Word of the Day – “zwingen”

Hello everyone,

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

zwingen

 

Imagine a day in late spring. Sunny, balmy, a slight gentle breeze, the birds are singing. And all your friends including your new crush are going to have a BBQ at the lake at which your favorite band will play at sunset. For free. But… you have like the most important paper ever to hand in the next day and so far you’ve done:
nothing.
That’s when it’s time for zwingen.
And no, it does not mean “to screw the paper”. …

Zwingen is about making someone do something they don’t want to do. And not by subtle manipulation. So in one word… zwingen is to force.

  • Der neue Manager, ein Veganer, zwingt die Angestellten dazu, Sojamilch zu trinken.
  • The team manager, who is a vegan,  forces/coerces the staff to drink soy milk.
  • “Stell mein Bier wieder hin!”
    “Nein!”
    Zwing mich nicht, dir weh zu tun.”
  • “Put my beer down!”
    “No!”
    “Don’t force me to hurt you!”
  • Maria wurde im Kindergarten dazu gezwungen, Spinat zu essen.
  • In kindergarten Maria was forced to eat spinach.
  • Eine Reparatur der Kaffeemaschine ist zwingend notwendig.
  • Repair of the coffee machine is absolutely mandatory/an absolute must.

I feel like zwingen is actually a little bit stronger than to force. Or maybe it’s just the sound of the word. Zwingen. Sounds like someone is pinching your arm.
And that’s actually kind of where the word comes from. The origin is a Germanic verb that was about the idea of compressing something by force. And wouldn’t that make a lot of sense if this verb was connected to the same ancient Indo-European root as the words zwei and two? Like… you pinch someone’s arm between your fingers? I mean, come on… how much sense would that make? Exactly… all the sense in the celestial sphere. Scientists will say it’s false, that the words are not related. But that’s just their opinion, man. This… this compulsion to be scientifically accurate … it is totally out of control. The word being related feels right, that’s what should matter, damn it.
Anyway, speaking of compulsion…  that brings us right to the noun for zwingen der Zwang.
Zwang is part of like a bazillion useful compounds and the translation depends on context but the idea is always that there is some form of forcing going on, either internal or external.

  • Der Komiker leidet unter dem Zwang lustig sein zu müssen.
  • The comedian suffers under the urge/pressure to be funny.
  • Gruppenzwang ist eine starke Kraft.
  • Peer pressure is a strong force.
    (is there a word for peer pressure that is completely independent of age and social group? Just for the group you’re with at a given moment? Thanks a lot :)
  • Wegen dem Stromausfall muss das Team eine Zwangspause einlegen.
  • Because of the power outage the team is forced to take an (unwanted) break.
  • In dem Casino ist Krawattenzwang.
  • In the casino a neck tie is required/compulsory.
  • Krawattenzwang ist auch nur eine Zwangstörung.
  • A Compulsory tie is just another form of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).
  • Thomas findet, dass Maria einen leichten Waschzwang hat.
  • Thomas thinks that Maria has a slight compulsion to wash her hands (ablutomania).
  • Was seinen Schreibtisch angeht, ist Thomas echt zwanghaft.
  • When it comes to his desk, Thomas is obsessional. (Thomas is obsessive when it comes to his desk.)

Those were but a few examples and there are lots of other Zwänge out there. There’s even one for German verbs … the Präfixversionszwang (the compulsion for prefixes :). That’s a super strong one and only few verbs are strong enough to resist it.
Zwingen is pretty strong though because there are only three versions. Aufzwingen is basically to force something onto someone, but it’s pretty rare.

  • Thomas ist mit dem ihm von Maria aufgezwungenen Zölibats-Monat nicht so glücklich.
  •  Thomas isn’t that happy with the celibacy-months that was forced upon him by Maria.

Then there are erzwingen and bezwingen. The er- adds the usual idea of reaching something through the action. So it’s mostly a grammatical difference to zwingen.

  • Man kann niemanden zwingen, gute Laune zu haben.
  • You can’t force someone to be in a good mood. (the person forced is the direct object)

     

  • Gute Laune kann man nicht erzwingen.
  • You can’t force a good mood. (the goal of the coercion is the direct object)
  • Mittels Sexentzug hat Maria einen Opernbesuch erzwungen.
  • Using sex withdrawal, Maria forced/(got) a visit to the opera.

And last but not least, we have bezwingen. The be- does a very vague intensifying here, and bezwingen basically means to subdue. So it’s kind of a general once-and-for-all-zwingen if that makes sense.

  • Thomas hat seine Höhenangst bezwungen.
  • Thomas subdued/overcame his fear of heights.

