Word of the Day – “teilen”

teilenHello everyone,

and welcome to the second “Teil “of our look at the Teil-family, and today is going to be just as awesome and inspiring as eating leftovers… exactly…  not very much. Meh. But what can we do.

There’s nothing else so let’s dig in.

In the first part, we learned all about the noun Teil:

  • it’s related to the deal
  • but it means part
  • and it has two genders, der and das
  • das Teil is for tangible parts, parts of objects
  • while der Teil is for the rest, the abstract parts

And we learned that there are lots of useful words with Teil like Vorteil which means advantage, Nachteil which means disadvantage or Hinterteil, which means.. uhm…  “rear vantage”.
Well… butt, it means butt.

Pretty useful lesson, but not as useful as the second part today, because today we’ll talk all about the verb



And its many many prefix versions.

So let’s jump right in!


The two meanings of “teilen”

With a Teil being a part the most logical meaning of teilen would be  to make parts. And…that is totally one aspect of teilen.

  • Ich dachte, es ist besser, wenn ich den Post in zwei Teile teile. (no…Teile teile does not sound stupid to a German ear)
  • I thought it’s better to divide/split the post into two parts.
  • 32 geteilt durch 8 ist  4.
  • 32 divided by 8 is 4.
  • Deutschland war lange geteilt.
  • Germany was divided for a long time.
  • Was Yoga angeht sind Thomas und Maria geteilter Meinung.
  • Thomas and Maria are of two minds about Yoga. (lit: “of split opinions”)

But teilen is not only about making the parts, it’s also about handing them out to others. Much like a dealer… so there’s the relation again. But unlike deal, teilen is not about business, it is THE German word for to share.

  • Thomas doesn’t really share Maria’s enthusiasm
  •  Thomas teilt Maria’s Enthusiasmus für Yoga nicht wirklich.
  • Wollen wir uns ein Bier teilen?
  • Do you want to split a beer (“to ourselves“)?
  • Ich teile mir mit einem Freund eine 3-Raum-Wohnung.
  • Me and a friend we’re sharing a 3 room apartment.
    (the self reference is optional but rather common… makes it sound more personal)
  • Geteiltes Leid ist halbes Leid. (actually also true if taken literally)
  • A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved.

Now, one very common use of to share is sharing information. Teilen doesn’t really work that way… at least not that well.

  • I just wanted to share that.
  • Ich wollte das einfach teilensounds Denglish.

Without someone you share it with, it sounds really odd. It’s just not idiomatic that way. And if you add a person and say

  • Ich wollte das einfach mit dir teilen.

then it sounds kind of grand … like… you’d use it for sharing your deepest feelings or secrets but not for just some random ideas or for what you had for lunch. Well… unless it’s online. There, teilen seems to be the word for to share by now (still sounds odd to me though)

  • Das Katzenbild wurde bis jetzt 100.000.000 geteilt.
  • The picture of the cat has been shared 100.001.900 times so far.
  • 10 gute Gründe, warum man unbedingt Fotos von seinem Essen teilen muss.
  • 10 good reason why you should share pictures of your food.

All right. So this is teilen and just like to split it can be about making parts as well as about handing them out. Now let’s take a look at the prefix versions and we’ll start with those that are about making parts.

Prefix Versions of “teilen” –
Different ways to make parts

The first one is zerteilen and the zer does little more than underline that it’s really about dividing and splitting… not about sharing.

  • Du musst die Paprika teilen.
  • You have to share/split the bell pepper.
  • Du musst die Paprika zerteilen.
  • You have to split the bell pepper in two.

But in practice this word isn’t used that much because in most cases people would go for the more specific verb that describes the way the are splitting… like zerschneiden (cut in two), zerreißen (rip apart), zersägen (saw apart) or similar. Oh and speaking of specific… if you want you can also add a number to teilen to indicate how many parts you produce… zweiteilen (split into two parts), dreiteilen (to trisect), vierteilen (to quarter)…. but these aren’t all that common either.
One verb that actually is common is  einteilen and while teilen is has a focus on division einteilen is more about the resulting portions or chunks…. let’s just look at an example with the two back to back.

  • Wir teilen uns das Bier.
  • We split/share the beer… each one gets a part.
  • Wir teilen uns das Bier ein.
  • We “ration” the beer.. one sip per hour. It has to last the whole train ride.

