Word of the Day – “trauen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. And if you’re a Sissy you should leave right now. Because the word we’ll talk about this is incredibly scary. Behold…



Hmm… actually, it kind of looks sad. Hey, but do you know what looks sad AND scary?
Ohhhhhhhh, Emanuel is an unromantic millennial.
But no, first of, I am a Prellenial. We’re just as woke, but more diligent and sexier.
And then, I am super romantic. Just check out what I made for my shorty this morning, before she went for her morning dump (click here if you dare) .
Anyway, let’s jump right into the article. That’ll explain a lot. Maybe even this intro :)…

So yeah… trauen certainly does look like it is related to traurig, which means sad. But that’s a coincidence.
Traurig probably comes from the ancient Indo-European root *dhreu which was about falling and which also the origin of drip and drop. Just think of dripping tears or the head dropping.
Trauen on the other is related to the English words true and truth and the German word treu Now you might think that trauen is something about being right. But there’s actually quite some room for confusion.
The main idea of true nowadays is “not false”.  German uses the family of wahr for that. 

  • Die Geschichte, die Maria Thomas erzählt hat, war ein bisschen wahr.
  • The story Maria told Thomas was a little bit true.
  • Sag mir die Wahrheit!
  • Tell me the truth!

Treu is only true in the sense of being faithful, loyal and that is actually pretty much the meaning of original Germanic word *treuwaz. 

  • Der Sänger bleibt sich treu.
  • The singer stays true to himself.
  • Sammeln sie Treuepunkte?
  • Do you collect loyalty points?
    (super common question at a super market cashier, is that idiomatic English?)
  • Maria verspricht Thomas,  ihm ein bisschen treu zu sein, während sie im Urlaub ist.
  • Maria promises Thomas to be a little bit faithful to him, while he is on vacation.

Wait, “a little faithful”? That sounds complicated. They will have to talk about trust, I guess.
And so will we. Because trust is also a member of this family… uh… hold on, I gotta do something…  *Emanuel, pats himself on the back for the transition… that makes perfect sense; we do trust people that are truthful and loyal.  And to trust is the meaning of the German verb vertrauen.
Wait, vertrauen? Why not just trauen?
Well, trauen used to mean to trust and vertrauen, with the for-idea of ver, was just a slightly more personal sounding version of it.
But there was a desire, a yearning in trauen and one day, around its birthday, it bought a van and a surf board and and was like “Bro, we need to talk. I need to move…”
And vertrauen was like “No need to say more, bro! Follow your dreams!! I got your back, trust me.”
And so vertrauen became the main word for to trust.

  • Das ist nicht scharf. Vertrau mir!
  • It’s not spicey. Trust me!!
  • Ich vertraue meinem Bauchgefühl und gehe auf Toilette.
  • I trust my gut feeling and go to the toilet.
  • Thomas hat Maria vertraut.
  • Thomas trusted Maria.

The verb itself is super useful already but there also some really cool related words.

  • Maria hat ihrer Frisörin ein Geheimnis anvertraut.
  • Maria trusted her hair dresser with a secret/confidentially told her ….
  • Dieses Beispiel ist streng vertraulich.
  • This example is classified.
  • Diese Brücke sieht nicht sehr vertrauenserweckend aus.
  • The bridge doesn’t look very trustworthy (lit.: “trust awakening”).

And let’s not forget about das Vertrauen, which is trust and confidence.

  • Vertrauen ist gut, Kontrolle ist besser.
  • Lit.: “Trust is good, control is better.”
    (is there a good English counterpart?)
  • Du hast mein Vertrauen missbraucht.
  • You betrayed my trust.
  • Eine Ursache von Paranoia ist fehlendes Urvertrauen.
  • One cause of paranoia is missing basic trust (psychological term)
  • Der Erfolg war gut für Marias Selbstvertrauen.
  • The success was good for Maria’s self confidence.

