Word of the Day – “suchen” – prefixed

suchen-aussuchen-pictureHello everyone,

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


But not just that. We will also look at ALL the prefix-versions of suchen that are out there. Ylläsuchen or öxersuchen are not… I mean… they don’t exist. But versuchen does. And besuchen and a few other really really common ones. And the meanings are … well… some are pretty straight forward. Other are more like a free jazz interpretation of a famous song. You really need to have your music theory down to see a connection.
So… are you ready to dig into suchen and see what we can find?

Suchen  means to search. And suchen is also related to search. At least, that’s what I thought until one of our interns gave me the results of his research for the show. Hold on, let me read it to you.

Corie’s research for the suchen-show

Search comes from cerchier. This is old French but the real origin is the Latin word circare.  It is related to the word circle and it
meant to wanderto go here and there. So the verb to search is
based on the idea of the walking you have to do. 

Meh… I guess that makes sense. Let’s see what’s to say for suchen.

Suchen is related to the English to seek. The origin is the Indo-European root
*sag which meant to investigate or to seek out. Probably in sense of
following traces and other hints. It is a rather focused activity, at least in
comparison with the walking back and forth that search is based on. It is also worth mentioning
that all the interns at German is Easy do not receive any
payment or compensation whatsoever, not even lunch money, and some days
we have to work up to fourte…

What the…? This wasn’t in the original script?!  Goddamn, this is a live show, man. Everyone just heard that and will now think we’re all slavers here. Look… I know you want to get payed and some perks but … our budget… it’s complicated, okay? And pulling shit like that won’t help. Seriously!
But let’s get back to our topic.
So the history is different but the meaning is pretty much the same. Or actually…  the German suchen is a little bit broader and spans from the very basic to look for to … well to seek.

And German also uses suchen in phrasings like the following.

 Finden would be understandable but it sounds a bit odd… at least to me.
Anyway, the noun search is die Suche,  the ge-form is also used a lot and in compounds finally, we often see just Such.

And that’s pretty much it for the related words. Except for the verbs that is.
First, there is a group of verbs that just uses the search-idea and makes it a little more specific. Absuchen for example means to search a location completely. It’s a bit  like scanning, actually… so it is on the surface and often with the eyes.

If the search involves opening things, like drawers or doors or folders or even pockets, then it is durchsuchen… “to search through”.

And then, even more intense if you will, there is  untersuchen… I don’t really know why it’s unter but it means to investigate, to research or in context of doctors to examine.

And now it’s time to enter the realm of abstract. The realm of odd.
The realm of twisted.
Where, if you have it, you actually missed it.
Where up is down and left is right.
Where closed eyes will give you sight.
Whence seldom sense ever came
There dwell prefixes, too wild to tame.

I… I tried :).
Hey but speaking of trying. Trying has NOTHING to do with our next verb.


Most of you know besuchen as to visit and there are two interesting things to say… why it means that, and why you don’t need it. At least not as much as you think.
So… the “be”-prefix is pretty consistent in what it does… it changes the meaning to “to inflict verbing on something”. (We’e talked about that in detail in the show on the “be-“-prefix. I’ll add a link below). It does the same here. But not to the present day suchen. It adds the idea to the old one… to to seek. So it is kind of  “to inflict seeking on something or someone”. And that makes total sense with the meanings it had 1000 years ago… to examine,  to question someone…. if you know the word beseech… well it’s the lost twin of besuchen.  Basically it was just an intense seeking. Seeking for answers, seeking to do something, and so on. Now, if you want to question someone, or ask for something or if you want to examine a place, you need to go there.
“But wait Emanuel,  a king would summon the person to question rather than goi… ”
Yeah yeah whatever. At least sometimes you have to go there and it is abstract anyways.
So, over time, besuchen  lost most of the seeking-idea and what remained is … well… the going there. But it’s still more than just going there. There is some looking around and checking things out left in the verb. You wouldn’t really besuchen a supermarket.
Now, let’s get to the usage.

Those are fine…. in theory. But in practice, besuchen sounds a little formal, a little stilted. I think I never actually use the verb because for most day to day visits, people would just say that they GO to the place or the person.

This is especially true for doctors and cities.

To me, this sounds a little funny… like Berlin is a friend of yours. Again, I would just say that I go there or that I am there

Besuchen is not wrong. It just sounds a bit formal. The only  situation when I would use it is to visit someone in the hospital. So… besuchen itself isn’t used all that much.  The related nouns are, though.
Especially the following phrase is super common.

Besuch can be a visit, for example a Museumsbesuch, but it can also be a vague term for the visitors.

This doesn’t tell us how many people or what gender or whatever… just that there are visitors.

But there is also a “real” word for visitor.

All right.
So bottom line… besuchen does mean to visit, but in daily life it is often not the best pick. And speaking of pick…. that leads us right to our next word.


Aussuchen is one of those basic everyday words that students of German kind of miss out on. Literally, it means to search out,or, if we go by the word’s history, to seek out. And the real meaning ? Is to pick or to select or to choose.