Besides rationing einteilen is used a lot in all kinds of contexts of categories. Here are two more examples:

  • Bei Sprache kann man nicht alles in richtig und falsch einteilen.
  • In language, not everything can be divided (grouped) into “right” and “wrong”.
  • Einer der Hauptgründe, warum sich Studenten überfordert fühlen, ist schlechte Zeiteinteilung.
  • One of the main reasons why students feel overextended is bad time management.
  • Thomas wird in letzter Zeit oft zum Nachtdienst eingeteilt.
  • Thomas has been scheduled for night shifts a lot recently.

Last but not least there is unterteilen which is kind about taking a whole and partition it… in theory. Like… teilen a pizza would be sharing it or splitting it, einteilen a pizza is more about rationing it and unterteilen a pizza would be about … I don’t know… dividing it into districts or something. Unterteilen is used for this kind of abstract partitioning.

  • Berlin ist in 12 Bezirke unterteilt.
  • Berlin is divided into 12 districts…. just for administrative purposes
  • Nach dem Krieg war Berlin geteilt.
  • After the war Berlin was dividedactually really divided
  • Die Wirtschaft wird oft in 3 Sektoren unterteilt: Urproduktion, Industrie und Dienstleistung.
  • The economy is often divided into three sectors: primary production, industrial sector and service sector.

The overlap with einteilen is quite huge though.  Anyway these nuances are nothing to worry about so  I’d say let’s move on to the verbs that are more about distributing parts.

Prefix Versions of “teilen” –
different ways to distribute parts

The first one, aufteilen is actually about both… making parts and distributing them.  The idea the  auf adds is “completely”. So it is similar to the up in to eat up. When you eat up something that means it’s gone. There’s no rest. And for aufteilen it’s the same. It means to split something up and handing it out with a focus on having no rest.

  • Die Piraten teilen die Beute (unter sich) auf.
  • The pirates split up the loot (among them(selves)).
  • Der Gewinn wird unter den Anteilseignern aufgeteilt.
  • The profit is split up among the share holders.
  • Die Wohnung ist nicht sehr groß aber die Raumaufteilung ist perfekt.
  • The flat isn’t very big but the room layout is perfect.

It is also used in context of groups splitting up. Not with a focus on the separation itself but more on the “partitioning” the group’s power. Like… suppose you’ve lost your phone in the park, then it wouldn’t make sense for you and your friends to search the park walking next to one another. You’d split up. That’s when you’d use aufteilen … with a self reference.

  •  Wenn wir uns aufteilen, finden wir das Handy schneller.
  • We’ll find the phone quicker if we split up.

All right. The next one is  verteilen and this is definitely the most generic one because the ver just adds its rather general notion of away to teilen. The best translations are probably to distribute but verteilen doesn’t sound as tech-y and it is more broad. To hand out, to spread… any word that has the core idea of distribution can be a translation.

  • Der Wohlstand ist sehr ungleich verteilt.
  • Wealth is distributed very unevenly.
  • Verteilen Sie die Creme dünn auf ihren Wangen.
  • Apply/spread the creme sparingly on your cheeks.
  • Die Spieler verteilen sich auf dem Spielfeld.
  • The players spread out all across the field. (lit.: distribute themselves)
  • Der Lehrer verteilt ein Arbeitsblatt.
  • The teacher hands out a work sheet.
  • Ich trinke über den Tag verteilt 4 Kaffee.
  • I drink 4 coffee throughout the day. (lit.: dispersed over the day)
  • I need a multiple socket outlet.
  • Ich brauche eine Verteilersteckdose.

An alternative for to hand out in context of work sheets is  austeilen. The aus give a little more emphasis to the idea of OUT which is probably why austeilen, besides being used for hand outs, is also a word for dishing out, landing blows… be it with words or fists.

  • Maria  teilt ein Merkblatt aus.
  • Maria hands out fact sheet.
  • Maria hat beim Meeting gut ausgeteilt.
  • At the meeting, Maria really dished out/lashed out.

This double meaning of austeilen actually allows for a really nice joke. Next time your teacher hands you a copy of a grammar sheet you say something like “Thanks. These grammar sheets always really suck ass.” and if they’re all like “Excuse me?!” you just nonchalantly respond with the following common German expression.

  • Wer austeilt, muss auch einstecken können.
  • If you dish out you have to be able to take it.

If I know anything about teachers they’ll be really impressed with your skill and wit and give you an A+.
“You no nothing about teachers then, Emanuel.”
Meh, I guess I don’t.
Anyway, the next verb is mitteilen and this is a example for how a prefix verb evolves.

