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.

Of course there are also lots of compounds.

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).

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.

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

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

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

Ziel – visual mnemonic

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)

for members :)

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You left out the “ist” from “Maria ist als zweite ins Ziel gelaufen.”

For me, single-minded does not have to be negative at all. That said, I don’t think I would typically use it to describe a person.

Tom is single-minded. >> doesn’t sound quite right to me, needs something more
Tom is single-minded in his pursuit of that girl. >> sounds ok
Tom has been practicing his German with a single-minded determination that puts his classmates to shame. >> sounds ok

Also, you probably know this, but “to sit an exam” strikes me as very British. I think most Americans would say “to take an exam.”


As usual, I enjoyed my bit of German – thank you so much!

I agree with Jake, I’d be more likely to use “single minded” as a description of a specific effort. However, I have heard it used as a general description of a person. I don’t get any negativity with it either way. However, I have heard “Tom is stubborn” used in place of “Tom is single-minded” which does give it a slightly negative connotation. I personally don’t think ‘single-minded’ and “stubborn” are exactly the same – “single-minded” has a more focused, zielstrebig feeling, while ‘stubborn’ is a relatively mindless attitude.

In “So, in my opinion piano in examples is not expedient/doesn’t help the cause.” It just sounds incomplete to me, it stopped the flow of the sentence, though I could just be odd. At any rate, I would have used “..in my opinion, using piano in examples…” Would the German sentence turn out any different?

In “Ziel der Übung ist es, ..” Even on a sales blurb, I would expect an article in English, “THE aim of the workout is..” I guess the same feeling does not hold in the German version.

However, one day thanks in part to your efforts here, I WILL have more than enough German Sprachgefühl to be much more sure of these questions myself. Thank you very much!!


Agree with the others. I would add that single-minded is only negative to the extent that you disagree with the person’s goal. And even then the term carries a sense of grudging respect. “The Terminator is single-minded in his pursuit of Sarah Connor.” As Jeff said, the word always needs some context, but in my opinion it is essentially neutral.

On the other hand, if you say someone has a “one-track mind”, that’s kind of a negative (i.e. said more in dismay than admiration).

Trying hard to think of a word that is unambiguously positive/complimentary. English has a tendency to make a vice out of virtue. (See “proud”, “ambitious”, etc.)

Thanks for the post!


Er, Jake… beg your pardon

Sabine Alice

Thank you, Danke, Merci!!! Love your posts, they are perfect companions to (my attempts at) learning German!

Jamie Shepherd
Jamie Shepherd

Here are some helpful „Verben-Nomen Verbindungen“ for everyone:

1. to target something/set a target

ein Ziel ins Auge fassen
sich etwas zum Ziel setzen
das Ziel stecken

2. to make goals

Ziele um•setzen/planen/entwickeln/formulieren

3. to reach a goal

das Ziel erreichen

4. to miss a goal

das Ziel verfehlen

5. to overshoot a goal

über das Ziel hinaus•schießen

6. to not deviate from a goal

nicht vom Ziel ab•lassen


Yes, I would think that “focused” is the best option for a “zielstrebig” person, if I understand your excellent explanations well. No negative connotations at all.

Pianos – the English comes across as referring to the use of the word “piano” rather than actual pianos (or even “sugar in coffee”). After some consideration, I think that in English, to distinguish between ”use of the word X” and “use of X” would have to be contextual (or actually use punctuation! One can’t count on that any more…) – it’s amazingly subtle for a piano!! :-D


In your example: “Das Team hat das Ziel aus dem Auge verloren.” you translated it as “The team lost sight of their main objective.” Would “main objective” usually be more like hauptziel?


“So, in my opinion using a piano in examples is not expedient/doesn’t help the cause.”

I don’t think “expedient” is a good translation here for zielführend as it has slightly negative connotations – eg “It was politically expedient to freeze the tax but it made the deficit worse.” “Expedient” usually implies something that is less than ideal.


I forgot to say that I can’t think of a single English word that really does justice to “zielführend”. “Helpful” is the nearest I can think of. One up to German!


Does “abzielen auf” have the same meaning in most cases as “sich richten an”? I looked it up and, like one of your examples, the example there also involved Werbung.

And how about “anzielen”? Is it just a more targeted, precise aiming at something?

Great post!


As well as das Ziel, I’ve learned der Po. (Sheltered life?) I’m wondering how the latter relates to the English expression “po-faced”?

The different readings of the piano example are interesting. With just “piano” my interpretation would be that it referred to music played on a piano, rather than any other instrument(s) or voice(s). With “a piano” I’d think it probable that an instrument would be visible. ….But I’d expect the instrument to be called das Klavier in German. Is das Piano more commonly used?


Cool article. I like the example with the navigation system, do you know if they say it like that in English systems or did you just guess?

I saw “auf etw. abzielen” already in the comments. There is also “auf etw. hinzielen” with about the same meaning, probably less common. I would say the difference between the two is that “abzielen” has a more clear objective and you can already do actions for that while “hinzielen” is more for goals far away that you just hope with your actions to get there. Anyway, here is an example:

“Seine Bestechung zielt darauf ab, den Wettkampf zu gewinnen.” = “His bribery is aimed with at winning the competition.”
“Mit seinem Training zielt er darauf hin, den Wettkampf zu gewinnen.” = “His training is aimed with at winning the competition.”

Till next time, I’m aiming to tune in.


“Seine Bestechung zielt darauf ab, den Wettkampf zu gewinnen.” = “His bribery is aimed at winning the competition.”
“Mit seinem Training zielt er darauf hin, den Wettkampf zu gewinnen.” = “His training is aimed at winning the competition.”

Hugh Warren
Hugh Warren

My mother used to say that her mother used to say “I am single minded, you are obstinate, he is pig-headed”. So it’s less negative than the others, but depends quite a bit on context. If the situation calls for focus then it’s positive, but if a bit of lateral thinking or sympathy for alternate points of view
is required then it can be negative.


Hugh, I remember both my mother and grandmother saying that! I’m not sure the point was understood by all members… :-D


Look what you did…. wrong target :-( comment image


Thank you so much I love this blog, and I enjoy reading the discussions regarding the english expressions so I improve my english as well.


To Ruth (the other one): Love it!


I personally feel single-minded usually has a negative connotation to it. I think “focus” is a good single word translation here. Most of the other translations to keep the same meaning require a phrase. My boss tells me I’m “zielstrebig” all the time (only in English lol). He says things like “I’m focused on the task” “See it through to completion” “know it inside and out” “detail-oriented”. I personally like “focused” the best though, because it reminds me of the phrase “focused on the task at hand”.


I am poor and cannot donate to you at this time, but thank you so much; I truly enjoy your site.


The English word zeal: great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective.