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I often hear both variants:

Der Zug ist scheinbar schon abgefahren.
Der Zug ist anscheinend schon abgefahren.

Is there a difference in meaning or can both expressions be used interchangeably?

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An entry in the Zwiebelfisch-ABC explains the difference. Sick also devoted an article of his column to it. –  musiKk Nov 29 '11 at 8:36

3 Answers 3

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Mixing them up is a common mistake. In fact so common that the Duden decided to add the definition of "anscheinend" to "scheinbar", too. It's marked as "selten", though.

"Anscheinend" is used if something looks like it is the case. "Es hat den Anschein."

Er schläft anscheinend.

You think he is sleeping.

"Scheinbar" is used if you know something is pretended/simulated. "Etwas zum Schein tun."

Er schläft scheinbar.

You know he is not sleeping, just pretending to do so.

In your first sentence the train is faking its departure. In the second it looks like the train has already left.

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Please maintain a neutral point of view. Also, be careful about labeling something a "mistake" just because you don't like it. Using "Gartenzaun" to mean "anscheinend" is a mistake; using "scheinbar" to mean "anscheinend" is not. Hundreds of thousands of native speakers do just that every single day, so it's clearly an integral part of the language. It's a different register, that much is for sure, and you probably won't encounter it in formal writing. But then say just that. "Mistake" is a misnomer; informal ≠ ungrammatical, and colloquial ≠ wrong. –  RegDwight Nov 28 '11 at 21:40
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@RegDwight: Thousands of native speakers say "wegen dem" or "einzigsten". That does not make it correct. It is wrong. It doesn't matter how many people do it wrong. And before the last Duden edition, there was always a warning not to confuse "anscheinend" and "scheinbar". It is a mistake. A big one. Because they mean two totally different things. –  John Smithers Nov 28 '11 at 21:45
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My problem with people saying "scheinbar" when they really mean "anscheinend" is that I get the feeling, that they want to impress but in reality use the wrong word. However I guess I have to live with the fact that the meaning of the two words gets kinda blurry; IMO thats kind of sad if you had two words with distinct meanings. –  0x6d64 Nov 28 '11 at 23:31
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I agree with @JohnSmithers. Just because everybody uses a word or phrase doesn't make it correct. If that were the case, our language would degenerate to a mess of unstructured utterances in the shortest amount of time. –  musiKk Nov 29 '11 at 8:33
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Scheinbar richtige Antwort. Oder? ;-) –  splattne Nov 29 '11 at 11:48

Unfortunately, bernd_k's answer is as correct as John Smithers'.

Still, if you value the subtle differences, it's good to know them. "Anscheinend" does not make a statement as to the veracity of the appearance, while "scheinbar" does. A synonym for "anscheinend" is "augenscheinlich" (with maybe a hint of a doubt in it).

There are also some more subtly different variations, "offenbar" and "offensichtlich": The appearance is obviously true.

Offenbar schläft er.

Everyone can see that he is really sleeping.

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I think when you ask most native speakers if they are aware of the difference, the answer would be no.

They have to look up the difference and it doesn't really matter to them.

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