Word of the Day – “treten”

Hello everyone,

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



And of it’s maney prefix version.
“I think you meant ‘many’, right?”
Erm… no, I meant maney. Like a mane.
Like here. 
“You really spent time on Photoshop to make this, Emanuel?!”
Yeah, it’s a brand new mind map technique I learned in a workshop this weekend. It’s called “visualionzation”. Amazing, right?
Anyway, are you ready step into the world of treten?
Then let’s go… 

Treten is the German brother of the English verb to tread and together with words like trample, trampoline or the German word for staircase, die Treppe, they come from the absurdly ancient Indo-European root *der.
Wanna venture a guess about the core idea? It was simply walking, making steps.
Treten and tread have stayed rather true to that, but while to tread became kind of a niche word, treten is super super SUUUPER common. Because not only is it THE word for tread AND step, it’s also the word for kicking.
Not to far fetched, I think. It’s just the intent that’s different. The motion is kind of similar for stepping and kicking. You bring your foot forward. Well, unless we’re doing roundhouse kicks. But who does those anymore these days… Chuck, we miss you.
Anyway, the context will usually make it clear whether it is to kick or to step. Let’s look at some examples…

The noun for treten is der Tritt but… you know how it is with German and English.

“What do we do for nouns?”
“I don’t know. I was just gonna use step again.”
“Hmmm…. okay, I’m gonna make Tritt NOT the translation for step then but only for kick. For step I’ll use the noun of schreiten. And I’m not gonna use schreiten itself.”
“Hahah man, they’ll hate you.”

And so it was. Der Tritt is the kick and for step German says der Schritt.

Aarrghhhh, the cringe. It’s too strong. I shouldn’t have done this.
Anyway, while we’re at kick… in English, there’s also the metaphorical kick. No so in German. Tritt is really only a kick with the foot, while the metaphorical kick is … der Kick. How creative!
So that’s treten. 
Now, let’s take a look at the prefix versions. Aka … the horde.
Seriously, there are quite a few and they’re super useful.
Let’s start with most crazy one.


Like most , eintreten works with both ideas of treten – stepping and kicking. For kicking, the meaning is unusually literal.

But with stepping, we’re back to the twisted “prefix-normal”. Which means that the verb twists the idea in various way while kind of tip toeing around the most straight forward meaning.
Eintreten taken literally would be to step in or in one word: to enter (by making a step).  Eintreten does carry that meaning BUT it’s rarely used and sounds kind of lofty. Probably because eintreten has so many other meanings. What’s useful is the noun der Eintritt which is entrance in a financial sense… like tickets and stuff. “Wait, you just said that Tritt only meant kick… ”
Well, that was just for the stand alone. With a prefix, Tritt works fine as step.
“Oh… “

So, eintreten is not used much in the sense of actually setting foot inside of something. But as I said… prefix verbs like to twist and bend things. And eintreten is super common for more abstract “enterings”.
For example in contexts of joining parties, clubs or societies.

  • “Herr Präsident, warum sind sie damals als junger Mann in die Feministische Partei eingetreten.”
    “Ganz klar um Frauen kennenzulernen.”
  • “Mr. President, why did you join/enter the feminist party back then as a young man.”
    “Clearly, to get to know women.”
    (beitreten+etwas is another option here. It might be a bit more common actually)

And if you’re now like “Tssss… this isn’t too twisted.”, well then what if I told you that eintreten also mean to happen, to take place. Yup, another one. I guess there’s so much happening in the world, passieren, geschehen, stattfinden, sich ereignen and vorkommen just weren’t enough. We needed eintreten. Half a dozen words. Great job, German. Most verbose language on the freaking planet.
Anyway, the idea behind it is simply that something “steps into reality” and the context you find it in are predictions becoming reality.  So you wouldn’t use it for just random events.

Because of this notion of predictions becoming reality, it’s more useful than the bookish geschehen and sich ereignen. But still, it’s not THAT useful.
And I guess because it’s not THAT useful, there was room for yet another not that useful  meaning, right German.
“Spot on! That’s what I was thinking.”
So German, tell us,  what’s the last meaning for eintreten?
“It is to step up for, in the sense of ideals and similar things.”
So it’s like sich einsetzen für.
“Well, that one is reflexive and there’s a subtle differ… .”
Oh, we don’t have time for that, sorry.
Gotta get to the examples.

