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

 

Treffen is a word many people encounter at some point, even if they do not intend to learn German.
Meet Steve:

With Covid behind us (for the most part) , teve 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 Justice League 2 – The Return of the Clusterf*** on his 8kHD 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 right 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:

  • Schön, dich kennenzulernen.
  • Nice to meet you.

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.

  • Ich treffe dich am Kinn.
  • I hit you on the chin.
  • Ich treffe dich am Brunnen.
  • I meet you at the fountain.
  • Thomas hat seinen Boss in Rom getroffen.
  • Thomas met his boss in Rome.
  • Thomas hat seinen Boss in den Magen getroffen.
  • Thomas hit his boss in the stomach.

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

  • Ich habe meinen Freund auf dem Schießplatz getroffen.
  • I met/ hit my friend on the firing range.

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.

  • Was du gesagt hast, hat mich sehr getroffen.
  • It really hurt me, what you said.
  • Der Tod seines Hamsters hat den kleinen Timmy sehr getroffen.
  • The death of his hamster really got to little Timmy.

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.

  • Thomas trifft seinen Professor.

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.

  •  Thomas trifft sich mit seinem Professor.

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. Apart 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.

  • Ich treffe meinen Professor in der Cafeteria.
  • I meet my professor in the cafeteria (by chance).
  • Ich treffe mich mit meinem Professor in der Cafeteria.
  • I meet (with) my professor in the cafeteria (to discuss my thesis….  they are painting in his office)

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.

  • Beim Gipfel ist Angela Merkel mit dem Französischen Präsidenten zusammengekommen.
  • At the summit Angela Merkel also met the French President.

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.

  • Wir treffen uns um 9.

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.

  • Wir treffen die Laterne mit dem Schneeball.
  • We hit the lantern with the snowball.
  • Wir treffen die Oma von Thomas.
  • We meet Thomas’ granny.
  • Wir treffen uns  vor der Bar.
  • We meet in front of the bar.

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.

  • Wann können wir uns treffen?
  • When can we meet?

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.

  • ” Hat Thomas schon mit seinem Professor gesprochen?”
    “Nein, aber er trifft sich mit ihm am Donnerstag.”
  • “Did Thomas speak with his professor yet?”
    “No, but he will meet him on Thursday.”

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.

  • Ich treffe eine Entscheidung
  • I make a decision.

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.

  • Die Facebookaktie konnte die Erwartungen nicht erfüllen.
  • The Facebook share could not meet the high expectations.

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.

  • Team A wins the game by 5:3. Three goals were scored by Smith.
  • Team A gewinnt das Spiel mit 5 zu 3. Drei Treffer wurden von Smith gemacht.

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.

4.9 11 votes
Article Rating

Newsletter for free?!

Sign up to my epic newsletter and get notified whenever I post something new :)
(roughly once per week)

No Spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Your Thoughts and Questions

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
69 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

Danke

Ertac
Ertac
1 year ago

This helped me a lot! Vielen Dank <3

Matt
Matt
1 year ago

Hallo
Deine Artikel sind so hilfreich. Ich weiss, dass du gesagt hast, dass du ueberlegst, einen Artikel ueber alle Praefixe zu schreiben, aber koenntest du uns einen kleinen Einblick in “betreffen” vs “treffen” geben?

Zuerst trifft es die Schwaechsten in der Gesellschaft.

Koennte man “betreffen” hier verwenden?

Vielen Dank

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

Hilarious! And very useful! Vielen Dank!

marko
marko
1 year ago

Another comment: what happened to all the prefix versions? eintreffen as in
“Der Zug trifft in zehn Minuten am Zielort ein”

or zutreffen as in
“Die Wettervorhersage traf mal wieder nicht zu”?

and who knows how many other prefix versions there are?

You’re the MEISTER at explaining these!! Please give us a post on them!

marko
marko
1 year ago

Emanuel, it’s not idiomatic to say
This is different to English.

an acceptable alternative (and there are many) is:
This is different from English.

Thanks for the excellent blog and the ever-increasing efforts to make past content more accessible!
Articles like this one, on treffen, are not what one can find in any other source!

