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I’ve recently come across the verb genesen and got confused. I had been using erholen, but now I have the suspicion it’s something to do with relaxing? and not actually recovering from an illness?

So if my relative was sick and I wanted to ask if he has recovered yet, would I say:

Ist er schon genesen?
Ich hoffe, dass er genesen ist!

but then how would I use erholen?

and is genesen also for something very serious like recovering from cancer? It feels like its more for say eine Erkältung.

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As an alternative you could also ask: "Ist er wieder gesund?" (Is he healthy/well again). "Ich hoffe er ist bald gesund" (I hope he is healthy soon) – HectorLector Feb 10 '14 at 9:36
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Wer sich von einer Krankheit vollständig erholt hat, ist genesen.

Genesen (Genesung) umfasst den Prozess vom Zustand krank hin zum Zustand gesund.
Erholen (Erholung) ist eine unspezifische Verbesserung des Befindens.

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"Genesen" verwendet man nur bei Krankheiten.

"Erholen" kann man sich auch von einem Schreck, einem anstrengenden Fussballspiel oder vom Arbeitsalltag.

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If you refer to an illness, erholen means feeling better or getting better. Genesen is more like being cured, really being back to health.

Erholen also means relaxing, but in different contexts.

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and is genesen also for something very serious like recovering from cancer?

Not also, but rather.

In contrast erholen you would use if somebody recovered from something that physically compromised him. If you have a slight cold that is hardly noticable, you'd be probably rather asked

Bist du wieder gesund?

or (emphasizing absence of physical impairment due to the illness)

Bist du wieder fit?

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