Word of the Day – “stoßen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German word of the Day. And this time, we’ll take a look at the meaning of

stoßen

Stoßen is one of those words that flies under the radar of many learners. Like… even if you’re already somewhat fluent, chances are that you’ve never really noticed stoßen.
But that doesn’t mean that you haven’t used it. You might very well have. And you’ve almost certainly seen it.
Because while it’s not all that interesting by itself, it’s got some nice juicy prefix versions that hang out in a whole range of topics, like magnetism, heartburn, breaking the law, having drinks with friends, and boredom… I… I mean soccer.

Quite the range, right?
So let’s take a look.

If we look up stoßen in a dictionary, we’ll find a whole bunch of options like thrust, bump, poke or strike.
And those are actually not too far from the very origin of the word – the obnoxiously ancient Indo-European root *(s)teu-. The core idea of this root was thrusting, moving forth and by extension bumping and knocking.
And this root actually has a really surprising descendant in English: the verb for what you’re doing right now… to study. Yes, to study. Of course it got the meaning it has today straight from Latin, but the origin of that meaning is the notion of “pushing forward”.
You’re striving for the knowledge, and you put in some real effort for your progress.
And this whole notion of pushing in a direction is actually quite helpful for understanding stoßen.

The meaning and use of “stoßen”

Because they’re all what I would call “occasional” translations. So they do work sometimes, but none of the words actually really captures stoßen and stoßen is not the prime translation for any of them. For stoßen, it’s better to remember it as an idea, rather than a translation and this core idea could be described as:

some (straight) momentum that then hits an object

Sounds very physical and abstract, but there’s actually a really great way to visualize it: billiards.

Stoßen is what we do with the cue (the stick). We stoßen against the ball. And even more important, the balls stoßen against each other and against the wall.
There’s momentum that then hits an object.

  • Das Auto ist gegen den Baum gestoßen.
  • The car bumped/crashed/ran into into the tree.

As you can see by my translation, stoßen works for a mere bump as well as for a crash.
But the main use case for stoßen in daily life is actually hitting body parts.
And not in the sense of punching or boxing. Those are schlagen and boxen.
What I mean is this moment, when we go to the kitchen at night to get some “fromage du minuit” from the fridge and then we hit our toe on one of the new “design” chairs because their back legs protrude out into the room in a weird and unnecessary way.
In that scenario, what I’d say is

  • “Aua. Verdammte Scheiße! Scheiß-Drecks Ikea-Design-Scheiße.”

Something along those lines.
And later, when I am explaining to the police why I am burning furniture in my driveway in the middle of the night, I’ll say this:

  • Ich habe mir den Zeh gestoßen.
  • I hit my toe.

And I’m sure many of you now are thinking the same as the officers: Sir, why is the German version twice as long? And why are we using haben now for the past, when earlier we used sein? And what’s up with this weird phrasing anyway?
Great questions.
The answer to the first one is simply – it’s because German is well-hung. I mean… its… its parts are longer then the average. Like… the words and the structures.
Then, we have the question why we used habe gestoßen now and ist gestoßen earlier?
And that is because earlier, the car itself was the moving entity with the momentum.
Take these examples:

  • Ich bin mit dem Zeh gegen den Stuhl gestoßen.
  • I bumped with my toe against the chair.
  • Ich habe mir den Zeh am Stuhl gestoßen.
  • I hit my toe on the chair.

Both sentences describe the same thing, but the phrasing is different. In the first, I am moving through space, which is a case for sein. In the second version, I am moving and bumping my toe against the chair, as a direct object, and that’s a case for haben.

And why is it den Zeh and not meinen Zeh. And what is the mir doing there.
This is actually a really common idiomatic type of phrasing that German likes to use for body related things.
I’m sure many of you have seen it already elsewhere.
Instead of “I wash my hands.” in German you’ll say “I wash MYSELF THE hands.” . And instead of “I cut your hair.”, Germans say “I cut you the hair.”. In a way, it shifts the focus of the act more toward the rendering of a service. Like… “I am doing some handwashing to/for myself. Or “I am doing my hair cutting for you.
The other phrasing (aka the one most languages use) does exist, as well, but no one really uses it and it sounds a bit theatrical or epic.
So, please do try to learn the “weird” one. It’ll make you sound much more natural AND it has the added benefit that you practice the Dative (reflexive) pronouns a little.
I mean… hitting our head or toe AND practicing mir… if that’s not awesome, then I don’t know what is :)

  • Das Einhorn stößt sich in der Höhle der Zwerge immer den Kopf.
  • The unicorn always hits its head in the cave of the dwarfs.
  • “Du bist heute irgendwie so dumm.”
    “Ja, ich hab’ mir gestern den Kopf gestoßen.”
    “Ach sooo.”
  • “You’re so stupid today, somehow.”
    “Yeah, I hit my head yesterday.”
    “Ohhh.”

 

Oh and to make things even more confusing, if you just generically want to say that you bumped against something, then YOU are the direct object. So you say “I bumped myself against…”

  • Ich habe mich am Tisch gestoßen.
  • I bumped against the table.
  • Ich habe mir den Kopf am Tisch gestoßen.
  • I hit my head against the table.

