Word of the Day – “wachsen”

Hello everyone,

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



And I’m not known to be one to beat around the bush, so I’m gonna te…
“Actually, Emanuel, on your show, you have beaten around the poor bush so much, there’s barely anything growing anymore.”
Oh yeah? Well, if you didn’t interrupt me all the time, I could get to the point much quicker.
“Uhm… we interrupted you ONCE.”
Your mom interrupted me once.
“Emanuel, your behavior is not very mature right now.”
Hmm, I guess. I waxed my armpits, by the way.
And if you’re now thinking “Too much information”, well then wait till you read the article.
There’s plenty more information in there ;).
So let’s take a look.

Wachsen is the German brother of the English word wax. Or actually, we should say of the English words wax. Because there are two that have nothing to do with each other.
The first wax is the stuff that bees produce.  The origin of this wax goes back thousands of years and the meaning hasn’t changed. The noun in German is das Wachs and the verb is wachsen.

This is what most of us think of when we hear the word wax.
But there’s another verb to wax in English. The origin of this one is the super ancient Indo-European root *aug, which is about the basic idea of “increase” and it’s the origin of words like augment, auxiliary, authority and – and this is kind of funny – the word waist.   Yup, the waist is called waist because it grows.
Now, in English, this wax got pushed to the sidelines by the word grow; which is  related to grass and green by the way. But German liked wachsen  and so it is the main translation for to grow.

Now, this last example is extremely frightening for Thomas. But for us it’s very interesting, because it highlights a VERY big difference between wachsen and to grow.
In English, a beard can grow, but you can also grow a beard. That does NOT work in German at all. You cannot wachsen anything. Wachsen is something the beard does by itself.
Now, the noun for wachsen is das Wachstum (the growth) and it’s pretty straight forward so let’s move right over to the pref…  oh, hold on, we have a call. Paul from Glasgow, welcome to the show.
“Hello Emanuel,  I just wanted to ask how you’d actually say to grow something in German? Like… is it always wachsen lassen.”
Oh, great question. No, wachsen lassen only works if the focus is on not trimming. So mainly hair and nails.
“And what about growing plants?”
Oh, there the word is anbauen. Though that implies some sort of scale. But there’s also anpflanzen, züchten and ziehen.
Jings, crivvens. So many words.”
Haha, yeah.
“Hey uhm… may I ask another question?”
Of course!
“So, what about that spelling. Like, why is chs pronounced like an x?”
Oh, well let me turn that around. Would you rather pronounce it with ch and then s? Like so…

“Uhmm…. x is fine.”
Haha, yeah, it’s really hard to do and the x is kind of a natural result of slurring chs.
“Yeah, that makes sense, thanks mate.”
No problem. Do you want to stick around for the prefix versions?
“Sure, why not.”

wachsen prefixed

First up, we have erwachsen and aufwachsen. Both are about growing up, but they’re not interchangeable.
Aufwachsen has a focus on the process of growing from a child to the age of adulthood.

Erwachsen as a verb is a very pompous sounding word for arise and it’s pretty rare.

What IS common though, is erwachsen as an adjective.
“Oh wait, so it’s one of those verbs where the ge-form looks like the infinitive, right?”
Exactly. And erwachsen as an adjective is THE word for grown up, in a sense of being an adult.

And while we’re at it, for animals you’d say ausgewachsen. There, the focus is really that it has reached its final form, if you will :)

“Wow, I didn’t know they were so heavy.”
Yeah, it’s crazy right? And from what I’ve read, they drop it like every two years and then it grows back.
“Yeah, I read that, too.”
And speaking of growing back, that brings us right to the next verb – nachwachsen. Literally, it means  “to grow after” and it’s used in contexts of stuff re-growing, but the noun der Nachwuchs also carries the idea of the next generation

“Wow, would not have thought that the combo chssch is actually possible.”
Haha, you’re right. I didn’t even notice. But hey,while we’re at it…  here’s another really vowel-heavy word:

Wirtschaftswachstum (economic growth)


“My God, so many consonants. “
Yeah, I’d kind of like to know how it feels to look at a word like that as a non-native speaker.
“It’s daunting, believe me.”
I bet. It’ll get easier over time though, when your brain learns to cluster stuff.
Anyways, the next verb I’d like to mention is durchwachsen.
Taken literally, it means something like “to grow through” but just like erwachsen it is pretty much only used as an adjective. And only in two rather specific contexts. The first one is meat marbled with fat. It is “grown through” by fat.

