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What is the difference between verbs beschränken and einschränken? Do these two words have the same meaning or maybe they mean something different?

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3 Answers 3

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The two words are synonyms, but you can't simply exchange the one with the other in every case because they are often used in phrases, for example

Dieses Angebot ist beschränkt auf Kunden mit Wohnsitz in der Schweiz.

or

Nach dem Herzinfarkt musste er sich beruflich sehr einschränken.

Here are the the definition of both words in Duden online with some examples:

beschränken

  1. einschränken, begrenzen, einengen
  2. sich mit etwas begnügen
  3. sich erstrecken, gültig sein

einschränken

    • a) verringern, reduzieren; auf ein geringeres Maß herabsetzen
    • b) in etwas einengen
  1. aus einer Zwangslage heraus, um etwas zu erübrigen, die Ausgaben für den Lebensunterhalt klein halten, sich mit wenigem begnügen; bescheiden leben
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beschränken is something to happen, e.g. @splattne

Dieses Angebot ist beschränkt auf Kunden mit Wohnsitz in der Schweiz
meaning: This offer is only for Customers living in Switzerland (also: limited to)

beschränken thus is more of passive for the one experiencing it (the customers either live in Switzerland or not), and generally refers to the object of the sentence as experiencing party.
The subject of the sentence in is the beschränkende/restricting party, meaning it takes action to reduce the freedom of action of the object.

the result of this sentence is the same as above but gives more of the active impression:

Der Verkäufer beschränkt das Angebot auf Kunden in der Schweiz
The seller limits the offer to customers in Switzerland


einschränken is more of reflexive active, meaning: someone restricts his own freedom of action for some reason, again see @splattne:

Nach dem Herzinfarkt musste er sich beruflich sehr einschränken
meaning: he had to restrict himself in career terms after the heart attack

opposing to;

Der Herzinfarkt beschränkte ihn beruflich
meaning: the heart attack restricted him in career terms

einschränken is usually in a reflexive context with sich,
beschränken is usually used with etwas and restricts someonewho does not take action

Of Course you can use einschränken in an active context, and beschränken reflexive, but this is not as common.

In general the meaning is the same and they can be used synonymously, but einschränken in general stands with reflexive sich and beschränken in general stands with a dativic object etwas

@Emanuel:
as correctly added by Emanuel, both words in past participle are often(?) used as adjectives: eingeschränkt and beschränkt.

In this example the words are replaceable:

Die Nutzung von 32-bit Programmen auf 64-bit Systemen ist nur eingeschränkt möglich (also: beschränkt)
The usage of 32-bit programs on 64-bit systems is limited

While here a replacement would change the sense of the sentence

Die Überwachung des öffentlichen Raumes ist nur eingeschränkt möglich
Public area surveillance is only possible within certain (not further clarified) borders

The Surveillance itself has no borders, but these borders cannot be fully exploited, as some other circumstances define a smaller exploitable area

Die Überwachung des öffentlichen Raumes ist nur beschränkt möglich
Public area surveillance is limited (due to the high price of cameras or whatever reason)

The Surveillance itself is limited, and not "restricted" by external influences, but in itself.
At least is this my interpretation. i think you could start a debate about that, which is not my target.

Here the correlation between "restrictor" and "restricted" inverts, opposing to the verbal use. --> eingeschränkt refers to external restrictions and beschränkt to internal.

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"The difference is, einschränken is activity by the one losing freedom of action, and beschränken is more passively accepting restrictions that are externally given, at least in general." This is a bold claim, but I just don't think it is true (I'm a native speaker of German). Do you have any support for this? Also, your answer completely neglects the uses of the participle 2 forms as adjectives for both verbs. This is very common though and certainly reflects the very semantical differences the OP was asking for. An explanation completely based on the "mode" of the verb misses the point. –  Emanuel May 2 '13 at 12:03
    
@Emanuel thanks for your critic, please provide an example for your claim concerning the mode. also thank you for directing my view to the past participle form of these two verbs when given as adjective. i must admit i do not often use that, maybe this is a regional difference? FYI i am native speaker, 17 and Abiturient ;) please do not expect a linguistically correct explanation from me. in my eyes the main difference lies in the "main" mode of the verb and its constructions, but maybe that is just the diference in lifetime? –  Vogel612 May 2 '13 at 12:13
    
So by "mode" I meant the "passive" vs. "reflexive" you mentioned. I think linguistically this is not necessarily called mode but I didn't know what else to call it. As for the use... I don't use the participle 2 that often either but that is because I don't use those verbs very much anyway. I think in newspapers the p2 is very common. There is a difference in meaning between: "- Die Wahlmöglichkeiten werden in Art. 2 eingeschränkt." and "- Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung" and I think the key-difference between the verbs can be found in situations like these. –  Emanuel May 2 '13 at 12:32
    
@Emanuel "passive" is a mode, "reflexive" is not a mode, but a sort of pronomen referring to the subject of the sentence (see wikipedia). the examples you provided are wonderful, i should have used them, i think i got the difference in meaning either way. the problem is, sometimes these two are replacible and somtimes not, the difference in situation is just extremely difficult to explain –  Vogel612 May 2 '13 at 12:38
    
If you need more of those example try out Linguee.com... here's the link: linguee.de/deutsch-englisch/… The English translations might also help flesh out the differences. In this case it looks like beschränken is more "to limit" while einschränken is shifted toward "to restrict" :) –  Emanuel May 2 '13 at 12:42
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Though the two are mostly synomymous, there is a slight difference between the two and there are cases in which only one of the two is used. However, it is really difficult to pinpoint the difference (even for a native speaker). I will try anyway:

einschränken is the only option, if the limitation is in respect to some reference:

Der Schnee schränkt den Verkehr ein. – The snow impedes traffic. Here the reference are the normal conditions for traffic.

Die Funktionen des Druckers sind eingeschränkt. – The features of the printer are limited. Here the reference are other printers. The printer in question might, e.g., lack network capability.

Dank der Hinweise konnten wir die Liste der Verdächtigen weiter einschränken – Thanks to te clues we could further reduce the list of suspects.

beschränken is the only option, if the limitation can be directly expressed in form of a clearly defined threshold or area:

Die Celsius-Skala is nach unten beschränkt. – The Celsius scale is bounded from below. Here the threshold is −273 °C.

Das Angebot ist auf Deutschland und Österreich beschränkt. – The offer is limited to Germany and Austria.

Die Nutzung der Rutsche ist auf Kinder unter 12 Jahren beschränkt. – Usage of the slide is limited to children under 12.

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