So in both sentence, we have a direct object. That’s what I “hit”. And then in the second, we have ourselves as the “beneficiary”.
And before you think about this too hard and end up confused, let’s swiftly move on :).

Because, besides stoßen in the context of bumping body parts somewhere, you’ll likely sooner or later also come across the phrasing the combo stoßen auf. Which means pretty much that… to come across, to run into, and it’s usually used in the contexts of discovering something.

  • Die Eichhörnchen sind auf ein geheimes Moonshine-Lager der Einhörner gestoßen.
  • The squirrels have come across/discovered a secret Moonshine stash of the unicorns.
  • Bei meiner Recherche bin ich auf ein paar echt interessante Theorien gestoßen.
  • During my research I came across a few interesting theories.

And if you think about it, at the core, these examples are not that different from a billiard ball running into the wall or a car bumping against a tree. Sure, they’re a bit more figurative, and there’s no actual collision, but the core idea – this theme of some straight momentum that runs into something – is pretty visible.
And with that theme in mind, you should have no trouble with the related words of stoßen. Like the noun der Stoß….

  • Endlich fühlt es sich wirklich wie Fotos schießen an – die iPhone 14 Pro Kamera mit Rückstoß.
  • Finally it really feels like shooting pictures – the iPhone 14 Pro camera with recoil/kickback.
  • “Wow, du hast aber eine große Stoßstange.” (USE PORN MUSIC)
    “Ich weiß. Willst du mal anfassen?”
  • “Wow, you have a big bumper.”
    “I know. Do you want to touch it.”

… and more importantly, all the various prefix versions.
And you’ll be surprised just how useful they really are.

The Prefix Versions of “stoßen”

Let’s start with the one that’s the most fun – anstoßen. Because anstoßen is what you do at a bar with your friends. I mean… before the yelling, table dancing and vomiting.
I’m referring of course to toasting – bumping your glasses together.

  • Lass uns auf das Leben anstoßen.
  • Let’s drink a toast for life.
  • “Wenn man sich beim Anstoßen nicht in die Augen guckt, hat man 3 Jahre sc… ”
    “Halt die Klappe und trink.”
  • “If you don’t look each other in the eye while clinking glasses, you’ll have three years of ba…”
    “Shut up and drink.”

Besides that, anstoßen is also used in a sense of giving an initial push, usually for a project or a reform. And in some sports, specifically bori… I mean, soccer, it’s the moment of kicking the ball to start the game.

  • Der Politiker hat wichtige Reformen angestoßen.
  • The politician has launched/given a first push to important reforms.

But the main use is definitely clinking glasses. And that’s also a context where we can find the next one, which is aufstoßen.
Which can technically mean to push or shove something open. But by far the more common use is something that happens quite a bit when we drink, especially if we drink fast….

  • Wenn ich Wein trinke, muss ich immer aufstoßen.
  • Whenever I drink wine, I have to burp/I get reflux.

The stomach “shoves” something upward, that’s the logic here. And the focus is really on this momentum upward, not the actual burp.
And oh, it’s actually not only used for the biological reflex but also in a figurative sense of something that you had to swallow that doesn’t really “sit right”.

  • Was mein Chef im Meeting gesagt hat, ist mir sauer aufgestoßen.
  • What my boss said at the meeting left a bad taste in my mouth.

This sounds a little bit formal or high register though, so don’t feel like you HAVE to use that in actual conversation.
Cool.
Next up, we have abstoßen, and that too is basically about the “reverse” momentum, the momentum that pushes you AWAY from something. So we can translate it as to push off. Swimmers abstoßen themselves at the end of the lane, and two positive poles of a magnet abstoßen each other. And sometimes, it is also used in the context of someone’s behavior or looks or smell, though it is a REALLY strong word there.

  • Zwei gleiche magnetische Pole stoßen sich ab.
  • Two identical magnetic poles push each other off.
  • “Wie findest du meinen Pluspol?”
    Abstoßend.
  • “How do you find my positive pole?”
    Repulsive.

And to give you another idiom…

  • Thomas will sich die Hörner abstoßen.
  • Thomas wants to sow his wild oats.
    (lit.: “push off his horns”)

For the bo… uh… soccer fans among you, you’ll definitely need the noun der Abstoß, which is the goal kick. Like… when the goalie punts the ball forward like it’s actual real football.

Life footage of some of my British readers…

Sweet.
The next one (and they’re in no particular order here) is ausstoßen, and with abstoßen being about pushing off, it’s no surprise that ausstoßen is about pushing out.
Context matters a lot here though, because ausstoßen is pretty much only used in two specific contexts… exhausting gas and kicking someone out of a community. Like… in an epic sense. Not just banning someone on Reddit.

  • Der weltweite Ausstoß an CO2 steigt jedes Jahr.
  • The worldwide emission of CO2 is rising every year.
    (the German word is actually more like “blow out” or “ejection”)

  • Einhörner, die sich vegetarisch ernähren, werden von der Herde ausgestoßen.
  • Unicorns who eat a vegetarian diet are being expelled/ostracized by the herd.

