Word of the Day – “das Ziel”

Hello everyone,

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

das Ziel


And this is one of the few examples, where English actually has more words for something than German. Das Ziel is aim, target and goal. And it’s related to neither of them. The origin of goal is a bit in the dark, aim is actually a (very slurred) cousin of estimate, and target is based on an old French word for shield. Hmmm… I wonder if that’s why they didn’t do so well against the French in the 11th century. Like… shouldn’t you try to shoot for NOT the shield?

But anyway, so Ziel is not related to any of its translations. But it does have a couple of relatives in English.

Das Ziel comes from an old Germanic verb that was about the idea of striving, working toward a goal. In English, this verb eventually turned into the verb to till. Seems odd at first but think about it – farming (tilling) your land,  plowing and sowing and weeding, is hard work and there’s a clear, very, very important goal – have enough food to last till spring comes.
Now you might be wondering “Wait a second what about till as in till spring comes… is that related, too?”
And indeed it is. Till/until are also related to das Ziel and I don’t think the connection is too abstract, because they basically define an end-point, a destination in time.

But enough with history, let’s look at some examples. And by the way… destination and objective are translations for das Ziel, as well.

  • Maria hat ihr Ziel verfehlt.
  • Maria missed her goal/target.
  • Sie haben Ihr Ziel erreicht.
  • You’ve reached your destination/goal.
  • Ziel der Übung ist es, die Pomuskeln zu aktivieren.
  • Aim of the workout is to activate the glutes.
  • Das Team hat das Ziel aus dem Auge verloren.
  • The team lost sight of their  objective.
  • Maria ist als zweite ins Ziel gelaufen.
  • Maria was second to cross the finish line.

Of course there are also lots of compounds.

  • “Ich finde die Show ganz furchtbar.”
    “Du bist halt überhaupt nicht die Zielgruppe.”
  • “I find the show really horrible.”
    “Well, you’re not the target group/demographic at all.”
  • Maria ist ein sehr zielstrebiger Mensch.
  • Maria is a very focused/single-minded person.
    (A question for native speakers:  Zielstrebig is 100% positive, to me single-minded has a negative sound… is that the case, or is it a positive trait?)
  • Nach dem Streit mit Maria, wandert Thomas ziellos durch die Stadt.
  • After the argument with Maria, Thomas wanders around the city aimlessly.

Those were just a few examples of course. If you’re in the business or manager world, you might want to also learn stuff like Minimalziel (minimum goal), zielorientiert (goal-oriented) and zielführend (expedient).

  • Also meiner Meinung nach ist Piano in Beispielen nicht zielführend.
  • So, in my opinion, using a piano in examples is not helpful/doesn’t help the cause. (lit: target leading)

Your boss will have a CEO-gasm when you drop that at the right moment during a meeting. There, I just got you a raise :).

All right.
So this was the noun das Ziel. Now let’s take a look at the verb zielen. And this one is actually not all that useful. We learned earlier that it used to be about thriving, working toward a goal. But it has lost pretty much all of that and is now just about taking aim, targeting.

  • Ich ziele auf den Apfel.
  • I aim at the apple.

And only in the very literal sense.
For more abstract targeting or aiming you’d usually use richten an or something.

  • Meine Frage richtet sich an alle, die die C1-Prüfung gemacht haben.
  • My question is aimed at those who sat the C1-Exam.
    (lit.: “directs itself“)
  • Eltern sind wütend, denn die neue Bierwerbung richtet sich offen an Teenager.
  • Parents are outraged because the new beer ad is openly targeted at teenagers specifically.

The only instance where zielen is used in an abstract sense is the ge-form gezielt which can express the idea of specifically.

  • Der neue Virus namens CatSHAME_X3 attackiert gezielt Webseiten von Bloggern, die Online-Dating-Portale nutzen, und ändert die Links.
  • The new Virus called CatSHAME_X3 specifically targets/attacks websites of bloggers who use online dating sites and changes links.
  • So nehmen Sie gezielt am Po ab.
  • Here’s how to lose weight on your butt specifically.

Wait the cat is not what I li… oh… uh… awkward… I uh…
Let’s have a quick look at the one prefix version that matters here. Erzielen is essentially about the result of aiming – getting whatever you were aiming for. The actual translation depends on context but in practice, erzielen is pretty formal sounding and limited to politics and business.

  • Das Unternehmen erzielt hohe Gewinne.
  • The company is making great gains.
  • Auf dem Treffen konnten die Staatschefs eine Einigung erzielen.
  • At the meeting, the heads of state were able to reach an agreement.

It would sound REALLY out of place for reaching C1-level, even though that’s totally a good Ziel to work towards. Or should I say, walk towards?!?! Because don’t forget the wise words of Confucius, that apply especially to learning a language

“Der Weg ist das Ziel. ”

On second thought… screw that. Fluency is das Ziel. Dream big! You can do it. You just got one step closer because you learned Ziel. And to make sure you don’t forget it, here’s a little rhyme.

Ziel – you’ll get there with zeal. 

And if you need something even more visceral… here’s a picture for Ziel that’ll ingrain Ziel in your memory once and for all





What? Cruel? Come on…  I know it’s not nice. But it works. You can thank me in 10 years, when you still know what Ziel means :).

All right, so that’s it for today. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to try out and tell us what your language goal is, let me know in the comments. I hope you liked it, and see you next time.

** vocab **

das Ziel – the goal, target, aim, destination, objective
die Zielgruppe – the target group
das Urlaubsziel – the vacation destination

ziellos – aimless(ly)
zielstrebig – determined, focused, single-minded (sounds 100% positive in German)
zielen – aim, target (only in context of actual projectiles) 
gezielt – specifically, “in a targeted manner”
erzielen – make, reach (finance and politics)

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