Word of the Day – “tragen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day, this time with a closer look at the meaning of



We do it with our shirt, we do it with our groceries, we do it with our lot in life. If you didn’t already know it, you might have guessed it by now – tragen is the German word for to carry.
It’s actual relative English however, is a different word… drag.
Which is exactly what today’s episode is going be, with all the prefix versions of tragen, so you better get yourself some pillow or something… …
Nah, kidding, of course. It’ll be an absolute thrill ride, as usual. So are you ready to jump in?
Then let’s gooooo.

So, as I just mentioned, the English brother of tragen is actually the verb to drag. Together with to draw, they come from the Indo-European root  *dhregh- , which was about the idea of dragging across a surface. And this theme was dragged along through the centuries into the various Germanic languages. English has stuck with it for all those years, and actually, also in German, we can still see it in the adjective träge. Literally, it would be something like “draggy”, and it describes the state of not really wanting to move.
And it’s not only useful to describe yourself on a slow Sunday afternoon, but you also need it in physics, because there, it describes a core feature of mass… the fact that it doesn’t want to change, also known as inertia, or in German, die Trägheit(skraft).

  • “Puh, ich bin heute echt träge.”
    “Alle Masse ist träge. Und du hast VIEL Masse.”
    “Wie bitte?!”
  • “Man, I’m really sluggish/slothful today.”
    “All mass is inert. And you have a lot of mass.”
    “Excuse me?!”

So träge still ties in with the original sense of dragging, and also tragen used to mean that for a long time.

But then, on one faithful day, after a particularly exhausting boar hunt, two German hunters had enough:

“Man, dragging home this boar SUCKS.”

The sat down on a stone, panting and pondering their dragging lot. But they were not just hunters. They were also (like all Germans) really good engineers. And so they had an idea:

“How about… we lift it up and put it on our shoulders.”
“O.M.G, this is sooo much better.”

Soon all people would tragen their stuff in this new way, and the word became what we know today.
And the only reason why it didn’t change its meaning in English is that already back then, English speakers had a particularly strong crush on a different means of transportation – the car. Well, the chariot, back then, to be precise – a two wheeled, horse powered Celtic vehicle, that could “carry” the hunted boar back home.

Anyway, enough with origin stories – let’s get to actual modern German and look at some examples.

  • Thomas trägt eine Kiste Bier zum Park.
  • Thomas is carrying a case of beer to the park.
  • Maria hat Thomas mal wieder nach Hause getragen.
  • Maria carried Thomas home again.
  • Ich trage für das Projekt die Verantwortung.
  • I have  (bear) the responsibility for the project. (common phrasing)

Besides carrying, tragen is also used as to wear in the sense of wearing clothes or make up. For clothes, anhaben is by far more common in daily life, but you can find tragen here and there as well.

  • Gaymes Bond trägt immer einen Anzug, Make Up und eine Handtasche.
  • Gaymes Bond is always wearing a suit, Make Up and a clutch.

Of course there’s also a bunch of related words to tragen but most of them will either translate to something carry-related directly or they’ll at least be clear from context.
Like… der Spaghettiträger-BH for example, which is a spaghetti strap bruh… I mean bra.
Or die Tragödie (tragedy), which is something really heavy you have to “carry”… although… I’m not so sure about Tragödie. Might be from Greek and not from tragen. I didn’t find a video with a good thumbnail on Youtube, so I couldn’t do my usual research.
Anyways… overall, tragen itself is not hard to grasp or use, so let’s jump over to the prefix versions because prefix versions are gonna do what prefix versions are gonna do. OGs among you will understand :)

Prefix Versions of “tragen”

Most of you will know that prefix versions like to “play around” with the core theme of their base verb. Tragen is no exception, but the twist is rather easy to grasp. Do you remember the hunters carrying home the boar? Of course, they’re not doing it because they love carrying so much. Sure, they like it better than dragging, but the main goal is of course to bring the boar to the village. A transfer.
From the idea of transfer it’s not that far from to transmit, and then we’ve already reached our first prefix verb – übertragen (with an inseparable über-), because that pretty much means to transmit and it works for data as well as for diseases like Covid or responsibility…. wait… was that a weird phrasing? I’m confused.
Anyway, examples…

  • Mein Chef hat mir die Verantwortung für das Projekt übertragen.
  • My boss gave me/transferred to me the responsibility for the project.
  • Masken können die Übertragung von Viren verringern.
  • Masks can decrease the transmission/spreading of viruses.
  • Präfixverben werden oft im übertragenen Sinne verwendet.
  • Prefix verbs are often being used in a figurative sense.
    Lit.: “in a transferred sense”
  • Die Daten werden übertragen.
  • The data is being transmitted.