  • Ich teile mein Bier mit dir.
  • I share my beer with you.

Here, we have the classic teilen… making parts and passing  them on.

  • Ich teile meine Sorgen mit dir.
  • I share my worries with you.

This is very similar, the only difference is that what you share is information, not the actual worries. People used this phrasing a lot , word order shifted, the mit was perceived to be part of the verb and bam a new verb was born that meant to tell, to let know.

  • Ich teile dir meine Sorgen mit.
  • I tell you/let you know about my worries.

But even though SMS is called Kurzmitteilung (short message)  in German, mitteilen  as a verb sounds very formal. It’s for official writings and stuff, but not for telling you friends to “let you know.” That would be “Bescheid sagen”

  • Bitte teilen Sie mir mit, wann Sie Zeit haben. (sounds formal)
  • Please let me know when you have time.
  • Ich habe Ihnen bereits mitgeteilt, dass ich an dem Produkt kein Interesse habe.
  • I have already informed you that I am not interested in the product.
  • Let me know when you have time.
  • Sag mir Bescheid, wann du Zeit hast.

All right. The last one in this group is beteiligen, which is not simply teilen because of reasons. Really good ones, too.
Taken super literally, beteiligen means “to inflict a part” and that’s pretty much the meaning. It can mean to give someone a share of something and when used with a self reference (which is the more common use) it can also mean to give a part of yourself to something… on an abstract level, that is :)

  • Die Firma beteiligt ihre Angestellten am Gewinn.
  • The company gives a share of the profit to the employees.
  • Ich beteilige mich am Unterricht.
  • I participate in class.
  • Thomas will sich nicht am Geburtstagsgeschenk für Marc beteiligen.
  • Thomas doesn’t want to pitch in for Marc’s birthday present.

Now, some of you are certainly wondering what the difference is between sich beteiligen and teilnehmen, which can also mean to participate. Well, they sometimes overlap but beteiligen is more concrete. Teilnehmen is more about being there, attending, beteiligen sounds like actually putting in work, or money or whatever.

  • Ich nehme am Meeting teil. (might be just sitting there, drinking coffee)
  • I attend/take part at the meeting.
  • Ich beteilige mich an der Diskussion.
  • I take part in the discussion.  (I actually say stuff).

All right.
And I think that’s pretty much. Now we have the whole picture of the Teil-fami… wait, what’s that over there. Oh damn, there are still one pieces of the puzzle laying around. Hmm… I don’t really know where they fit in actually. Weird.

A random insert

if you read German texts you’ll  definitely sooner or later see:

  • z.T. 

This is  short for zum Teil and of course the first impulse to translate this is of course something like partially or in parts. But while it can mean that I think it’s actually more often used in sense of sometimes. So instead of talking about a part of a piece of work people using in sense of a part of time.

  • Das Personal war zum Teil extrem unfreundlich.
  • Some of the staff were really rude at times.

The German sentence is really unclear as to what it is talking about… certain stff members or the staff in general at certain times. The same goes for teilweise, which is also often used in sense of at times.

  • Nach der Arbeit bin ich teilweise so müde, dass ich zu Pferde einschlafe.
  • I’m so tired after work sometimes that I fall asleep ahorse. (don’t ask, it’s just an example)


  • Trotz der zum Teil etwas langen Wartezeiten ein gutes Café.
  • Despite the at times somewhat long wait a good cafe.

So while partially and in parts are really pretty much about a percentage of something the German z. T. and teilweise have this bias toward talking about a part of time.

All right…. so this was the extra part. Maybe you have an idea where it belongs. But … it doesn’t really matter ;). I think we have enough of an impression of Teil and teilen to get anything new from context. Teilen is about making parts and handing them out and all the prefix verbs are more or less about that. No crazy abstract meanings that make our mind hurt. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or some other things that you need to mitteilen me, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time (hopefully it won’t be as long a break again).

teilen – split/share/divide
(sich) aufteilen – split up

unterteilen – partition (in theory)
einteilen – ration, schedule, partition
(sich) verteilen – distribute, hand out, spread
zerteilen – split into parts
z.T (zum Teil)/teilweise – partially, in parts, often also: sometimes
(sich) beteiligen – give a part to, to (actively) participate
teilnehmen – participate (broader sense)
austeilen – hand out/dish out
mitteilen – let know (sounds formal)
die Mitteilung – the message
die Teilung – the division
die Teilnahme – the praticipation
der Teilnehmer – the participant
die Gewinnbeteiligung – the profit participation

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