Word of the Day – “streben”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: August 15, 2023

girl raising her handHello everyone,

and welcome to e new episode of Summer, Sun and Vocab fun – the summer series where we take it easy and look at some of the words that usually fall by the wayside of courses and textbooks.
And today, we’ll take a quick look at the meaning of

streben

Let’s see… has anyone here in class ever heard of this before?
“Oh, here, here, I know, I know.”
Anyone?
“Here, here, I’m showing. Can’t you see it?”
I see it, you’re almost standing on the table. I was just waiting if someone else had an idea, too. But okay, Valentine-Alexander, tell us what you know…

“So streben is the German brother of to strive and the meani…
Actually, imma have to stop you right there, that’s not correct Valentine-Alexander.
“What? What do you mean not correct? I don’t understand.”
Well, what you said… it was not correct. Streben is NOT related to to strive.
“But… but… I always know everything… how is that possible… I always know…. I can’t … must do research… arrrrgggghhh… ” *starts spinning and disappears in a cloud of smoke
Wow, that was unexpected.
Oh well, I have a feeling he’ll be back later.
So yeah, streben is NOT related to to strive, but Valentine-Alexander wasn’t completely off either, because in terms of meaning, streben and to strive share the theme of “putting in significant effort”.
In fact, they may even be translations for one another in some contexts and dictionaries do list them as a pair.
But the vibe is a little different, at least in my perception.
Because streben doesn’t sound as intense and “fighty” as to strive.
To me, streben sounds more like having a trajectory and you stretch yourself to get really far ahead.
And it sounds a bit “lofty” and is mainly used for ideals or other “big” things, and not so much in mundane contexts.
Like…  inner contentment for example… that’s a great example for something you can streben for. Or we should say streben nach, because that’s the preposition you need with streben (which also ties in with that notion of trajectory, as nach is one of the prepositions for destinations).

  • Ich strebe nach innerer Zufriedenheit.

We could translate this with to strive, but I feel like that would then sound a little more like “work” then it does with streben.
The better translations in my opinion are things like “I pursue” or “my aim is” or even “I seek“.

  • Wonach strebst du im Leben?
  • What are you seeking/striving for in life?
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Die Performance strebt danach, den Zuschauer für das Thema zu sensibilisieren.
  • The art performance strives to /the performance‘s aim is to raise the audience’s awareness of the matter/subject/issue.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Actually, the difference in tone is more pronounced for the noun das Streben because here, the strife is DEFINITELY not a good match.  Das Streben is not about a fight… it’s simply the act of streben, the act of “going toward”, the pursuit.
(EDIT: since posting this, I learned in the comments that the matching noun for to strive is striving and not strife. I’ll leave the original article version, for reference, because it’s quite a long discussion in the comments.)

  • Hast du den Film “Das Streben nach Glück” gesehen?
  • Have you seen the movie “The pursuit of happiness”?
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • In ihrem Streben nach einer perfekten Beziehung hat das Paar vergessen, zu genießen, was schon da ist.
  • In their pursuit of the perfect relationship, the couple has forgotten to enjoy what’s already there.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Das Profitstreben des Kapitalismus ist nicht schlecht, braucht aber meiner Meinung nach einen Gegenpol.
  • The profit seeking of capitalism is not bad, but needs a counterweight, in my opinion.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

I’d also say that the noun is overall more common than the verb itself.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like you’ll NEVER see streben by itself. But in daily life, it’s more likely that you see it as part of one of its prefix versions.

The most important one is anstreben, which like the more “office-y” sounding brother of streben. So it’s still about pursuing a goal, but it’s more suitable for business goals and stuff like that.

  • Die Firma strebt an, den Gewinn zu verdoppeln.
  • The company aspires to double/is working toward doubling the profits.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Wir haben das angestrebte Ziel erreicht.
  • We have reached the targeted quarterly result.
    (NOT  for locations)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Next up, we have aufstreben, which is basically what a newcomer does, when they’re rising up. But you’ll pretty much only ever see that verb in the form aufstrebend.

  • Der aufstrebende Schauspieler ist diesen Sommer in drei Filmen zu sehen.
  • The up an coming, aspiring actor is starring in three movies this summer.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And then, there’s widerstreben. Or we should say jemandem (Dative) widerstreben, to be precise.
And that is about something that we do or should do, that has an opposing trajectory to ours, figuratively speaking. So something that goes against our will or inclination.

  • Es widerstrebt mir, dir zu erzählen, was Maria mir gesagt hat.
  • “I’m avers” to telling you what Maria told me.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Es ist Montag, wir haben Meeting!”, sagte die Managerin.
    Widerstrebend stellte Thomas das Bier weg.
  • “It’s Monday, we’re having a meeting!”, said the manager.
    Reluctantly, Thomas put away the beer.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

But this is definitely one for the passive pile. So a word that’s good to understand from context, but I wouldn’t use it actively.

And the same goes for verstreben. Or actually, you don’t even need that at all, because it doesn’t come from streben, but from die Strebe. Which is a brace or strut in a construction sense, and verstreben is putting a bunch of struts in a construction, and the last time I used this verb word was… this morning.
Nah, I’m kidding, I don’t even know if I ever used it.

Anyway, next up we have the adjective strebsam, which is translated as ambitious, but the vibe I feel is more like a person that is working diligently on a task while also “obeying the order”.

  • Maria war in der Schule eine strebsame Schülerin.
  • Maria was a hardworking, diligent student in school (who never made problems).
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And that brings us to …. last but not least … der Streber. And that’s THAT person in cla…
“THAT’S MEEEEE!”
Oh… haha, Valentine-Alexander, you’re back :)!
So yeah, a Streber is THAT person in class who always raises their hand and tries to impress the teacher all the time to get good grades.
Just to make sure though … Streber does sound somewhat negative, so it’s NOT really something you want to be or want to be called.
“I don’t care! I’ll get my C1 certificate, then get a job in Germany, earn lots of money and then they can all suck it and watch me hang out in my beachfront home.”
Well, just make sure to include contentment somewhere in there.
“Will do, Sir. You’ll get the best contentment you’ve ever seen.”
Sounds like a plan :)

Anyway, that’s it for today. This was our little look at the meaning of streben and its relatives.
As usual, if you have any questions or suggestions about any of this just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it, have a great week and I’ll see you next time.

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