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Is there a difference between anschalten and einschalten?

If I turn on the TV, oven, heat, start the car etc., can either verb be used?

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2  
related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/2480/… – Takkat Jan 18 '13 at 10:26
    
Note that there's a similar pair for the opposite: abschalten and ausschalten – ssc Jan 23 '13 at 19:07
3  
To start a car: ein Auto anlassen (neither anschalten nor einschalten nor einlassen) – Christian Graf Jan 26 '13 at 17:30
    
To start [the car, a motor] you use anspringen – Itamara Xavier Jul 7 at 19:54
1  
Not exactly, there is a difference between who is acting. Ich starte den Motor, das Auto springt an. – Robert Jul 7 at 20:16

Generally both words einschalten and anschalten mean the same thing. Duden defines them as

durch Betätigen eines Schalters in Betrieb setzen

Thus you can ein- and anschalten the following things:

  • Licht
  • Fernseher, Radio, Computer
  • Mikrowelle, Ofen
  • Heizung
  • ...

While I would use einschalten rather than anschalten in most cases, Google shows a lot of hits for anschalten though. I assume a regional difference in respect to frequency. Others may elaborate on this thought.

In case of heating, however, I'd use einschalten and anschalten when activating the heating system in autumn (i.e. it was completely shut down during summer); and anmachen (colloquial version of einschalten and anschalten, respectively), aufdrehen or hochdrehen (drehen defines the sort of action/movement you do when you turn on a radiator) when it's cold and I want the radiator to work.

In the end, it's similar to turn on/off and switch on/off in English. You can interchange them quite often as well.

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+1 especially for mentioning anmachen, which I would use for any to turn on I can think of. ... and then of course there is also anstellen. I'd say ___schalten is not used that much, at least not in the Berlin area. – Emanuel Jan 18 '13 at 21:06
    
I only ever heard _machen in Hessen, mostly from teenagers. I did hear _schlaten a few times though. _machen was even more frequent in cases like reinmachen or hinmachen as well. Seemed a little lazy xD – Ledda Dec 13 '13 at 9:00
    
You can additionally, use einschalten in the sense of getting someone involved: die Polizei/Behörden/Eltern einschalten. – Thorsten Dittmar Jul 8 at 8:52

The meaning is the same. Einschalten is used way more commonly in written and spoken German. Anschalten is used less, only in spoken German and is the less formal word.

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The ngram on the following four forms shows a superior usage of einschalten and a slight augmentation concerning anschalten since the turn of the millenium

eingeschaltet - blue
angeschaltet - red
einschalten - green
anschalten - orange

enter image description here

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While I also consider anschalten and einschalten as mostly synonymous (no difference in your examples), I'd like to add the following

Anschalten has a (rarely used) additional meaning, which I would consider as technical term and which relates to the equally rarely used substantive Anschaltung:

This means, to

add some device to an already existing wiring

and has a very similar meaning to anschließen (connect).

Examples (unfortunately for Anschaltung only, since internet search for anschalten apparently yields only false positives):

  • Anschaltung zusätzlicher Endgeräte
  • DSL-Anschaltung
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Although both terms usually mean to turn things on, "Einschalten" can also be used for persons or departments when they are brought into something. Like:

Er hat einen Rechtsanwalt eingeschaltet.

Die Polizei hat sich eingeschaltet.

Das Amt für Migration schaltet sich ein.

You could not use anschalten for this purpose.

If you want to turn someone on, you couldn't use neither einschalten nor anschalten, but anmachen.

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