Word of the Day – “treffen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will have a close look at the meaning of:



Treffen is a word many people … mind the bold… ENCOUNTER at some point, even when they do not intend to learn German.
Meet Steve:
Steve does not speak German at all. Steve is traveling from London Gatwick to Berlin Schönefeld with Easyjet, the airline where the price and the carry-on are equal in pounds… yes… they are THAT cheap. On the flight, Steve is refreshing  himself with an  ice-cold Coca Cola while enjoying Transformers 4 on his ever so sharp and one-digit-inch IPad, from Apple (thanks for the paycheck). Steve is heading to Berlin to see nice things and drink stuff. The best place for that, so Steve was told, is a bar so there he goes and meets a German girl. As I said, he does not speak her native tongue. Yet he is very interested in it… … (badumm tish) … Hoping that his English accent will get him access, Steve decides to make an essay to express his delight about that contemporary acquaintance of his…  in German.
Dictionary to the rescue!!!
But just as a dictionary brought my last sentence to the brink of nonsense, it gives less than perfect advice to Steve:

  • Schön, dich zu treffen.

That is the literal translation of

  • Nice to meet you.

That is, while totally understandable and ok, NOT the genuine thing to say.  If you meet someone for the first time, the best verb in German is kennenlernen… literally this is learning to know, less literally it would be getting to know, not literally it is meeting for the first time and illiterately it would be hjaugebtcniaun … ok … that last one was kind of mean I guess. I am being a bit stupid today… please indulge me :).
So…. the phrasing Steve was looking for is:

And that concludes this completely off-topic introduction and we will continue straight with act 2.

Act 2 is usually the time in a drama when the well established hero encounters an obstacle to overcome. Sadly, act 1 didn’t establish our protagonist at all, so we have to squeeze that in here the best we can. Who is our main character anyway, you ask? Well it is and has always been the word treffen :)… 
Treffen is not a hard word. Sure… it does have to main meanings to meet and to hit but they can easily be thought of as one and the same underlying idea. Not so easy you say? Well one needs to think German to learn German so let’s take a negative outlook on things…

  • I missed my brother at the train station.

This can either mean that I did not meet him or that I did not hit him. So it seems like to miss is the opposite of either of the 2 verbs, to meet and to hit, and hence they are the same… or at least close enough :).
Let’s do some examples.

The context will make it clear, which treffen is intended. However, a statement like this will raise questions:

Still people would assume it is to meet as the other option is just too serious for small talk. Anyway… treffen leaves ample opportunity for word play. Just imagine if there were only one word in English.

  • I treffe my brother down south.

Droll, isn’t it?

So, what’s with the conflict treffen has to face? It is looming, don’t you worry, for soon, treffen will be confronted with one of the most viscous villains in language…
but first let’s have a look at a more abstract use of the word treffen or the part that means to hit to be precise. In German, you do not need a physical object to hit someone… you can also do it with an insult or with disrespectful behavior. Also events can hit someone in a more abstract sense. In those cases the English translations would be to hurt or maybe  to get to someone.

So whenever you read something that doesn’t really make perfect sense as to hit or to meet, maybe the main point is the injury or impact caused by the hit, that matters in that case.

And now we are ready for the big reveal… and actually treffen does not only have to deal with one super villain… it has to deal with 3 of them at the same time: grammar, structure and cases. GOD DAMN.

treffen vs sich treffen

The following things only apply for the meeting-treffen. I am sure some of you have been wondering about the differences between the possible phrasings with treffen. There are basically 3.

  1. Ich treffe heute abend meinen Bruder.
  2. Ich treffe mich heute abend mit meinem Bruder.
  3. Ich und mein Bruder, wir treffen uns heute abend.

Let’s do one more group.

  1. Maria trifft heute ihren Freund.
  2. Maria trifft sich heute mit ihrem Freund.
  3. Maria und ihr Freund treffen sich heute.

So… what is the difference between just treffen and the reflexive sich treffen mit? Well… the essence of the 2 is the same. All 3 sentences in the examples above do convey the same information. But there is a difference in use. I would say, that in everyday speech sich treffen mit is WAY MORE USED. A possible reason is to avoid confusion with the hitting-treffen.

