I was wondering how could you ask for the meaning of a word in German. I'm a bit surprised that a Google search for "ask for word meaning in German" didn't provide any direct useful link.

After searching for "to mean" in a dictionary I found that "what does that mean?" is translated as

Was bedeutet das?

so I wonder if

Was bedeutet [Wort]?

is a correct way to ask what a word means in German.

Also I'm interested in knowing if there are other or better ways to ask for the meaning of a word.

  • If you google for "ask for word meaning in German" you find this question here now. So, your statement isn't valid any more :D
    – Em1
    May 21 '14 at 11:08
  • cleared close votes after post edits (close reason invalid).
    – Takkat
    May 21 '14 at 11:12
  • @Em1 now no other one will need to ask the same question ;)
    – Avalander
    May 21 '14 at 11:19

Yes, it is correct and my personal favourite. But there are also alternatives:

Wie muss ich [Wort] verstehen?

Können Sie mir [Wort] erklären? Ich verstehe es nicht.

Können Sie mir erklären, was [Wort] bedeutet? Ich verstehe es nicht.

Or the always popular and infamous:


  • 1
    In context of languages I also use "heißen"... Was heißt blah blah auf Deutsch." I think this (translation) is what OP is going for and not the so much the "how am I supposed to understand this" which would be the second of your examples.
    – Emanuel
    May 21 '14 at 7:42
  • 4
    The fifth variant is, arguably, the only feasible option in Hessen.
    – Raphael
    May 21 '14 at 7:54
  • Additionally: Was heißt [Wort]?
    – user6191
    May 21 '14 at 8:23
  • Thank you for the suggestion of 'Häh'. Instead of asking 'Wie muss ich [Wort] verstehen?', I would rather include the term 'Begriff' to avoid confusion: "Könnten Sie mir die Bedeutung des Begriffs [Wort] erklären?". A little more complex, though. May 21 '14 at 8:47
  • 2
    Thanks everybody for the input. I updated the question to meet the requirements. Maybe you want to update your answer in order to fit better to the updated question (:
    – Avalander
    May 21 '14 at 10:28

so I wonder if "was bedeutet [Wort]?" is a correct way to ask what a word means in German.

Yes, that would be a perfectly valid question for the meaning of [Wort].

If that would be your complete sentence, though, it could possibly be taken as a little rude or you could be taken as non-serious, as it is lacking any politeness (It depends, obviously. Most folk's won't take it bad, but if you are about to take an interview, this would not be best practice)

Personally, I think that German is a very verbose language. As you can see in Toscho's answer, the native speakers often like to attach informations to the original idea of the sentence.

Instead of merely asking Could you explain the meaning of the term [term] to me?, an additional I don't understand is added as a second sentence.

So, contrary to asking Was bedeutet [Wort]? you could say something like

Entschuldigen Sie, könnten Sie mir die Bedeutung des Begriffes [Wort] erläutern? Er ist mir nicht geläufig.

Obviously, that is not something an amateur speaker would actually say. Don't overdo it, just try to be a little polite and explain what you want as clearly as possible.

  • Wait.. are you saying that people should not say "Was heißt X?"? Most people would get bored by all the polite stammering. Just say want you want. Let alone among friends or colleagues - which is where you'll be asking this question probably. Sorry, but that's just poor advice -1
    – Emanuel
    May 21 '14 at 14:13
  • @Emanuel Thank you for your opinion. That was not what i meant to say. As already mentioned above, I think that this is true for more formal situations, such as an interview. By no means I would like to encourage a stilted conversation :). I thought it won't harm to note that he could improve his politeness, just in case he didn't know. May 21 '14 at 14:19

"Was bedeutet _ "


"Was ist __ "


The most common way in my opinion is

Was heißt "blah" auf Deutsch?

Next, there is:

Was ist "blah" auf Deutsch?

And finally,

Wie sagt man ...

I have to say that "bedeuten" is NOT a good fit for this articular context in my opinion. "Bedeuten" is the actual meaning that can be between the lines, so the "Bedeutung" is somewhat detached from the wording.

  • Ist noch Suppe da?

This "means"

  • Is there still soup?

but it actually means, that I would like to have some. And that is "bedeuten".

  • Consider a cook who want's to know if there is still any soup or if he has to make some more. I won't say that 'bedeuten' is always about a meaning beyond the actual sentence. It depends. Maybe one could replace 'Bedeutung' with 'Definition' May 21 '14 at 14:23
  • Yeah, of course it's not always that meta. As for "Definition"... I don't know. "Bedeuten" can also allude to ramifications, and "Definition" doesn't
    – Emanuel
    May 21 '14 at 14:32

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