If you look at these examples and you think in terms of carrying a bag, then they’re not very intuitive, but once you think of them in terms of transfer, bringing something from A to B, then they make sense.
And that doesn’t only work for übertragen, but also for eintragen, which is about “bringing” information into some sort of form, or vortragen, which is about presenting information (or a performance) directly to other people.

  • Ich habe mich in die Warteliste eingetragen.
  • I put myself/wrote my name on the waiting list.
  • Maria trägt in ihre Fitness-App ein, wie viele Liegestütze sie gemacht hat.
  • Maria enters into her fitness app, how many push ups she did.
  • Maria gibt einen Vortrag an der Uni.
  • Maria gives a talk at a university.

Actually, the verb vortragen is rather rare, but the noun der Vortrag is pretty common. And the same goes for another noun der Antrag. The verb antragen was about the idea of bringing your request or demand toward someone, and while the verb itself has all but fallen out of use, but the noun der Antrag is very common and those of you living in Germany most likely have dealt with a fair share of them. Some of you might even have seen the very romantic type of Antragthe marriage proposal.  But the more common Antrag unfortunately is an application for some sort … like a visa, unemployment benefits or vacation at work. And the phrasing for doing such an application is either Antrag stellen or beantragen.

  • “Hey, kann ich mir ein Bier von dir nehmen?”
    “Theoretisch ja, aber du musst einen Antrag stellen.”
    “Deine Deutsch-ness hat kritische Werte erreicht.”
    “Und das ist noch nicht mein letztes Formular.”
  • “Hey, Can I take one of your beers.”
    “In theory yes, but you have to file an application.”
    “Your German-ness has reached critical levels.”
    “And that’s not yet my final form.”
  • “Jenifer Lopez hat eine Scheidung beantragt.
    “Wie jetzt… er hat ihr doch gerade erst den Antrag gemacht.”
    “Ja, aber sie hat den Prozess optimiert.”
  • “Jenifer Lopez has filed (applied) for divorce.”
    “Wait, what… I thought he had just proposed.”
    “Yeah, but she has optimized the process.”
  • “Was ist jetzt mit meinem Bier?”
    “Oh… ach ja. Sorry, dein Antrag wurde leider abgelehnt.”
  • “What about my beer?”
    “Oh… right, sorry. Unfortunately, your application was denied.”

Now, one important side note… German actually has two translations for the application: der Antrag and die Bewerbung.  The difference between Antrag and Bewerbung is that an Antrag is an application for something that you might be entitled to by law, if you match certain requirements.
A Bewerbung on the other hand is basically you trying to advertise yourself, to get selected. And the same difference goes for the verbs sich bewerben and beantragen. If you want to apply for a university, then bewerben is the one to go for, because there’s no legal entitlement to get in.
If you want to apply for vacation time at work, you DO have an entitlement, so that would be beantragen. I don’t know if you can “feel” the difference, but to a German brain, it’s pretty big.

Anyway, the next verb on our little tour, auftragen, actually also means to apply, but ONLY in the sense of putting (applying) some sort of cream or lotion or paint somewhere. So this is actually really close to the original sense of dragging, as you drag your finger over your skin.

  • Die Haut-Jung-Lotion morgens und abends dünn auf die Haut auftragen.
  • Thinly apply the young-skin-lotion onto the skin in the mornings and evenings.

The noun der Auftrag, however, only fits with this if you think of a project manager smearing work onto the team. Because der Auftrag is the German word for (small) mission or task. And this sense ties in well with the theme of transfer that we already fleshed out. An Auftrag is a piece of work that someone transfers to you. The verb auftragen has for some reason completely lost this sense, and German has instead has come up with the wonderfully formal sounding beauftragen as the verb for charging someone with a task.

  • Emanuel beauftragt seinen Praktikanten damit, einen Kaffee zu holen.
  • Emanuel charges, mandates his intern with fetching a coffee.
  • Das SWAT Team der Eichhörnchen hat den Auftrag, das Wodka-Depot der Einhörner in die Luft zu sprengen.
  • The SWAT team of the squirrels has the mission to blow up the vodka depot of the unicorns.
  • Wir haben Ihre Bestellung erhalten. Sie bekommen eine Auftragsbestätigung per E-Mail.
  • We’ve received your order. You’ll get an order confirmation via email.

If you’re wondering why for a Bestellung you get an Auftragsbestätigung and not a Bestellbestätigung, then… WHAT ARE YOU DOING; YOU NERD?!
Stop immediately!
Your time is too valuable to let German waste it with its many little “curiosities”.
Also, there are a few more prefix versions we really need to talk about, so let’s go.