As I’ve said before, context would indicate that he meets his professor but the sentence does not make it 100% clear. The reflexive phrasing does.

Translating this with to hit leads to the really stupid:

  • Thomas hits himself with his professor.

So… sich treffen mit can only mean to meet and is thus more clear. Appart from that it does have a strong notion a planned event and all people were actively involved. If I treffe mich mit someone, we have agreed on that before. It was on purpose. If i just run into someone, that would be just treffen.

So just treffen has a notion of “by chance” to it, while sich treffen mit is definitely always planned.
By the way… in German newspapers and radio news they sometimes avoid to use sich treffen mit. They replace it by the rather odd zusammenkommen mit.

I don’t really know why they do that. Maybe sich treffen is a bit too casual but … zusammenkommen is a really stupid word. Write it as 2 words and you get what couples try to achieve when having sex.

Anyway… so a rough guideline could be this

  1.  treffen. alone – meeting by chance.
  2.  sich treffen mit … meeting on purpose.

This is not super strict though. So some people might use just treffen also for planned meetings so that is not a fixed rule. But sich treffen mit is definitely on purpose.
Now,  what about the third version we had.

Why is there this weird uns there? Let’s see.
If you use treffen, you ALWAYS have to have an object. You cannot just hit or meet without an object or person. This is different to English.

  • We meet at 9.

is totally fine.

  • Wir treffen um 9… WRONG

is not. We have to say what we treffen… either something, someone or ourselves.

As you can see, the uns of the last example is NOT translated. It is just their in German because grammar wants it. But it always wants it… also in questions.

The uns has to be there. Without it the phrase sounds really odd to a German. What??? What can we hit???
So to wrap this up let’s do one of those  constructions, that make German seem so difficult.

We are almost done for today. But I still want to tell you some other situations where you encounter the word treffen.
The first things is this: for some reason, decisions are hit rather than made in German.

I don’t really know why that is, but it is a very very common phrasing and you should know it.
Vice versa there is one thing that is met in English but not getroffen in German… expectations and all related things, like specifications or demands. The German word for this version of to meet depends on the thing met, but erfüllen (fulfill) is probably a good choice most of the time.

And lastly here are some words that are based of treffen. Das Treffen is the German version for meeting, though especially in a business context the word meeting is much more common.
And then we have the noun der Treffer. Adding -er to a verb usually makes it the person doing the verb, like Fahrer (the driver) or Käufer (the buyer). For treffen it is different. Der Treffer is not the Person but the hit or in sports the goal/basket.

Of course, there are a few more but I think you can get them from context.
So… I think that’s it. This was our word of the Day treffen. It can mean to hit and to meet and it has a slightly annoying grammar when it means to meet, but it is nothing too bad after all.
If you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you  next time.

Aftermath: The German girl did think Steve had a cute accent… … … Steve is going to be here quite often.


** vocab **

jemanden treffen – meet someone, hit someone
sich mit jemandem treffen – meet someone (planned meeting)

eine Entscheidung treffen – come to a decision

der Treffer – the hit (sports, shooting)

der Treffpunkt – the meeting point



Take the quiz on "treffen"

1 / 6

What are the two main meanings of treffen? (multiple answers)

2 / 6

How would you say:
 "Nice to meet you."
when you meet someone for the first time?

3 / 6

How would you translate: “We’ll meet at 10.”

4 / 6

How would you translate:
“I have made a decision.”

5 / 6

Which of the options is NOT a possible translation for this sentence:
Ich habe Thomas  in der Bibliothek mit einem Buch getroffen.”

6 / 6

Which of  the following sentences DOESN’T talk about a planned meeting?

Your score is

The average score is 77%

for members :)

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Periannan Chandrasekaran
Periannan Chandrasekaran

Prima! Dein Artikel hat mir das Wort “treffen” endlich mit seinen Abschattungen (oder Nuancen) erklaert.
Es war sehr fantastisch, die Gegenueberstellung zu benutzen.


