The meaning of “suchen” (and its prefix versions)

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 out there, luckily. They don’t exist. (got you scared, didn’t I ;))
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” and “search”

Suchen  means to search. And suchen is also related to 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.

  • Thomas  sucht nach Liebe.
  • Thomas is searching for love.
  • Maria sucht nach ihrer Brille.
  • Maria is looking for her glasses.
  • Ich habe bei meiner besten Freundin Rat gesucht.
  • I sought counsel from my best friend.

And German also uses suchen in phrasings like the following.

  • I have to find a new flat.
  • Ich muss mir eine neue Wohnung suchen.

 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.

  • Kellner gesucht.
  • Waiter/waitress/staff wanted.
  • Die Suche war erfolgreich.
  • The search was a success.
  • Die Webseite hat keine Suchfunktion.
  • The website has no search function.
    (well… now it does and it’s AWESOME!)

And that’s pretty much it for the related words. Except for the prefix version, that is.

The prefix versions of “suchen”

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.

  • Fred die Maus sucht den Himmel nach Falken ab. Superman auch.
  • Fred the mouse scans the sky for falcons. Superman too.

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

  • Ich durchsuche meine Festplatte.
  • I search my whole hard drive.
  • Die Polizei hat mich durchsucht.
  • Police frisked me.

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.

  • Die Polizei untersucht das Verschwinden von Mona Lisas Lächeln.
  • Police is investigating the disappearance of Mona Lisa’s smile.
  • Der Arzt untersucht mich.
  • The doctor examines me.

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.

The meaning and (non) use of “besuchen”

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.

  • Ich besuche meinen Opa.
  • I visit my grandpa.
  • Ich besuche das Museum.
  • I visit the museum.

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.

  • Morgen fahre ich zu meiner Oma.
  • Tomorrow I’ll go to my grandma. (lit.)
  • Warum ich nicht gerne ins Museum gehe.
  • Why I don’t like visiting Museums.

This is especially true for doctors and cities.

  • Ich  besuche Berlin / einen Arzt.

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

  • Ich war schon ein paar mal in Berlin.
  • I’ve visited Berlin a bunch of times.

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.

  • Ein Freund aus Australien kommt/ist zu Besuch.
  • A friend from Australia is/will be visiting.

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

  • Ich habe Besuch.

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

  • Ist dein Besuch noch da?
  • Is your “visit” still there?

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

  • Seit sie ihre Webseite neu gemacht haben, hat die Firma jeden Tag Tausende Besucher auf der Seite.
  • Ever since they’ve relaunched their website, the company has thousands of visitors on the site.
  • Die Mona Lisa ist ein Besuchermagnet.
  • The Mona Lisa is a magnet for visitors.

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.

The meaning and use of “aussuchen”

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.

  • “Wo wollen wir uns denn treffen. Bei mir oder im Café?”
    “Kannst du dir aussuchen! Mir ist beides recht.”
  • “Where should we meet? At my place or in a cafe?”
    “You can choose! I’m fine with either.”
  • Jeder sucht sich 3 Filme aus und dann lassen wir den Zufall entscheiden.
  • Everyone selects/picks 3 movies and then we’ll let chance decide.

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

  • Ich habe mir etwas ausgesucht.
  • I picked something.

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

  • DVD Abend… du suchst die Filme aus, ich den Wein.
  • Movie night… you pick the movies, I pick the wine. (could I skip “pick” here?)

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”.

  • “Wann wollen wir uns treffen… vormittags oder nachmittags?”
    “Mir egal… such dir aus.”
  • “When should we meet… morning or afternoon?”
    “Same to me… YOU choose.

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.

  • “Das Projekt, an dem du arbeitest, hört sich echt scheiße an.”
    “Naja… Ich habe mir das nicht ausgesucht.”
  • “The project you’re working on sounds like total crap.”
    “Well… It wasn’t my choice/I didn’t have much of a choice.”

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 (and probieren)

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.

  • Ich habe voll die leckere Suppe gekocht… koste mal!
  • I’ve made a super tasty soup… try!

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.

  • Hast du schon mal Kaffee mit Rotwein getrunken? Solltest du mal probieren. Ist gar nicht so schlecht.
  • Have you ever tried coffee with red wine? You should try it.
  • Entschuldigung, kann ich die Hose mal anprobieren?
  • Excuse me, could I try on these pants?
  • Ich probiere verschiedene Hipster-Filter auf meiner Foto-App aus.
  • I’m trying out different hipster filters on my photo-app.

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.

  • Ich versuche das Projekt heute fertigzukriegen.
  • I try (“seek”) to get the project done today.

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.”

  • Versuch mal, weniger Salz zu nehmen.
  • Try to use less salt (if you can manage).
  • Probier mal, weniger Salz zu nehmen.
  • Try to use less salt (maybe that’ll do the trick).

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

  • Probieren geht über studieren.
  • The proof is in the pudding.
    Trying goes over studying. (lit)
    (This makes NO sense to me :D… if someone could explain that that’d be awesome )

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

  • Ich versuche nicht zu lachen.
  • I’m trying not to laugh.
  • “Die Scheiß-App hängt.”
    “Starte mal neu.”
    “Hab’ ich schon versucht. Geht nicht.”
  • “The damn app is frozen.”
    “I already tried. Doesn’t work.”
  • Ich versuche, die Tür zuzuziehen.
  • I‘m trying to pull the door shut.

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.

  • Es war den Versuch wert.
  • It was worth the try.
  • Guter Versuch.
  • Nice try.
  • Die Kunden sind die Versuchskaninchen.(“experiment-bunnies”)
  • The customers are the guinea pigs.

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.

  • Ich bin versucht, dir zu glauben.
  • I am tempted/inclined to believe you.

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.

Honorable mentions

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 :).

  • Darf ich dich um ein Bier ersuchen?
  • May I respectfully  inquire for a beer?

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.

  • Ich suche die Toilette auf.
  • I’m going to the toilet.

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 :).

  • Deutsche Grammatik sucht  ihn in seinen Träumen heim.
  • German grammar is haunting him in his dreams.

“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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