And for some reason, it is also used as a colloquial term for mediocre (or less). It’s not super common but it’s one of those words that will seriously impress your friends when you use it right.

“Wait, for what reason is it used in that sense again?”
Some. For some reason.
“Oh… uh… I see.”
Now, there are several others but I think you can actually guess them from context so I don’t want to go over every single one.
I do want to mention the pair einwachsen and reinwachsen, though.
Both are about something growing into something, but einwachsen is pretty much only used for nails and hairs. For all other contexts, like growing into a role or a some piece of clothing, you’d use reinwachsen.

And then, I’d also like to mention zusammenwachsen. Not because it’s tricky to understand but because it a REALLY great example for how it can actually matter whether something is written together or separate. Zusammenwachsen as a prefix verb means a growing into one another. Zusammen wachsen mean that you each grow but you do it together, as a team.

“Wow, that’s kind of deep.”
Yeah, it’s from a post card.
Hey, I have a weird question though…”
Go ahead.
“So… what about if you and your partner wax together. Which version would that be?”
Hahahaha…  that would be zusammen wachsen. You see, on a very abstract level, the prefix of a prefix verb adds some notion of direction. So if we were to add zusammen as a prefix to the wax-wachsen, we’d get a verb that implies that we join two things by waxing them.
“Ahhhh, I think I get it. My understanding of prefix verbs has just gewachsen a little. Danke, mate!”
Well thank you for asking!! And thanks for joining me, it was great having you.
And to all you learners out there, thank you for tuning in, as well. This was our look at wachsen and its versions. I’ll add a few more to the vocab list, but I think they’ll make sense to you.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Get the vocabulary as a .csv to import into your flashcard app: download here
(separator is a semicolon ; )

** vocab **

wachsen (gewachsen) – grow (by oneself)
wachsen (gewachst) – to wax (hair)

das Wachs – the wax
die Wachsfigur – the wax figure

der Wuchs – how something is grown
das Wachstum – the growth
das Wachstumshormon – growth hormone
das Wirtschaftswachstum – the economic growth

aufwachsen – grow up (focus on growing and aging, usually for people)
ausgewachsen – fully grown (almost exclusively used as an adjective for animals)

durchwachsen (adj) – marbled (for meat), meh (colloquial term for “not so good”) 
erwachsen (adj) – mature, adult, grown up
der Erwachsene – the adult person
erwachsen aus – rare verb for “to arise”

einwachsen – to grow in (usually for toenails or hairs)
in etwas reinwachsen – grow into something (usually some sort of role or piece of clothing)

nachwachsen – regrow
nachwachsende Rohstoffe – renewable resources (stuff that grows, NOT the sun)
der Nachwuchs – the offsprings, new generation
der Nachwuchsspieler – junior player, up and coming player

überwachsen (adj) – grown over
über sich hinauswachsen – surpass oneself
verwachsen – grown together, grown in a weird way (usually used as an adjective)

for members :)

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Well jings, crivens and help ma boab! Have you been reading “Oor Wullie and the Broons”?

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak

We still use the verb wax in English; the moon waxes and wanes
I always liked the verb wachsen because of this.


It’s pretty archaic by now, but it also had the more general meaning of “become increasingly…” (also covered by “grow” now).

– And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. (Matthew 24:12 KJV)
– Oh boy, he’s starting to wax poetic… (still idiomatic)


Slight variation on waxing poetic – “to wax lyrical”, i.e. rhapsodise / schwärmen is a widely recognised fixed verb phrase and still in common usage.


