Word of the Day – “stützen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we’ll have a look at the meaning of



The closest English relative is the word stud, and just in case you don’t know what that is… that’s the word that gives you pictures of bolts, knobs, young potent looking men and (male) horses when you enter it in Google image search. Wow, quite the scope, right? But it’s nothing compared to the scope of the whole family that stud belongs to. There’s stand and stay. And state and stead. And station and stadium. And stow and stool and stall.  And German stehen (stand)  and stellen (put, “make stand”) and Stadt (city)  and Staat (country, state) and Stau (jam, traffic jam)Wow. 
All these words (as well as for Spanish estar and others) come from the Indo European root *sta which was about the basic idea of standing. Crazy… I never realized how close Stau and stay really are… I mean… that’s the essence of a traffic jam. You stand, you stay where you are. And I think the idea of standing is visible in all of the words, once you know it’s there.
Wait, even for stud? Well, that’s a tricky one. Stud used to be two different words. One started out as sort of pillar, upright object and over time that got “smaller” and so it became bolt, knob. The meaning of the other version was  “place for a herd of horses you keep for breeding” . Kind of like stables. German still has the word das Gestüt which is a stud farm. But people started using the word for the horses and so stud ended up as a word for (potent) stallion. The same happened in German. Well… almost the same. Because in German, a Stute is a not a stallion… it’s a female horse, a mare, which is where the word marshal comes from, by the way. And while mare is she-horse in English, the German word Mähre  is more like a shit horse. An old, slow horse is called Mähre.

But hey, enough with the horse talk… let’s get to our actual word of the day stützen. Stützen is what you need if something standing would fall over. Like… a precise description would be “prevent from falling down by pushing from below or the sides”.
And you can use it in a literal sense or figuratively.

Now you might be like “Hey, so it’s like to support, right?”. Well… yes and no. In practice stützen more often than not ISN’T the proper translation for to support. But we’ll get back to that in a second.
Stützen is also used in sense of resting some weight somewhere and again it can be used in both literal and figurative contexts

Of course, there are lots of related words with stützen. Some with just the stem stütz and others with the noun die Stütze.

The noun die Stütze is also colloquial term for unemployment money.

What die Stütze DOESN’T mean is the support. The proper translation for that is die Unterstützung. And brings us back to the verb. Stützen alone support in a construction sense and at times in a figurative sense of keeping in power. But not for the every day support as in supporting an idea or supporting someone. The right word for that is unterstützen.

  • Ich stütze Thomas.
  • Ich unterstütze Thomas

The first one sounds like I’m holding Thomas under your shoulder so he doesn’t  fall over. The second one is the standard “I support Thomas”.
Now, I think that the German unterstützen is a bit more hands on or active than the English support.

To me, that sounds like she is actively involved in the campaign or she’s donating money or doing something actively while

  • Maria supports the candidate

can mean that she just likes his ideas or is just generally on his side.
But for the most part, the two words are pretty good translations.

Now, of course unterstützen isn’t the only prefix version. There’s a couple more. The first one is sich aufstützen and that sounds very specific but it’s something we do every day. Sich aufstützen is the verb for resting some of your weight on your arms. Like… when you rest your head in your palm and the elbow on the table in a boring German class… that is sich aufstützen.
Nicht aufstützen, Emanuel.“… I heard that quite a lot back in school. Nicht aufstützen, nicht kippeln, nicht schlafen, nicht auf das Buch urinieren… maaaaan, school was like a freaking jail.
Anyway… examples.

The other prefix version is abstützen and that is basically a variation of the stand alone stützen. Abstützen in context of construction sounds a bit more temporary and make shift than stützen and when you combine it with sich it’s about steadying oneself with some notion of upward.

But abstützen is nothing you really need to know actively. It’s enough to understand it when you see it.

And I think that’s it for today. This was our look at a bunch of horse vocabulary… and the meaning of stützen :). It comes from the same root as stud and to stand and it’s about supporting something, making sure it doesn’t stürzen. Stürzen means to fall, by the way.
And if you’re now like “Wait, stürzen stützen… they’re almost identical!!   Are they related? What’s going on here?? How can a word mean to support and the other to fall?”
Well, they are related. But we’ll talk about stürzen some other time ;).
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 **

stützen – support (literal, construction… also in sense of keeping in power)
sich stützen auf – rest one’s weight on
der Stützpunkt – the base
der(die)  Liegestütz(e)  – one push up/push ups
die Gedankenstütze – mnemonic device
die Stütze – colloquial term for unemployment money

unterstützen – support (people, ideas)
die Unterstützung – the support
der Unterstützer – the supporter

sich aufstützen – rest some of one’s weight on one’s arms, usually on a table or something
abstützen – variation of stützen, in context of construction it sounds make-shift

die Stute – the mare
der Hengst – the stud
das Gestüt – the stud farm
die Mähre – old, slow horse… also used for old slow cars