DianaM
DianaM
9 months ago
Reply to  marko

While I agree that “different to” sounds quite odd to me (I’m in Western Canada), I have heard it occasionally. It seems to me that when I have heard it, the voice has a British accent, but I don’t know if it is common in Britain, or perhaps regional dialect.

Pedro Guilherme
Pedro Guilherme
2 years ago

In the sentence “Wir treffen gleich auf den Tod.” . What are the meaning of “treffen auf” und “gleich”. I’m confuse….

Pedro Guilherme
Pedro Guilherme
2 years ago

And thanks for brilhant article

Ayoub
Ayoub
2 years ago

You’re a piece of work buddy! Keep up the fantastic work (y)

Azin
Azin
2 years ago

Your article was really useful.Thank you so much

jiamin
jiamin
2 years ago

ein Urteil treffen
massnahmen treffen
eine Vereinbarung treffen

Can you maybe break up these phrases as well? Are they common? That will be so grateful. I guess like Entscheidung, in German we also hit a judgement? And then fo rmeet agreement, maybe that‘s also ok. But for take measurement? This is just getting so wired.

jiamin
jiamin
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks!! Is there notification when my post get replied? Maybe somewhere in my email inbox but I missed them?

Richard
Richard
3 years ago

1) Minor typo (I think!) — “viscous” instead of “vicious” — unless you really meant “sticky villains”?

2) “The death of his hamster has hit little Tommy really hard” is a perfectly good idiomatic translation of “Der Tod seines Hamsters hat den kleinen Timmy sehr getroffen.”

Richard
Richard
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard

But should have added, you do need the ” … (really) hard” in English — just “The death of his hamster has hit little Tommy” doesn’t work.

Samsubahree
Samsubahree
3 years ago

Fantastische Erläuterung! :)

David M.
David M.
3 years ago

Thanks for such a clear explanation to what could be a muddy grammatical post..but then again you always seem to do that for us. also, the quiz is a great touch to make sure the lesson stuck!

One tiny point…
Die Facebookaktie konnte die Erwartungen nicht erfüllen. I would probably have used the word “stock” here instead of “share”. It could lead to confusion. I have heard American English speakers refer to posts on Facebook as a “share” IE “did you see my share?” or “did you see what I shared?”. Using stock here makes it very clear that you mean Facebook’s financial report did not live up to expectations.

Thanks for all the hard work Emmanuel!

DianaM
DianaM
1 year ago
Reply to  David M.

Good point, that. I did indeed assume “The Facebook share” referred to a social post, and that is because, if talking about the financial instrument, we would never use the singular, other than to say, rather improbably, “I bought one share of Facebook”. In this sentence it would *have* to be: “Facebook shares could not meet…etc.”. Also note – no definite article. This would also apply if you used the word “stock” – “Facebook stock could not…”

I just love this blog, thank you so much for your delightful and enlightening posts.

schwanzschwanz
schwanzschwanz
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I think that has to be one share. Stock comes in units of shares, so “one stock” would be like saying you bought one cake when you actually bought one piece of cake.

Amy
Amy
3 years ago

Prima! Du hast ein richtiges Talent dafür, die deutsche Sprache zu erklären. Ich bin so froh, dass ich deinen Blog gefunden habe. Ich lerne alleine und fühle mich sehr überfordert, wenn ich denke über alles, was ich nicht weiß. Dein Blog hilft mir, um viel Grammatik zu verstehen, die mich früher verrückt hat sein lassen(Wortstellung?). Vielen Dank dafür!! :)

Marc Duf
Marc Duf
3 years ago
Reply to  Amy

I feel the same way,

2222222222222
2222222222222
3 years ago

Du hast in diesem Artikel https://yourdailygerman.com/muhe-geben-german/ einen Satz geschrieben ” Ich hab’ mal ein paar Beispiel angeguckt und deine Interpretation trifft’s ziemlich gut”
Was bedeutet ”trifft es gut” in diesem Zusammenhang?

2222222222222
2222222222222
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Schon gut.Auf jeden Fall vielenk Dank für deine Erklärung:)

jstneti
jstneti
3 years ago

That was the best explanation ever. Thanks

MichaelVG
MichaelVG
4 years ago

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?

Vlad Padina
4 years ago

Thomas trifft sich mit der Keule?

marc
marc
4 years ago

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

Kstanbach
Kstanbach
4 years ago

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