Wow. Wax and grow. All in the same word. I know the moon waxes, but it’s a separate word from grow. So, how do we know if we’re letting our mustache get waxed or if we’re growing one. I can see about 7 potential embarrassing mistakes that could be made if one isn’t careful here. Hmmm…


Thanks for yet another helpful post!
Now for the typos I picked up on (not sure if you remember our little e-mail exchange, but I did promise I’d look out for typos and you said you didn’t mind at all, so here goes!)
“your behavior s not” – either behavior’s not or behavior is not
“wait, till you read” – no need for a comma at all (I know you Germans love them!)
“The English, a beard can grow” – In English,…
“arm pits” appear somewhere, a little typo unless you mean pits on someone’s arms ;)
(For all you readers out there, I’m not being mean or finicky here, it’s just that I promised Emanuel I’d proofread his new posts!)

An finally, Emanuel, hope you’re having a great time in Slovenia!


So, like…

– Bei einem tragischen Brand im Madame-Tussauds-Museum wurden 63 Besucher zusammengewachst.





Hi Emmanuel! I really appreciate your blog, thank you! BTW , if you use offspring it can*t be plural. Also, offspring is a rather scientific term, I would suggest babies (or maybe kittens in this case). I think the phrase is more usually “The cat is going to have kittens”.


When my sons start falling in the popularity polls, I call them “The Offspring”. As in, “The Offspring sent their book bill for this term,” or “Should we ask the Offspring to join us for dinner?”.

When I’m feeling less guarded, the Brats, Big D and little D (see reruns of “Sanford and Son”) or even Son from Hell. I often take the opportunity to blame it all on my husband by saying things like, “YOUR son did this/that,” or “YOUR Offspring is going to send me to my grave.” We are the biological parents of both, but I sometimes prefer to make it sound like I had no part in the matter.

Your suggestion to use “kittens” is spot on, as is your info regarding “offspring” as being somewhat scientific, (think: The unicorn’s offspring are often shy and become invisible when threatened). However, Emanuel should know that the term CAN be used in other ways.

William Jeffcock
William Jeffcock

Its great your German help me learn my own language, English! Great fun


I’m so confused! on leo.org they write that “wachsen” is conjugated as “wächsSt” for 2nd person singular and “waschst” for 2nd person plural, indicative. Präteritum is “wuchsSt” and “wuchst”, respectively. Can’t find the extra “s” at any other conjugation source. Have trusted leo.org until now. Can anyone shed some light on this? I’m not asking anyone to take responsibility for what leo.org writes on their site, but I’m thinking perhaps someone more experienced in Deutsch could shed some light on this – something to do with the language reformy-thingy?

Suddenly, I feel like Manuel on “Fawlty Towers”.



Another good one is “etw [Dat] gewachsen sein.” Bist du der Aufgabe gewachsen?


Yeah, I learned this one fairly recently. Corresponds roughly to one use of the (AE?) idiom “to be up to something” (when it means “be capable of/competent to do something”).

Tim Miller
Tim Miller

You missed a very obvious use of “wax” in English. The waxing (getting larger) and waning (geting smaller) phases of the moon.


Vielen dank. Ich habe viel gelernt.I did not know that there exist so many uses of wachsen.


Thank You


Hello everyone, I’m Carlos Pérez! I would like to thank all the people that give some extra for those in need like me. Thanks to your support I have been sponsored, and I am really excited about this opportunity, thanks to Professor Emanuel too for letting me in to this invaluable learning section he have made with so much effort and love.


Hallo Leute!

I just wanted to say vielen dank to everyone who has donated extra to make scholarships for the blog possible. I am going to Germany in the new year and trying to learn as much as possible.



The csv file seem not to be available. I think it is a brilliant idea…..


Hey, consider the following

“Mir wächst langsam das Interesse an Theaterspiel”- To me the interest in dramatics is growing slowly



I still enjoy the lesson :)

I think I noticed a little mistake in the sentence. The audio quite clearly confirms that “in” is missing.

“Ich bin Berlin aufgewachsen.”