German Language Stack Exchange is a bilingual question and answer site for speakers of all levels who want to share and increase their knowledge of the German language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

During conversation, I've seen both words used singularly as a question:




In this context, are they both essentially the same as the English:


More specifically, in which contexts might these two words not be interchangeable?

share|improve this question
Note: Another translation of Really? is Echt? This is rather common. – Hendrik Vogt Apr 5 '12 at 5:07
up vote 13 down vote accepted

"Ehrlich" is about being honest, while "wirklich" is about being real. The difference in usage is practically the same as in English.

For example, someone can be real, but dishonest:

Er ist nicht ehrlich.

means "he is not honest", while

Er ist nicht wirklich.

would mean, that he's not real.

In the example you gave, "ehrlich?" also would literally translate to "honestly?", but it is used often in cases where the English would simply ask "really?". This not wrong, it also depends on the situation. In a philosophical way, "honestly?"/"ehrlich?" can be asked and answered in all cases, while "really?"/"wirklich?" can not always be answered/known.

share|improve this answer

In that context both mean almost the same, I don't think that there is a distinction. (At least not regarding the intention of the question)

In general wirklich refers a bit more to being true while ehrlich is more like telling the truth.

You can compare them better taking the substantives Wirklichkeit und Ehrlichkeit

Wirklichkeit: [alles] das, Bereich dessen, was als Gegebenheit, Erscheinung wahrnehmbar, erfahrbar ist DUDEN

Ehrlichkeit: das Ehrlichsein (1a); Aufrichtigkeit, Wahrhaftigkeit DUDEN

  • Everything what is given and is perceivable and tangible is wirklich.
  • If you are sincere, candid, .. then you are ehrlich.

Note: wirklich is often used to emphasize that you mean something exactly as you say it:

Das ist wirklich toll.

share|improve this answer


honestly, not lying, a person is "ehrlich" if he/she is saying the truth.


The noun "Wirklichkeit" means "reality". Somethis is "wirklich" if it really exists. Those people are "wirklich": Arnold Schwarzenegger, Albert Einstein, Julius Cäsar. Those are not "wirklich": Donald Duck, Sherlock Holmes, Jean Luc Picard.

If you are told an unbelieveable story like: "Russians have been on moon before Apollo 11", then, in German, you could ask both, "wirklich?" or "ehrlich?". If you ask "wirklich?" then you want to know if the fact you just heard is true (subject of the question is the fact itself). If you ask "ehrlich?" then you ask, if the storyteller is telling the truth or not (subject of your question is the storyteller)

share|improve this answer
Perhaps could be compared to "wirklich - wow seriously?" and ehrlich - "are you kidding me?" – Siddhartha Feb 28 at 19:02

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.