And that transitions us right over to the next one, zustoßen. Because not only is that what unicorns can do with their horn, it’s also the word for to happen in the sense of something bad happening to someone. Which is not unlikely for a lonely vegetarian unicorn alone in the magical forest with its many dangers.

  • “Ich hoffe, dem armen vegetarischen Einhorn ist nichts zugestoßen.”
    “Mach dir keine Sorgen. Es kann immer mit seinem Horn zustoßen.
  • “I hope nothing bad happened to the poor vegetarian unicorn.”
    “Don’t worry. It can always stab at things with its horn.”

Just to make sure… this zustoßen only works for bad things happening to someone. Particularly, accidents and crime. And this actually ties in quite nicely with the core theme of stoßen. The bad event is the momentum that then “hits onto” someone.

Anyway, last but not least we have verstoßen and that one has two meanings. One is very similar to ausstoßen in the sense of ostracizing someone. A father can verstoßen (ban, cast out) his son, for example.
This sounds pretty epic though, and the more common use is verstoßen gegen in the sense of breaking a rule or law. Think of it as bumping against the boundary, if you will.

  • “Singularität – die Einhörner haben letzte Nacht wieder gegen die Naturgesetze verstoßen.”
    “Jetzt reicht es. Mach die galaktische Flotte bereit. Auf welchem Planeten sind die?”
    “Erde.”
  • “Singularity – last night, the unicorns have violated the laws of nature again.”
    “That tears it. Ready the galactic fleet. What planet are they on?”
    “Earth.”

Dunn dunnn dunnnn.
Wow that’s a turn of events. Have the unicorns finally gone too far?
We’ll find out, as things unfold.
But not today, because we’re actually done. Hooray.

This was our look at the family of stoßen. Of course, there are some more stoßen-words out there that we could cover, but I think with the idea of “momentum running into something” in mind, you should be able to guess all of them from context. Some will lean more toward punching or shoving, others toward the momentum.
But the core theme is always pretty visible.

As usual, if you want to recap a bit and check how much you remember, you can take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions about this or you have a stoßen-word that you can’t make sense of, just leave me a comment.
Otherwise, have a great week and I’ll see you next time.

EDIT:

One reader provided a link with a SUPER comprehensive list of all the relatives of “stoßen” in all languages.
Here it is:

The family of “stoßen”

It looks like sh*t on mobile, but the content is awesome, at least if you’re into etymology.

 

 

** vocab **

stoßen = to bump, to run into (“stoßen gegen” – in the sense of collision); to hit, to bump (“sich+Dat etwas stoßen” – hit a body part somewhere); to come across (“auf etwas stoßen” – usually for discoveries, also in a figurative sense.)

der Stoß = the push, the jolt
die Stoßstange = the bumber (Of a car.)
die Stoßzeit = the peak hour (The busiest time for traffic and businesses)
der Rückstoß = the recoil, the kickback (Of guns and so on.)
der Stößel = the dasher, the stamper (Kitchen utensil, used for cocktails mainly)
das Kugelstoßen = the shot-put (Olympic sport because… Ancient Greece, I guess.)

anstoßen = to bump against (Not as forceful a bump as “stoßen gegen”); to clink glasses, to drink a toast (“anstoßen auf” – very common.); to initialize, to set off (Mainly for reforms or changes. NOT in a literal sense.); to kick off (Starting the game in soccer.)

abstoßen = to push off (As in physically pushing off. Prime context are magnets and electrical poles.); to repulse, to disgust (Same idea as before but in a figurative sense. Rather strong!); to make a goalie kick (In soccer.)
abstoßend = repuslive, disgusting
sich die Hörner abstoßen = to sow one’s wild oats (Idiom)

aufstoßen = to push/shove open; to eructate, to have stomach reflux (Not really the burp, but what happens before); to leave a bad taste in one’s mouth (“jemandem aufstoßen” – idiom)
ausstoßen = to eject, to exhaust (For gasses, mainly); to cast out, to ostracize (In the sense of kicking out of a community. Sounds rather serious.)
Ausstoß = the emission, the exhaust material (Mainly used in context of pollution.)

umstoßen = to knock over (Sometimes also used in a figurative sense for systems and governments)
unumstößlich = irrevocable, irrefutable, cast-iron (Something that cannot be toppled over. Mainly used for facts and opinions.)

verstoßen = to renounce, to cast out (For members of a community. Sounds really serious. Similar to “ausstoßen” but this one also work for a father disowning the daughter.); to break (“verstoßen gegen” – For rules and laws. Really common. The “gegen” must be there.)
der Verstoß = the violation, the offense (In the sense of breaking rules or laws.)

vorstoßen = to push forward (Making sudden progress, usually by breaking some sort of boundary. Sounds a bit like an expidition, but also works in a figurative sense)
der Vorstoß = the foray, the push, the advance

zustoßen = to stab at (If you have a pointy object and then you ram it foward.); to happen (“jemandem zustoßen” – ONLY for bad things, like accidents or crime that happen to someone. Sounds a bit old school.)

zusammenstoßen = to collide
der Zusammenstoß = the collision, the clash (Also used for stuff like police clashing with rioters)

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