Clingy prefix versions of “tragen”

By clingy prefix versions I mean of course the inseparable ones. Well, okay, übertragen actually was inseparable, but we haven’t talked about the real inseparable ones like be- or ver- yet. For tragen we have betragen, vertragen and ertragen, and those don’t really fit in thematically with the ones we already had.
Let’s start with betragen, which is basically formal sounding term for to be, in the context of sums and numbers, and particularly for money, with the noun der Betrag being the German word for (money) amount.

  • Die Miete beträgt 500 Euro.
  • The rent is 570 Dollars.
  • Bitte überweisen Sie den Betrag innerhalb einer Woche.
  • Please transfer the amount within a week.

How did that meaning come to be? Well, I’m not 100% sure, actually. A few hundred years ago, the verb had a much broader range of meanings, among them the theme of “bringing together”, “collecting”, which does tie in with the sense of to amount. But why the verb focused in on this rather narrow sense … I have no idea.
Actually, now that I think about it, it did keep one of its older meanings, because sich betragen (with Accusative) means to behave, to comport. Which makes total sense if  we think of the English phrasing how “someone carries themselves”. And to comport has port in it, which is the Latin stem for carrying. This betragen is NOT used in daily life though, except in one context: giving parents feedback on their child’s behavior in school. This is called “Betragen” and depending on region, it might show up on elementary school reports.

Now, betragen is probably more for the passive side of your vocabulary, but the other two, ertragen and vertragen are definitely worth adding to your active Wortschatz.
And they’re actually surprisingly straight forward, because there’s an English verb that’s similar in spirit, and that sometimes is a synonym for to carry.
Some of you might have guessed it… I’m talking about to bear.

Besides bearing children and actual carrying, to bear is also used in the sense of being able to “tolerate” something. The word bearable basically means that there’s some kind of burden, but you’re strong enough to carry it. You won’t falter under it.

And that’s what ertragen and vertragen are about.
The translations depend a lot on context and are not always to bear, but the idea is always there.

  • Ich ertrage diese Zoom-Meetings nicht mehr.
  • I can’t bear these zoom meetings any more.
  • Der Gestank in der Einhornhöhle ist unerträglich.
  • The stench in the unicorn cave is unbearable.
  • Die Batterie verträgt die Kälte nicht so gut.
  • The battery doesn’t do well with the cold/doesn’t tolerate the cold too well.
  • “Wie war meine Suppe?”
    “Hmm, mir ist ein bisschen übel, aber insgesamt habe ich sie gut vertragen.”
  • “How was my soup?”
    “Hmm, I’m a bit nauseous, but all in all I have tolerated it well.”

The difference between ertragen and vertragen is that ertragen sounds a little more “epic” and is pretty much only used for people and it has a psychological component, while vertragen can also be used for inanimate objects.
And vertragen actually has a second use – the reflexive sich vertragen (mit).  If we take it literally it would be “tolerating each other”, and the sense as getting along with someone (or something) or making peace after a squabble.

  • Wein verträgt sich nicht gut mit Milch.
  • Wine doesn’t go well with milk.
  • “Hast du dich mit Maria wieder vertragen?”
    “Nein, sie ist noch sauer über meinen Suppenkommentar.”
  • “Have you made up/made peace again with Maria?”
    “No, she’s still angry about my soup comment.”

And this use is actually the origin of a noun that most of you probably know… der Vertrag. Which is the German word for contract.

  • Im Vertrag vom Zauberberg haben Einhörner und Eichhörnchen vereinbart, das die Ebene der Elfen eine neutrale Zone wird.
  • In the treaty/contract of the magic mountain, unicorns and squirrels agreed that the Plain of the Elves be a neutral zone.

The word contract, by the way, is a combination of con(m) and tract. And tract is a form of trahere, which is the Latin verb for pulling. And now guess what that’s most likely related to… exactly… to drag and tragen.

And with this nice little circle we’ll wrap it up for today :).
This was our little tour through the family of tragen and I really hope you got a good impression of what the words mean and how the meanings relate.
As usual, if you want to 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 just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.


So it’s been a while since my comment about Maria’s soup and a lot of you have been asking in the comments (#lie) if we’ve vertragen uns again. The answer is no and it’s not looking good, because Maria is what we Germans call nachtragend…. “after-carrying” if we translate it literally Dictionaries translate that as vindictive or unforgiving, but the vibe of it is more casual… like “holds a grudge for long”.
The verb nachtragen also means that, but the adjective is what people use.
And oh since we’re at it, let’s also mention the other two words based on nachtragen, which carry totally different ideas. One is nachträglich, which is about something coming “after the occasion” and which you definitely need if you want to congratulate someone to their birthday a week late.

  • Alles gute nachträglich.
  • Happy belated birthday.

And the other word is der Nachtrag, which is basically, what you’re reading at the moment… an addendum :).
So yeah,  Maria still has a grudge on me, at least we got to learn a few more cool words.
Have a great week and till soon.


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