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, like… that it’s related to deal, that it means part, we learned that das Teil is for tangible parts while der Teilis for the rest and we learned a all those really useful Teile like Vorteil, Nachteil or Hinterteil. Today we’ll take a l… what? Oh right, we didn’t learn Hinterteil. Well, it means rear part. This one.
What? Oh, right… NSFW. Meh, too late I guess. Sorry :)
Anyway, so today we’ll talk all about verbs and the basic one is of course


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.

But teilenis 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.

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

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)

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.

different ways to make parts

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

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 teilento 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.

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

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, einteilena 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

This double meaning of austeilenactually 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.

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 mitteilenand this is a example for how a prefix verb evolves.

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

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 mitwas perceived to be part of the verb and bam a new verb was born that meant to tell, to let know.

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”

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 :)

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.

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.

Here it is.

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.

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.

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 Teiland 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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