Wait… stepping up doors?! That doesn’t make sense in Engl … oh… wait, it’s actually pun’o clock.
Good thing movin’on’oclock comes right after that :).


Aus is the direct opposite of ein (in a locational sense), and so it’s no surprise that one of its meanings is to leave in the context of parties, clubs and societies.

Another non-surprise is that this isn’t the only meaning.
You’re ready? It also means to kick out in context of horses, to extinguish a fire by stepping on it and – get a load of this – leaking for liquids and gasses. In German these things “step out” of a container. Seriously German, I have no words for this.
“Well, I do. It’s austre…”
Oh whatever, just gimme an example…

The last non-surprise is that austreten does absolutely NOT mean to step out in a literal sense.

  • Ich trete im Garten aus.

This might look like you’re stepping out into the garden, but what it really means is you take a dump in the garden. Yup, you heard that right. Austreten is a tactful option for taking a dump, and it was coined back in the day, when people actually did have to step out to do that. It’s getting a bit out of fashion, though. At least I don’t see it that much these days.  I just wanted to mention it because it has to do with feces and those are always funny.
Oh man … what is wrong with me today. Let’s move on.


The most literal meaning of auftreten has is capturing the moment of putting your foot down.

But that’s about as useful as a sprained ankle.
What makes auftreten really useful and a word you’ll definitely see  is the idea of going onto some kind of stage. It has a pretty broad range, from music shows to how you present yourself, but I think it’s always clear when you see it.


Now, so far all the ones we’ve looked at were separable. But of course, there are some non-separable ones, too.


I feel like, I keep saying that the whole time but … this one is super uber useful.
And it’s surprisingly clear. If you’ve read my article on the ver-prefix, you’ll know that ver- can carry four notions. But here, it only carries one… the idea of for. So, literally vertreten means “to step for”.
It’s kind of the same idea as eintreten in the sense of stepping up for, but vertreten is MUCH more useful. Because it works for all kinds of contexts… representing and defending ideas, representing people, representing products. Heck, represent is a good translation actually. But let’s look just at some examples…

Hmm… some of you might know that ver- can also carry the idea of away. So politicians vertreten could technically be understood in a different way. But it’s not pun’o’clock anymore, so let’s move right on.
And with the article almost finished, we actually have to set foot into… grammar land.


Be- carries the notion of “do onto” and one effect of that is that it does away with the need for prepositions that indicate direction and having a direct object instead a prepositional blah blah blah… so much Latin. Here’s what I’m trying to jargon…

  • Ich trete in den Raum.
  • Ich betrete den Raum. 

Both sentences mean that you enter the room, they’re just using different grammar to express that.
As we mentioned in the beginning, treten in isn’t used that much in sense of entering spaces.  But that’s different for betreten. Like many be-verbs it does sound a tad bit technical and dry, but you can definitely find it in daily life, especially in formal or scripted contexts.

And that’s it for betreten.
And for today. Yeay.
Yes, there are still more prefix version of treten (zutreten, übertreten, nachtreten, vortreten, zertreten) but I think you have a good idea of what can be done with the verb and you can figure them out yourself :).
And if you do have a question about them then we’ll just talk about it in the comments.
So that’s it. This was our look at treten and its many versions. 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.

Oh, and just in case you missed. It’s quite the Ohrwurm :)


for members :)

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Hi Emanuel. You’re on form with the silliness this week! You asked a couple of things there. A “kick under the table” is absolutely what you would say. You might also say “a dig” but that can apply to elbows too. I’m confused about the stepping up doors thing. What’s it a pun on? For the auftreten / tread thing I reckon I’d need to be a chiropractor to know the right phrasing there. Tread would probably sound a bit too imprecise though so something like “it’s the way I put my foot down / place my foot when I walk” is what I would scrape together trying to explain that. We also have “to pronate” but you have “pronieren” in German too. I think your flu-ridden band have an extra “hat” in their sentence. Lastly the insurance rep sentence is not right. The foot belongs to the rep and we would use the possessive to express that. “Thomas accidentally steps on the insurance sales rep’s foot”. You could say the “steps on the foot of the insurance salesman” but it sounds quite foreign like “the pen of my aunt”. Bis zum nächsten Mal! Tschüß!