In der Tat, ein sozusagen vortrefflicher Artikel. ;-)


Wow ein neuer Artikel! Ich freue mich darauf, ihn heute abend zu lesen! :)
Wenn ich ein Wort vorschlagen darf, würde ich gerne einen Artikel über “treiben” (nicht übertreiben :) ) lesen!!


I recently came by this blog and really loved it!! Will be useful in my German studies. Thanks for sharing!

Mark Schaffel
Mark Schaffel

Love this! Very helpful explanations that may keep me from ripping out the rest of my hair during my Deutsch studies!




You are a genious! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us… poor mortal students of german!!! I could never find such a good detail explanation in any grammar book. Super!


“Haben Thomas schon mit seinem Professor gesprochen?
Nein, aber er trifft sich mit ihm am Donnerstag”

Nicht vergessen, dass das Verb “haben” im Perfekt konjugiert werden muss! :)



I have been wondering about a translation for the English ‘to meet’, which even after years of learning German I am not sure about. I know normally if you meet some one for the first time ‘kennenlernen’ is correct and if you are meeting some one you already know it’s ‘treffen’. But what about if you go to meet a famous person who you are a fan of? The direct translation of ‘kennenlernen’ is obviously ‘to get to know’. This would normally apply if you are meeting some one for the first time, you expect to get to know them. But if you go to meet a celebrity you are not really meeting them to get to know them, are you? Say some one went to a scifi convention to meet William Shatner, just expecting to meet him briefly and get an autograph. Would you still say ‘Ich habe William Shatner kennengelernt’. That doesn’t sound right to me, but neither does ‘Ich habe mich mit William Shatner getroffen’. What would be right here?

Charlotte Nordset

As a Norwegian learning German, I find it very amusing how similar Germans and Norwegians are using this word. In Norwegian the word is “treffe – treffer – traff – har truffet” and the meanings are all exactly the same. So fascinating haha. Except we have (unfortunately) almost completely stopped using dativ, but I just realized that we actually do something weird and untypical: “Wir treffen Heidi” translates to “Vi treffer Heidi”, but “Wir treffen uns” becomes “Vi treffeS”. Which, when I think about it, doesn’t make any sense at all because normally the only condition affecting the verb is the time. So this has to be some residual language curiosity from the German influence on Norwegian. I just love comparing the to languages and finding similarities, it is so interesting and it’s also making it easier to learn and understand German. What a great language. I am so fascinated by all the fancy features. Great article! Very entertaining for a language geek as myself.


I’m from South Africa. English is my second language and I’m trying to learn some German, found this very helpfull! Like we say in Afrikaans, uitstekend!!


Thanks a lot! I really learned a lot from here;)


One thing I have come across which isn’t above is ‘betroffen’. I got the same sort of translation as the ‘to hurt’ or ‘to get to someone’ getroffen you mentioned. Is there a subtle difference?


So is jdm. begegnen more similar to jdn. treffen then, in the sense of “by chance”?

Could one also express this sentiment using jdn treffen? ->> Sie ist das höflichste Mädchen, dem ich je begegnet bin.


Treffen was one of the first words I learned in German, with the joke “Treffen sich zwei Jäger. Beide tot.” I love this kind of word play that cannot be translated to another language.

Marc Duf
Marc Duf

sounds creepy a little… what is the meaning


Treffen ist ein seltsam Verben, aber es ist mindestens nicht prefix haben.


do you have a smal article on the “ge-” prefix before some verbs (getroffen, ) please and thank you

Vlad Padina

Thomas trifft sich mit der Keule?


Hej, guter Artikel! Hab mich lange gefragt, wo der Unterschied zwischen treffen und sich treffen liegt. Nun aber hab ich zwei kleine Fragen:

-Was mit “treffen auf”? Wo passt das unter den anderen? (Übrigens: guter Scherz auf einer U-Bahn-Werbung: “Nur hier trifft Dichter auf dichter,” zeigt einen betrunkenen Typ der gegen die Schulter eines Schriftstellers schläft.)

-Hab in Sendungen zB gesehen, “triffst du dich noch mit him?” übersetzt durch “Are you still seeing him?” (as in dating him). Gewöhnlich?


That was the best explanation ever. Thanks