All right.
So, I’d actually say that’s enough for one day. We’ve covered everything and our heads are filled with plenty of examp…  oh… what’s that… there’s another word running toward us. I hope it doesn’t want to get in on this post… oh… oh no, it does want to get in. Hey… hey…

zw… ugh

SIR, we’re full…

zwä… ugh… sorry…. zwä…ngen

Too late, it squeezed itself in.  Now you’re wondering what’s this stupidity about? Well, zwängen is an offspring of zwingen and Zwang and it’s about forcing something into a rather tight location. Like a verb squeezing itself into a post that’s already quite full ;).
Technically, zwängen is not a reflexive verb. So you can zwängen something somewhere. A rock formation for instance can zwängen a creek into a narrow path or you can zwängen your belly into those pants that  used to fit  still totally fit.
But in practice, you’ll mostly see zwängen used with people squeezing themselves in somewhere.

  • Der dicke Mann versucht sich in den vollen Bus zu zwängen.
  • The chubby man tries to squeeze himself into the packed bus.
  • Maria zwängt sich in ihre alte Jeans.
  • Maria forces/squeezes herself into her old jeans.

Oh, and it doesn’t really work in abstract senses. So you can’t zwängen yourself into a certain job, for example. That would be another word. Wait… I can actually see it… it’s running toward us. But now we’re REALLY full. Quick, let’s wrap this up before it gets here :).
This was our look at the meaning of zwingen. It is absolutely NOT related to zwei and two but thinking of it in terms of two fingers squeezing your arm helps a great deal to remember that it means to force, to coerce.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to try out some examples, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab **

jemanden (akk) zu etwas zwingen – force, coerce
jemandem etwas aufzwingen – force something onto someone

bezwingen – to defeat (sounds a bit pompous)
erzwingen – get by coersion

der Zwang – the compulsion, coercion, pressure
der Gruppenzwang – the peer pressure
der Waschzwang – compulsion to wash yourself
Zwangsstörung – (obsessive) compulsive disorder
Zwangspause – forced break
Zwangsjacke – straitjacket
Zwangsehe – forced marriage
Zwangsversteigerung – forced auction
Zwangsräumung – forced eviction

zwanglos – casual, without pressure
der Zwinger – cage for dogs, castle in Dresden

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david_l
david_l
1 month ago

From the examples I’ve seen online it appears that ‘wurde gezwungen, + zu clause’ is significantly more popular than ‘wurde dazu gezwungen, + zu clause’. Is this just colloquial or is the dazu a completely optional thing for extra emphasis?

david_l
david_l
1 month ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Youre seriously the best. If i wanted to ask a professor at uni something by email they wouldnt answer for a week haha

Vorlaufer
Vorlaufer
2 years ago

I learned to enjoy beer from my peers in university. Think that would be called Bierzwang.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Also, Ist Schwanger jemand der ein Baby in den Bauch gezwäng hat?

crittermonster
4 years ago

What I really love is finding German buried under the dust that covers some English idioms. I find them so often I really ought to star writing ’em all down, but this is a particularly good one so I’m going to comment on it right now, before I forget.

In American English everyone uses the phrase “swing it”, which refers to something being possible. “Party tonight– think you can swing it?” “Movie starts at 7….sure the traffic is bad…but I think if we hurry, we could swing it.” “I bet I could swing a trip to Vegas next month if I save up.”

Na dann. You tell me if that isn’t just exactly what the “forcing” or “squeezing in” Zwang is all about? And here we’re just using it, never even questioning where it even came from or what it means. Seriously, NO ONE has ever stopped to think about it, ever. And there are a ton of these. The US has had so many German immigrants, my guess is that some kid generation (mis)heard their Old Country relatives using some words and picked them up as slang. Give it a couple of centuries and we have what seem like home-grown idioms that are actually just some straight-up Deutsch.

This is why learning yer Sprache macht mir such total Spaß, Alter. Keep on rockin’ it.

wiseguy
5 years ago

So, would you use “zwingen” when you are trying to say that someone made you do something? Like “He made me laugh” or “my mom made me clean my room” or “I made her wash my car”. Would it be “Er hat mich gezwungen, zu lachen” Meine Mutti hat mich gezwungen, mein Zimmer zu putzen” and “Ich habe sie gezwungen, mein Auto zu waschen.”? Or is there a more common way to say someone made me do something?

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

hey, the English word for Zwangsjacke is “straitjacket”! ;)

melisjansen
melisjansen
5 years ago

I am oddly fascinated by that North Korean boy drinking moonshine with his white supremacist friends. Do you have any stories about him? :D

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  melisjansen

I think this is the guy after he drank ALL the moonshine:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HI-VD2bgGeM

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Sorry got mixed up. That’s the Korean guy that drank all the Kool-Aid.

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

Hi asskorka

3: not wrong but better “Wir mögen es, im Park zu laufen”

4: Your sentence can be a very elegant way of saying “you may draw in the afternoon” but I guess you wanted to translate “like”, in that case it’s “Ihr mögt es, am Nachmittag zu zeichnen.”