Here’s one for ya that I definitely come across regularly when accidentally visiting broken web pages and such like. Es ist ein Fehler aufgetreten. Im guessing here it is the happening/occurring disguise of auftreten here but wasn’t sure. The literal translation would probably be an error occurred. Fascinating stuff as always


Kann man sagen?
Das Einhorn ist ins Fettnäpfchen getreten.


having trouble believing that Hundescheisse translates to dog’s tail….

Lost in Desert
Lost in Desert

I would say “the way I plant my foot [feet]” in the one about back pain. I think this is one of the few places we use the verb “plant” in context of stepping, feet, or treading. Sports coaches used to use it with us a lot also…”be careful how you plant your feet when blocking, shooting”, etc. Tread has a bit of a formal feel to it for me (e.g. Boldly go where angels fear to tread….), etc.


Loving this Emanuel . . . made me think of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niACZ7yIUMA

re kicking under the table – in English you only do that because you want to warn the person you’re kicking or tell them off for something. No connection with getting one’s kicks here!

and a small grammatical point:

“Und? Wie lief dein Date?”
“Alles ist so eingetreten, wie das Einhorn vohergesagt hast.”
“And how’d your date go?”
“Everything happened as the unicorn had foretold.”

had foretold would really translate as vorhergesagt hatte
But if you do a strict translation then ‘has foretold’ sounds as though the date has yet to happen. In English you’d probably just use the imperfect – as the unicorn foretold

(catch the typo ;-)


Hi! Just one question:

In this example it means to kick : Thomas hat vor Wut so doll gegen den Baum getreten, dass er sich den Zeh angebrochen hat.

And in this other example you translated it as to step: Thomas tritt dem Versicherungsvertreter aus Versehen auf den Fuß.

In the first is gegen + accusative and the second goes with dative.
So just trying to understand if the difference in meaning is because of the intention behind the action, aus Versehen vs gegen, or because of a different grammatical structure? How would you wrote that sentence so he kicks him accidentally (even though it would be hard to believe)?



Nothing cringe-worthy about “kick under the table”. This is something you do to have a friend/spouse stop spewing out indelicate comments. Or something your spouse/friend does to you when YOU spew out embarrassing info about the host’s wife… You get it. It suggests reprimanding someone surreptitiously, while among people. There are other, friendlier actions that can be done with a foot, under the table but it requires taking off the shoe and being in close enough proximity to place your foot accordingly, but as far as I know, there is no term for that. Oder? Playing “footsie” insinuates flirting with the feet under the table, but the only “kicks” there are the “shits and giggles” kind, that is: I get a “kick” out of it, or I do it for the “shits and giggles”.


Question regarding the “austreten” example: “Seit dem Interview sind viele aus Protest AUS der Feministischen Partei ausgetreten.” Do we need the capitalized “aus” if we have “ausgetreten” at the end? Isn’t that like, one “aus” to many?


The examples on Pons show the prepositional “aus” is required to mean exiting.

The examples without the preposition mean “to wear out”.



Two more uses came into my mind (I’m gonna try to combine them into one example):
“Der Präsident macht eine frauenfeindliche Bemerkung auf dem Parteitag der Feministischen Partei. Dann herrscht betretenes Schweigen, bis Maria verkündet, dass sie sich mal eben (draußen) die Beine/Füße vertreten müsse.”
(“The president makes a mysogynistic comment at the general assembly of the Feminist Party. There is an embarrassed silence until Maria announces that she needs (to leave the room) to go stretch her legs for a bit.”)

“betreten” in this case is mostly used in the phrase from above “es herrscht betretenes Schweigen” or when someone “schaut betreten zu Boden/zur Seite”, both meaning “embarrassed” and, in the latter, not wanting to make/maintain eye contact.

“sich (mal eben) die Beine/Füße vertreten”: That is also a fixed saying, I used it for Maria’s excuse that she “needed to get some fresh air” to escape the tension in the room, but it is usually used as a synonym for “talking a (short) walk”, for example when you’ve sat down for a long time, hence the “stretch her legs”. Not to be confused with “Ich habe mir den Fuß vertreten” (singular!) which means “I’ve sprained my foot”, although they are apparently related.

I hope that’s all correct, Emanuel. I couldn’t find out how the difference between “sich den Fuß vertreten” and “sich die Füße vertreten” developed :-/ Maybe you are more successful with your resources :-)

Louis Amiot
Louis Amiot

Ein anderes wichtiges Wort ist “zurück/treten”, das “to resign” bedeutet.