I was trying to read Die Verwandlung in German and in the first lines I encountered this word in this context:

Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, ...

I'd like to know why erwachen is used and not aufwachen since both are synonyms and intransitive verbs.

Is there any special reason for this?


2 Answers 2


There is. Basically the meaning is absolutely the same, but

  • erwachen - used in literature

  • aufwachen - colloquial, used in everyday speech

Thus, you'd never hear somebody say

Heute bin ich um 6 erwacht, weil...

Except for somebody using it on purpose like that.

Come to think about it, there is a magazine using the imperative of erwachen in it's title
(Disclaimer: I am not a member of that group):

  • If you translate "aufwachen" as "to wake up" and "erwachen" as "to awake", you get pretty much the same connotatins in English.
    – wolfgang
    Mar 2, 2014 at 16:21

A) Wiktionary: http://de.wiktionary.org/wiki/er-

[1] Vorsilbe, die ein Nachgeben oder unter Belastung Verändern ausdrückt

B) Wiktionary: http://de.wiktionary.org/wiki/auf-

[2] Ein Wortteil, der ein Ereignis beschreibt, bei dem etwas ans Licht kommt. [3] Ein Wortteil, der einen Öffnungsprozess markiert.

Also if you are talking about somebody in the 3rd person like in your example. Aufwachen would not sound good. Also its in the third person past tense.

Er erwachte. but Er wachte auf.

Erwachen would be simpler in this case. Your example is related even though

"Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, ..." is close to "Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen aufwachte, ..."

Yet erwachte is easier to roll of ones virtual tongue than aufwachte. Both have three syllables but. erwach is one breath out and the the second breath out

auf is the first breath out, stop, then wachte is the second breath out.

The stopping in the middle even if you just think about it or have to think about it while reading is just an obstacle.

@embert is correct however in that I'd never say ich bin heute früh um 7 erwacht. Why?

Syllables and breaths again. While when reading a smooth flow is good. When you speak the pause gives the listener time to process and think and the speaker a chance to pronounce the word better for better communication. Try pronouncing erwacht bin vs aufgewacht bin. One you can literally shout while playing with the intonation (theatrically) the other not so much although it can be done but whith more effort and it feels less natural. That's why its better used in writing.

I hope that was clear thx.

  • Beim Erwachen lässt nicht etwa das Wachwerden nach oder verändert sich unter einer Belastung, wie Sie mit Bedeutung [1] der Vorsilbe er- anführen, sondern man wird immer wacher und wacher. Das ist ein Prozess des Größerwerdens und entspricht damit Bedeutung [5]. Jun 7, 2017 at 5:22

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