It’s not too crazy, I think. Sure, in the first example there isn’t much searching involved. And there is little to none of the strive we have in to seek. But both, to search and to seek, do have an element for “to go for something” and that’s not too far from to pick in sense of to select.
Now, some may already know the word  wählen. But wählen is a bit “bigger”. And more formal. It can mean to select, yes, but it can also mean to elect. Aussuchen is not to elect. We wählen our government. But not candy. Aussuchen is more casual, more down to earth and it has an element of the actual picking as in to pick something up in it. And that’s why it is used more often in daily life than wählen.
All right.
Now, maybe one word on grammar. You will often hear aussuchen with these weird self references

So… is it actually sich aussuchen? Like.. a “reflexive verb”?
The answer is no… aussuchen works fine without that self reference.

The mir/dir/sich/… just makes it sound more personal and that’s what aussuchen is often used for… picking stuff for ourselves, based on our “liking”.

The focus is clearly that the person should just pick whatever is best for him or her. And the dir expresses that “ego-ness”, if you will.  Without it, the sentence would sound a bit strange, also because orders that just consist of the verb do sound quite blunt.

  • “When should we meet?”
    “Same to me. Choose!”

And to give you another example, here’s a common phrasing with aussuchen.

Without the mir, the whole thing would just sound like A choice that you do, but that doesn’t affect you all that much. A bit like “I wasn’t the one who made the choice.”. I hope that makes some sense.
So anyway… aussuchen is a word you’ll definitely hear a lot. You should give it a shot too, and try to use the mir or dir or sich. 
And speaking of trying… well… you my bad transitions by now :)



Versuchen means to try. Or does it? Dun dunn dunnnnnn.
Let me check with a dictionary… hmmm…  it does. No surprises. But it is much more limited than to try.
Let’s see…  versuchen is not the right word for trying food. You could use either probieren  or kosten  and before you ask… I’ll add a link to the WotD “kosten” below.

And that’s not all. Kosten only works for food but probieren, is more broad and it (and the prefix versions) are actually the best word for to try in sense of trying out stuff.

So probieren is about checking something out. Seeing whether it fits or whether I like it. Versuchen is about making an attempt to successfully do something. Both verbs have quite a different feel, but the good news is that this becomes pretty clear after a look at the origins. Probieren is related to to probe and to prove. You “probe” a pair of pants or those cool filters as in  you test them or you sample them. That makes sense.
Now, we’ve learned that suchen comes from to seek. And that still shows in versuchen.It is to seek combined with the for-meaning of the prefix ver. And versuchen definitely has some striving in it. Just like in this example.

But there is no strive in trying on a pair of pants. Unless you don’t want to acknowledge that you’ve … well… put on a few pounds. But seriously… trying coffee with wine has no strive and so versuchen sounds quite odd. I mean… sure… both words do overlap a bit but for the most part, they have a different ring to them.  Probieren always has this experimental vibe, versuchen is about “see if you can do it.”

So… I hope you got an idea, and if you’re still unsure, well… don’t worry too much and just give it a try because

All right. Now, what now? Maybe a word on grammar. In English, we have all these different structures … to try verbing, to try to verb, to try and verb. .. in German, there is just one: a zu-sentence.

  • Jemand versucht zu verben.
  • Someone tries to verb.

Here are a bunch of examples

And yes, the last one does exist :). What also exists is of course a noun for versuchen … well, actually there are two nouns, but the common one is der Versuch. And this is a lot closer to probieren in that it can mean of course the try but also test or experiment.

The other noun is die Versuchung and it means….  temptation. This isn’t THAT weird actually. You see… that hot someone at the bar giving you salacious looks is like “You… yeah you. Come on over”and your partner is at home  with a flue. Or that chocolate truffle box on the desk… it “strives” for you to eat it.   It’s a test (Versuch) and you’re the subject, if that makes sense.
Now, versuchen the verb actually also has this tempting-meaning. One somewhat common example is this.

But generally the try-meaning is so strong that versuchen doesn’t give much room for word play.
All right. So this was versuchen. It means to try but only in sense of to try and see if I can do something or not.

We’re almost done, but there are a few other prefix-suchens. They are not all that useful but I guess we should mention them.
is a rather formal word for to ask someone for something… you can use it if you want to confuse your friends with some courtesy parlor :).

Then, there is aufsuchen, which is an odd, somewhat stilted way of saying that you go somewhere. Again, if you want to use weird vocab with your friends… this is one for you.

Finally, there is heimsuchen. Heim means home so heimsuchen could be something like looking for a home or going home or something. Well… it kind of is. But it’s not your own home :).

“Honey!!! Wake up!”
“What?? Wo bin mich?”
“You’re inflecting again.”
“Oh no… damn intensive course.”

So… that’s all for today. This was our look on suchen and it’s very abstract, yet useful prefixes-versions. If you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to try out some examples for versuchen and probieren just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you nächstes Mal.

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