5: Meine Mutter hat gesagt, ich soll mehr schlafen. (I is not capitalized in German)

6: Mutter, darf ich heute Abend zu einer Party gehen? Your word order is not incorrect but a little bit unusual.

7: Am Strand darf ich sonnenbaden.

8: Ich weiss, wie der Name vom Deutschlehrer lautet (or ist – both possible). (sorry I’ve got a swiss keyboard without the sharp s – keep the weiss like in your example.

Try to use a keyboard with the Umlauts (äüö) or use ae, ue, oe instead.

Hope this helps;-)

asskorka
asskorka
5 years ago

hello everybody !
I’m a beginer here. Recently I’ve benn studing rather A-level lectures, and I did some practise about modals. Could You pleas check if my sentences with modals are correct – I always learn 10 times more if I did my own examples, but I could have done an mistake.

Thanks for comments – best , Agata

1. Ich muss Morgen mein Zimmer aufraumen.

2. Sie will dieses Kleid kaufen.

3. Wir mogen im Park laufen.

4. Ihr mogt am Nachmittag zeichen.

5. Meine Mutter hat gesagt Ich soll meher schafen.

6. Mutter, darf Ich zu einer Party heute Abend gehen ?

7. Am Strand draft Ich sonnenbaden.

8. Herr Jackob kann Klavier spielen.

9. Ich weiß wie der Name von Deutsch Lehrer ist.

Robert Lamborn
Robert Lamborn
5 years ago

Related to peer pressure: conformity, conformism, the pressure to conform (to those around you), social pressure, group pressure, group-think, normative pressure; or bizarre and unnecessary combinations of these (normative group social pressure).

Josh
Josh
5 years ago

Thank you to anybody who donates to this site! Because of you i am able to use this site for free since I cannot pay. Thank all of y’all so much! What y’all do really does make a difference!

person243
person243
5 years ago

Great article. I like how you hint to a connection to “to twinge” (zwicken), although there is probably none, or is there?
Anyway, “zwingen” is also one of these few verbs whose participle I (present participle), I mean “zwingend”, is rather useful. You mentioned it as a kind of intensifier (“zwingend notwendig” = “absolutely mandatory”). Which is the most common way to use it, I would say. It gives the verb, you use it on, higher importance and makes it sound stricter. In your example, without the “zwingend”, you would still deem it necessary but wouldn’t tell that it is that important to you. (Although you stay quite objective, other than with the rhyming partner “dringend/Drang” which is about urgency and shows much more feeling.)
It is also used alone as an adjective: “Es gab zwingende Gründe dafür.” = “There were compulsory reasons for that.” (For the adjective “forced” you would use “erzwungen”; “forced peace” = “erzwungener Frieden”)

That reminds me of something. Just tell me, if you don’t want stuff like that here. I once watched an American tv-show, can’t remember what it was, anyway, they were in Germany on a tour, and they asked about the time between 1933 and 1945. A legit question of course but the German man depicted in the tv-show got angry and shouted that there was nothing and quit the conversation. Which is not the way that I and I guess the most Germans learned how to handle this shameful past. Of course that is nothing a German likes to talk about but not talking about it and hush it up (“es totzuschweigen”) is just plain wrong.
So long story short, if we talk about the word “Zwang”, we should not avoid the word “Zwangsarbeit” (forced labor). Not because we like or admire this despicable practice but because we should remember in order to never do the same mistakes.

person243
person243
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Well, it got rather political there. No idea, why. I somehow got carried away (“die Pferde sind mit mir durchgegangen”). I had wanted it to be less heavy, with less pathos, a bit “ungezwungener” (more casual).

5 years ago

just a question: in the summary, do you mean
zwingen jemanden (akk.) zu (mit Dativ)

Jamie
Jamie
5 years ago

Hi, can you please explain why “einlegen” is used in this sentence: “Wegen dem Stromausfall muss das Team eine Zwangspause einlegen.” I thought “man macht eine Pause”—“man kann eine Pause auch einlegen?” What is another example of einlegen?

TheAlchemistress
5 years ago

I agree with many of the comments about peer pressure often being used generally to mean someone chose a course of action to “fit in.” I also thought of a social pressure phrase [that does not work in poor Jing’s camping adventure example]-“keeping up with the Joneses”–the self-imposed pressure to be as good as, if not better than, those in some social group. At work there is the corporate “group think” and socially there is, as mentioned, the “herd mentality [and “drinking the KoolAid”].

Just love this site–for entertainment value as well as tackling those frisky German language rules.

billkamm
billkamm
5 years ago

Your translation for “Stell mein Bier wieder hin!” is “Put my beer down!”. What is the purpose of the word “wieder” here. I don’t see what it adds to the meaning of the sentence if it doesn’t take on the literal meaning of “again”.

