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.

  • Die Kerze ist aus Bienenwachs.
  • The candle is made from beeswax.
    (oh, looks like English does have compounds ;)
  • Ich habe meine Achseln gewachst.
  • I waxed my arm pits.

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.

  • Die Pflanze wächst super schnell.
  • The plant is growing super fast.
  • Maria ist an der Aufgabe gewachsen.
  • The task made Maria grow (as a person).
  • Maria will sich einen Bart wachsen lassen.
  • Maria wants to grow a beard.

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.

  • Ich bin in Berlin aufgewachsen.
  • I grew up in Berlin.
  • Kinder, die in Armut aufwachsen, haben es schwerer, erfolgreich zu werden.
  • Children who grow up in poverty have a harder time becoming successful.

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

  • Aus großer Macht erwächst große Verantwortung, Bruce.
  • From great power arises great responsibility, Bruce.

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.

  • “Thomas, ich mache ab jetzt jeden Morgen vor dem Kaffee Yoga.”
    “Puh, du bist sooo erwachsen.”
  • “Thomas, from now on, I’ll do yoga every morning before the coffee.”
    “Phew, you’re so grown up/such a grown up.
  • “Warum können wir nicht wie zwei erwachsene Menschen diskutieren?”
    “DU kannst nicht wie zwei erwachsene Menschen diskutieren, ich schon.”
  • “Why can’t we just argue like two adults?
    “YOU can’t argue like two adults, I can.”

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 :)

  • Das Horn eines ausgewachsenen Einhorns wiegt eine Tonne.
  • The horn of a fully grown unicorn weighs a ton.

“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.

  • Wenn man einer Eidechse den Schwanz abreißt, wächst er nach.
  • If you rip of the tail of a lizard it’ll grow back.
  • Dieser To-Go-Becher wurde aus nachwachsenden Rohstoffen hergestellt.
  • This take away cup was made from renewable resources.
    (only for stuff that actually grows, so not renewable in sense of sunlight)
  • Die Katze bekommt Nachwuchs.
  • The cat is going to have kittens (lit.: offspring).
  • Der Nachwuchsschauspieler bekommt einen Preis.
  • The up and coming actor gets an award.

“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.

  • Das Rinder-Filet ist durchwachsen.
  • The beef filet is marbled/streaked.

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.

  • Das Essen war gut, der Service eher durchwachsen.
  • The food was good, the service was meh.

“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.

  • Thomas pult an seinem eingewachsenen Zehennagel herum.
  • Thomas is picking around at his ingrown toenail.
  • Das Einhorn ist in seine neue Rolle als CEO der Märchenwald AG reingewachsen.
  • The unicorn has grown into its new role as CEO of the Fairytale Forest Inc.

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.

  • Partnerschaft bedeutet zusammen zu wachsen ohne zusammenzuwachsen.
  • A relationship means growing together without growing together/coalescing.

“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.

** 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)

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Anon student
Anon student
1 year ago

What about “etwas gewachsen sein”, or to be able to handle something? Could you add a section on gewachsen sein? Why does it mean to be able to handle, or not mean that? Thanks

Anon student
Anon student
1 year ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

It stretches my imagination, but I should say my imagination gewachsen sein. German can be a very poetic language.

Thank you for the explanation. I am a fan of your work. So so valuable, danke schon.

3 years ago

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.”

3 years ago

Hey, consider the following

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


3 years ago

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

3 years ago

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.


3 years ago

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.

3 years ago

Thank You

3 years ago

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

Tim Miller
Tim Miller
3 years ago

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

3 years ago

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

3 years ago
Reply to  Jake

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”).

3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Yeah, that’s it. Really, I should have said “to be up to a task.” I feel like there’s another phrase that I’m not quite recalling that would also fit, maybe better. You could also say:

– Thomas only just got over the flu he had last week. I’m not sure he’s up to running the half-marathon tomorrow.

That doesn’t seem like it would work with “gewachsen sein” either, even though it’s related in English.

3 years ago

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”.


3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

So glad to hear that! Thought I was not being receptive. Sorta wondering about leo.org – they are supposed to be reputable.

William Jeffcock
William Jeffcock
3 years ago

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

3 years ago

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”.

3 years ago
Reply to  John

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.

3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ooohhh! Now I can be “unausstehlich” auf Deutsch, as well! Danke sehr!

3 years ago


3 years ago

So, like…

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


3 years ago

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!

3 years ago

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…

3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ok, think I got it. Not quite as bad as I feared.

You have NO idea how many of your posts have already come in handy at Uni! Handelt, pleite, and about 7 more I can’t even think of right now – but that’s just the word of the day! As far as the theory – WHOA! German-is-easy theory is WAY better than Uni-Deutsch. Accusative/Dative – they want us to learn Kia/Dida – Puh-leeze! Emanual’s direction/location is not only easier but More Intuitive. And where in the H*ll would we be ohne Ellie the Unicorn? How can anyone even PRESUME to teach Deutsch without Ellie the Unicorn’s help. Not to mention the ongoing antics of Thomas and Maria.

But they mean well…

3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Sorry, Ria, not Dia. (Riktning – ackusativ). Dida (Don’t remember, but the “di” is for location and the “da” is Dativ). It’s so ridiculous I can’t even remember it. But your stuff, I remember! So, how’s Ljubljana? Waiting patiently for a podcast of a tour of your Kiez (Umgebung).

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak
3 years ago

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

3 years ago

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)

3 years ago

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

3 years ago

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