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, walkingwith 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. A Bürgersteig is where the citizens walk… the side walk.
The other word, derSteg, which is pronounced with a loooong “eh”, isthat 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 absteigenin 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 offand 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 zusteigenwhich 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 risingand 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 aufsteigenand aufsteigenis 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 steigernwith 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 reinsteigernoneself 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

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