NN
NN
5 years ago

Du hast über der Wort Zwinger nicht geschrieben.
Und der bekannten Dresdner Zwinger.

P.S.
War ist richtig ?

NN
NN
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Schraubzwinge ist ein gutes Wort.
Rede über ‘Schraub’, kann Man dieses Wort als Slang Verb benutzen wie im English ? :)

Yort
Yort
5 years ago

Wir werden dich vielleicht ZWINGEN muessen, die Gewinner der Adventswettbewerbe in einen Beitrag zu ZWAENGEN

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
5 years ago

I’m trying to think of how to respond to the “peer pressure” thing… I’d say “group pressure” or maybe “herd mentality” would work well, but honestly, I’m not sure how limited “peer pressure” is for many English speakers to actual peers (people of the same age/social standing or whatever). If you hadn’t asked about it, I don’t think it would have occurred to me that “peer pressure” isn’t quite the same as “Gruppenzwang.”

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I notice dict.cc also translates Gruppenzwang as “group pressure” but I can’t claim to be familiar with that phrase nor can I come up with anything better. I think most people would instead say something like “…purely to fit in” or “…just so as not to be rude”.

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

It would sound a little odd. I do understand “peers” to mean people of the same age and social group. For me this is also tinged a bit with the fact that members of our House of Lords are also known as “Peers of the Realm”, given their equivalent, elevated social rank.

Yort
Yort
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I get what you’re saying, I wouldn’t say “peer pressure” in that kind of situation – I would just say someone was pressured (or felt pressured) into doing it. Often with this kind of thing people will refer to a “herd mentality” – for example, you might join into a riot with a bunch of random people (not necessarily of your age, race, etc.) at a train station because you got “caught up in the herd mentality.”

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yeah, I guess it would sound odd if you’re throwing in lots of details that contradict the “peer” thing… Of course, in that case the incongruity of “peer pressure” would be one of the LESS weird things about the whole situation :)

Outside of the phrase “peer pressure,” I think the word “peer(s)” means “age/social equals” pretty strongly. But while I’d most commonly associate “peer pressure” with kids/teenagers trying to fit in with their friends, I think the “peers” could be defined pretty flexibly to include members of any group you belong to, as long as there’s some level of community feel. You sometimes hear the phrase “a jury of one’s peers,” at least in the US, where trial by jury is a constitutional right, and in that case said “peers” are also considered to be potentially pretty diverse.

I imagine this is one where US and UK perceptions could be different – I’m aware of “Peers” with reference to the English aristocracy, but it’s not really part of my own language world.

RuthE
RuthE
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

In the case where the ‘peer’ bit doesn’t fit with the situation, I would have used ‘social pressure’ to describe what happened to poor Jiing. However, I’m not sure how common that phrase is, because my family members (teachers, psychologists, social workers) have used it for years. And yes, my English Sprachgefühl objects to using “peer” in the example you describe.

RuthE
RuthE
5 years ago
Reply to  RuthE

(Forgot to notify myself of new comments…)

SamC
SamC
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

This example sounds good to me. Although certainly the immediate image that comes to mind when you hear “peer pressure” is a bad 90’s anti-drug psa, people definitely use peer pressure to describe when a person is pressured by the larger group of people who are not in the strictest sense your peers. Certainly conversationally I would say peer pressure. And peer pressure if the most common phrase describing this phenomenon. If I were writing a paper, however it may raise an eyebrow.

colehickman
colehickman
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

That would not sound weird at all. I mean, I guess you could say that the North Korean kid gave into “group pressure” but that sounds like you’re overcomplicating the word (it almost sounds bookish, and I don’t even know if a book would say it). I agree that the term “peer” is very flexible when it comes to the word “peer pressure”, in terms of defining what a “peer” is.

Herd mentality is something that I would associate with larger group movements, and it implies doing something mindlessly, whereas peer pressure implies that you probably thought about something first and decided against it (against your better judgment). You know when you’re coming out of the U-Bahn and an escalator that normally works isn’t working, so everybody kind of stops for a second and looks at it before they get on and walk normally? That’s herd mentality. I wouldn’t say that they were doing that out of peer pressure :)

jaredfryer
jaredfryer
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

‘social pressure’ would work

Yort
Yort
5 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Whoops, I just noticed I unintentionally repeated your suggestion of “herd mentality” below. Also I’m guessing purely based on your username and picture that you’re a liberal Mennonite missionary living short-term in Berlin :)

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
5 years ago
Reply to  Yort

Conservative, Presbyterian, long-term. :)

But I do come from Mennonite stock and probably look the part…

Tony Mountifield
5 years ago

Another Zwang that is ubiquitous in the English-speaking chess world is Zugzwang – compulsion to move. It is used to describe a position which would be fine if it were your opponent’s turn to move, but it’s actually your turn and all the available moves make your position much worse or lose.