatically it is 100% like  to rise, to go up. You cannot “steigen something” just like you can’t “rise something”. If you want to MAKE something go up, become morer or betterer,  you need steigern. And if it’s you you want to “increase” then you need a self reference

  • Supermärkte versuchen mit allerlei Tricks die Umsätze zu steigern.
  • Super markets are trying all kinds of tricks to increase the sales/turnover.
  • Der Student hat sich sehr gesteigert.
  • The student has improved/(stepped up his game) a lot.
    (mind the sich… it’s there because you must steigern ALWAYS needs an object)
  • Eine Stunde für 10 Kilometer… ist noch nicht wirklich schnell, aber definitiv eine Steigerung gegenüber letztem Jahr.
  • One hour for 10 kilometers… not really fast yet but definitely an improvement over last year.

Steigern has prefix verbs of it’s own. The most common one is probably versteigern which combines the “make higher” of steigern with the away-idea of ver to …. to auction off. A bit random but hey… why not.

  • Ich habe auf E-Bay mein benutztes Jogging T-Shirt versteigert…. chi ching, sag ich nur, chi ching.
  • I auctioned off my used jogging shirt… chi ching, that’s all I’m sayin’!

The brother of that is ersteigern which is the same, just from the perspective of the buyer.

  • Ich habe mir eine Couch ersteigert.
  • I bought a couch at an auction.

And last but not least we have sich hineinsteigern or colloquially sich reinsteigern which means to get deeper and deeper into something to the point of getting lost. Not in sense of caves of course. It’s for abstract things like weird thoughts and stuff like that. The verb is only used in that one particular sense but still it’s fairly common because we’re all human

  • Sorry, dass ich so eifersüchtig war. Ich hab’ dich mit dem Kollegen gesehen und dann hab ich mich in was reingesteigert.
  • Sorry that I was so jealous. I saw you with the colleague and then I just imagined more and more things.
    (no idea if this is a good translation)
  • “Oh Gott oh Gott, morgen hab ich meine Prüfung. Ich mach mir echt Sorgen, dass ich ein Black Out kriege. Ist mir schon öfter passiert.”
    “Naja, du darfst dich da nicht so reinsteigern. Sonst kriegst du nämlich wirklich eins.”
  • “Oh god, oh god, tomorrow I have my exam. I’m so worried that I could get a black out. It happened to me quite a few times already.”
    “Well you shouldn’t obsess over it. Because otherwise you WILL get one.”

Now, it would be good to come up with a really smooth transition but then again, hey… it’s not good to reinsteigern oneself into things too much so…  we’re done ;).
This was our German Word of the Day steigen. It’s related to the English word stair (and the old sty) The core is to make strides upward, and the two main fields of meaning are getting on and off means of transportation and rising.
As always, if you have any questions about any of this just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab **

steigen – to rise, increase, go up (rare also: to climb)

einsteigen – get on/in (for traffic, but also projects and stuff)
der Einstieg – the getting started, the first steps (also: entrance/entering in subway)
aussteigen – get out/off (same notes as einsteigen)
der Auststieg – the getting out, the exit (for trains and stuff)
umsteigen – switch from one to the other (for means of transportation but also abstract things)
der Umstieg – the switch from one to the other
zusteigen – enter a train or bus in which there are already people .. only in formal context
absteigen – get off the bike, descend (climbing), to be relegated (sports)
der Abstieg – the descend, the relegation
aufsteigen – rise (rare), be promoted, “go up” one series (sports)
der Aufstieg – the rise (for people and things climbing the ladder, not prices)
aufsteigende Reihenfolge – ascending order
ansteigen – have an incline, rise, increase (very similar to steigen alone)
der Anstieg – the increase (for all kinds of numbers…prices, values etc)
der Bahnsteig – the train track (at the station, the part where people wait)
der Bürgersteig – the sidewalk

übersteigen – exceed, surpass (usually for negative things)
besteigen – climb on top of (rare, sometimes used for sex)

die Steigung – the incline
steil – steep

steigern – increase (something)
sich steigern
– improve one’s performance
die Steigerung – the increase, also: improvement
versteigern – to auction off
die Versteigerung – the auction
ersteigern – to buy at an auction

5 5 votes
Article Rating