Word of the Day – ” 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 thoug it is a super useful word that you can hear or see every day. And not only steigen itself. There are several 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 kind of very super old Indo-European root *steigh. The original idea of that root was something along the lines of striding, walking with the added notion going upward. Like hiking up a mountain. Or walking up stairs. And guess where the word stair comes from. (yes, the same root.)
Now, walking up stairs or hiking up a mountain are not only good visual images, they’re also actual meanings of steigen because the verb really hasn’t changed much over the years.

Now, the fact that the original idea of the verb is still alive doesn’t mean that there has been some evolution of course.  First of, there are a couple of related words that are focused on the walking: der Steig and der Steg.  Steig is ultra-uber-don’t-even-use-it rare … except in the combination with Bürger. And no, I’m not gonna do that bun.. oh… too late. Anyway,  Bürger, which comes from Burg by the way, means citizen. Bürgersteig is where the citizens walk… the side walk.
The other word, der Steg, which is pronounced with a loooong “eh”,  is that wooden thing at a lake or shore where you tie up your boat at or just sit on watching the sunset…  the dock/pier. And combined with Lauf it’s a very particular path, one that is MADE for striding ;)

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. 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. Today, 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.

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.

  • 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

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

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…

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.

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

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.

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

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

  • “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

for members :)

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nah i still do not understand this


The excitement/tension ‘builds’ in english.


Or ‘mounts’, which seems closer to ‘steigen’.


Great information as always! Would you/could you/should you use any of these with the “r version”? Like “Steig mal rein” would seem to sound okay (to my totally non-native ear anyways).

Ron Magnuson

Dies bringt in Erinnerung Der Titel von Kurt Weil’s Oper, Aufstieg und Fall vor der Stadt Mahagonny. Gibt es ein Unterschied zwischen ‘Fall’ und ‘Abstieg’?


Hey Emmanuel, Langzeitleser, erstmaliger Kommentiere… Geiler Beitrag, wie immer! Nur ne kleine Frage.
Es hat mir lange gedauert, bis ich den Unterschied zwischen “in die Kirche” und “in der Kirche” verstanden hab. Am Ende ziemlich einfach! Aber hier haste “aus dem Porsche” geschrieben. Da es um Bewegung geht hätte ich im Akku geschrieben. Was versteh ich hier falsch?


Ich denke, dass “aus” nicht ein Wechselpräposition ist. Die Akkusativ/Dativ Regel gilt für in, an, neben, vor, hinter, auf, über, unter und zwischen. “Aus” immer nimmt dativ Fall. Sonst es wäre zu einfach…


Total unheimlich. Ich habe heute morgen den Artikel gelesen, und kurz danach hat ein deutscher Freund von mir das Wort benutzt. Zweimal in einem Tag, aber nie vorher gehört!

Toller Artikel wie immer. Aber sicherlich fehlt da “Bahnsteig” yu den Abstammungen von “Steig”. Das hörte ich sehr oft in Deutschland.


Hab vergessen das Wort zu erwähnen! Ich meinte /reinsteigern/. Steigen kenne ich ja natürlich ;).


Great article as usual!
One question:
Auf dem Bürgersteig bitte absteigen.
Please get off the bike on the sidewalk.

In the German sentence I don’t see any reference to a bike.

Am I missing something?


Hey Emanuel,

Great work as always.
I was watching Jurassic Park with a friend and she said: “If that happened I would be the first to be eaten”
I realized these conditional constructions are a little complicated for me. Sometimes I see stuff with wäre, other times I see wär, worden. hahaha
Don’t you wanna make another entry into your online course and teach us how to make them?
Have no idea how much work that would be, but if you do it I make a nice donation!



Thanks for the flashcards, they are really useful!

Swag the Swag

Ich versuche, auf Deutsch zu schreiben.

Ich danke Ihnen für die Anki Flashcards und den Artikel. Die Anki Flashcards sind sehr hilfreich. Deine Posts hat mir sehr viel gehelfen, aber in diesem Artikel gibt es nicht so viel Witze. :( Ich glaube, dass ich mehr bei lustigen Artikelen lerne.

Niemals habe ich das Wort “jetty” gehört. Ich sage “dock” oder “pier.”

Ich hoffe, dass meine erste Kommentar nicht so schlecht ist. :D


As a professional mariner, I would say there is a big difference between a jetty and a dock/pier. Ships moor at docks and piers. A jetty is often piled up rocks and stuff used for a lot of other purposes, like breaking up wave patterns that lead to beach erosion.


Would a line of thick wooden posts used for that purpose (breaking up currents/wave patterns at a beach) be a jetty as well? We were just up on the Ostsee/Baltic coast a couple of weeks ago, and the beach nearest us had a whole series of them – and I had no idea what they’d even be called in English.


The term that comes to mind is “breakwater”, but funnily enough, I saw this just the other day: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-dorset-34254958 . So maybe they were “groynes”?


I’m gonna go with “groynes.” Glorious word.


It’s like “groins” but more olde-timey and British.



Nikolaus Wittenstein
Nikolaus Wittenstein

“Boah the connection sucks balls. I had to switch/change trains 4 times to get here.”
You can also say “I had to transfer 4 times to get here.”

“Boah, die Verbindung ist voll scheiße. Ich musste 4 mal umsteigen um hierherzu kommen.”
hierher zu should be two words, right? I’m having a crisis of faith here.

“Those opposed to legalization call Marijuana a starter drug.”
AKA a “gateway drug”.

Thanks again for a great article!


Should be “um hier herzukommen”, because the verb in question is “herkommen”?


Hi! Thanks for the post!

I knew another verb to describe the notion of increase: “mehren”. For example: “Rufe nach Rücktritt von VW-Chef Winterkorn mehren sich”. What would you say is the difference? And what is your book about? Ich bin gespannt, dass du ein Buch schreibst!


Eine kurze Frage.

Ich glaube, mindestens drei Verben werden üblicherweise verwendet, die ähnliche Bedeutungen haben. Steigen, erhöhen und steigern.
Du hast klar erklärt wie die Verben steigen und steigern unterschiedlich sind. Wann würde man erhöhen anstelle von steigern verwenden? Oder habe ich was ganz misverstanden?

Vielen Dank für einen anderen interessanten Beitrag. Es gibt so viele Information, dass ich alles auf einmal nicht aufnehmen kann! Das ist aber gut und ich bin dankbar, dass ich irgendetwas mit ausführlichen Daten zu lesen habe, wenn ich bereit werde, weitere Dinge zu lernen. Wenn ich Probleme mit anderen Programmen haben, kann ich normalerweise diese Webseite nutzen, um alles aufzuklaren. Sehr gut gemacht!

Ich freue mich auch auf dein Buch. Sag uns bitte Bescheid, wann und wie wir es kaufen kann.



“sich reinsteigern” sounds/feels like “to get oneself all worked up”


Why is it that “aus” appears twice in “Thomas steigt aus dem Porsche aus.”?

Thanks for the post by the way..


Another great post! :)

I have doubt about the word “erhöhen”. Should it be used like “steigen” (without mentioning who increases sth) or like “steigern” (mentioning who increases sth)?


I guess there’s no clear difference then between “zunehmen” and “steigen”: Die Spannung steigt – Die Spannung nimmt zu?


Hello, I understand that absteigen is to get off the bike or motorcycle, but what is it to get on it? Is it also einsteigen?


Super! Meine deutsche worter sind allen weg. Ich danke sie.