By the way, for those of you who are interested in etymology…  the origin of confidence is the Latin fidere, which was also about trusting and being loyal and it’s actually where fealtyfederal and faith come from. I was pretty surprised when my interns told me about that.
Not as surprised as I was when they told me they think it’s unprofessional of me to the prep meetings hungover, unkempt, unprepared and late. What the f**p?!?!  If I want to come to the office without taking a shower, I’ll do just that.  How dare they?!?! Damn millenials and their damn confidence.
But hey, speaking of confidence and daring, that brings us right to our actual word of the day trauen.
By itself, it can still mean to trust, but that’s rare and I think you only ever see it in context of not trusting a stranger, being suspicious.

  • I traue ihm nicht.
  • I’m suspicious of him/ I don’t trust him.

What’s useful is the trauen with a self reference – sich trauen. A few hundred years ago, this simply meant to trust yourself. But slowly the phrasing shifted more and more toward what you might do when you trust yourself… taking a risk. Or in one word… to dare.
THAT’S what sich trauen means today and it’s pretty common because Germans also use the negative version to express that they’re scared.

  • “Na komm, frag sie nach ihrer Telefonnummer.”
    “Ich trau mich nicht.”
  • “Come on, ask her for her phone number.”
    “I’m scared/(I don’t dare).”
  • Seitdem er die Einhorndoku gesehen hat, traut sich Thomas nachts nicht, auf Toilette zu gehen.
  • Ever since he saw the documentary about unicorns, Thomas doesn’t dare to go to the toilet at night.
  • Ich habe mich nicht getraut, ins Wasser zu springen.
  • I didn’t have the guts to jump in the water.

I was actually a bit confused while thinking of the examples whether it is mir trauen or mich trauen because both sound kind of okay to me. But I think that’s just a regional thing and the Accusative (mich, dich) is the proper choice, while the Dative (mir, dir) is the proper choice for the prefix version zutrauen. This is not about guts though, but about the feeling that someone is capable of something. And it works for both, yourself and another person.

  • Traust du dir zu, den Marathon zu laufen?
  • Do you think you’re up to the challenge of running a marathon?
    Lit.: “Do you trust to yourself to run a marathon?”
  • “Maria hat dem Einhorn so richtig die Meinung gesagt.”
    “Das hätte ich ihr nicht zugetraut.”
  • “Maria told off the unicorn.”
    “I didn’t think she had it in her. /I didn’t think she could do it.”

And I think, that’s pretty much it for today. Well… except one thing. Trauen is also used in context of marriage.
Now some of you might be like “Wait, I though that was Hochzeit.”
And some other might be like “Wait, I thought that was Ehe.”
And again some other might be like “And I though it was Heirat.
And you’re all correct. But hey, why use three words when you can use four, right? Trauen itself is sometimes (very rarely) used for the act of getting married, die Trauung is the marriage ceremony and der Trauzeuge/die Trauzeugin  is the person walking the bride/groom to the altar.
Nothing you need to remember, but I wanted to mention it because it kind of brings all the ideas together. I mean, marriage is being treu (faithful) , it’s about vertrauen (trust)  and you need to trauen yourself (dare) and ask your partner :). Oh and by the way… we already mentioned the Latin fidere and that it’s the origin of confidence and faith. Well, it’s also the origin of fiancee and infidelity. All one happy family :)

And that’s it for today, this was our look at the family of trauen and vertrauen.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to try out some examples, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.


** vocab **

sich (acc) trauen – to dare, to have the guts
sich/jemandem etwas zutrauen – belief that someone is up to a challenge/has something in them
zutraulich – nice, friendly, not scared of humans (for animals)

treu – true, faithful, loyal
die Treue – the faithfulnes
die Untreue – infidelity (in relationships)

jemandem vertrauen – trust someone
das Vertrauen – the trust, confidence
das Selbstvertrauen – the self confidence
das Urvertrauen – the basic trust (psychological term)
vertraulich – confidential
vertrauenswürdig – trustworthy
vertrauenserweckend – trustworthy (“evoking trust”)

wahr – true
wahrscheinlich – probably (true-seeming)
die Wahrheit – the truth

heiraten – the action of getting married
hat geheiratet – has done the action of getting married, has married
ist verheiratet – is in the state of being married
die Hochzeit – the wedding 
die Ehe – the marriage

 die Trauung – the wedding ceremony
der Trauzeuge/die Trauzeugin – witness of marriage (person walking the bride/groom to the altar

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