With the World Cup in full swing, I've come across the words "Flagge" and "Fahne" quite a bit. These words are seemingly synonymous, but that might not be the case.

Take a quick look at the following entries from Duden

Fahne: meist rechteckiges, an einer Seite an einer Stange befestigtes Tuch, das die Farben, das Zeichen eines Landes, eines Vereins, einer Gemeinschaft o. Ä. zeigt und als Symbol o. Ä. für etwas gilt

Flagge: an einer Leine befestigte Fahne als Hoheits- oder Ehrenzeichen eines Staates, als Erkennungszeichen und Verständigungsmittel [im Seewesen für Schiffe], die an einem Flaggenmast, -stock o. Ä. gehisst oder befestigt wird

These definitions don't really help me at all. The way the entry for "Flagge" uses the word "Fahne" just adds to the confusion.

Perhaps "Flagge" is reserved for official use only? It seems that all Flaggen are Fahnen, but not all Fahnen are Flaggen.

  • "not all Fahnen are Flaggen" - absolutely. See duden.de/rechtschreibung/Fahne for 7 (!) different meanings of Fahne (I didn't know 4, 5 and 6 a minute before...). Flagge is (almost) a synonym only for the first meaning.
    – Matthias
    Aug 2, 2014 at 20:10
  • What’s is really interesting is when you are born into a Flagge family and have no idea where the name came from. Searching my family name, I have seen Flagge und Fahne together. I only know that my family came to the United States from Germany (Hannover). So, when I try an internet search for the family name, I get mostly German websites about flags and banners. Nov 1, 2021 at 21:54

4 Answers 4


According to Wikipedia, both words are being used synonymously in colloquial context, but there are differences:



Eine Flagge ist eine abstrakte zweidimensionale Anordnung von Farben, Flächen und Zeichen in meist rechteckiger Form. Sie besteht in der Regel aus einem Tuch, aber auch andere Materialien, wie Papier, Plastik oder Metall, finden Verwendung. Deren gemaltes Bild erfüllt oft dieselben Zwecke wie die eigentliche Flagge.

Unterscheidung der Begriffe

Die Wörter Flagge und Fahne werden umgangssprachlich oft gleichbedeutend gebraucht.

Flagge: Im engeren (rechtlichen) Sinne ist eine Flagge ein Stück Tuch, das nach Verschleiß entsorgt und ersetzt werden kann. Flaggen sind ersetzbar, sie werden in verschiedenen Größen und in hoher Stückzahl hergestellt. Eine Flagge wird oft an einem Mast oder Flaggenstock mit Leinen gehisst.

Fahne: Eine Fahne ist immer ein Unikat. Eine Fahne ist ein nicht vertretbares Einzelstück (Truppenfahne, Vereinsfahne, Zunftfahne, Regimentsfahne). Die Fahne ist fest am Stock befestigt. In der Schweiz werden auch Flaggen „Fahnen“ genannt.

Banner: Während Flaggen von einem senkrechten Mast wehen, hängen Banner an einem waagerechten Schaft.

Stander: Stander sind Kraftfahrzeugzeichen, die die Anwesenheit eines hohen Amtsträgers ausdrücken sollen – sie sind nicht zwangsläufig Flaggen aus Tuch, sie können auch feste Schilder sein.

Standarte: Als Standarte werden heutzutage meist Hoheitsabzeichen, insbesondere an Fahrzeugen, bezeichnet, oder auch Flaggen, die nicht seitlich an einem Mast oder Ständer befestigt sind, sondern mit einem Querträger mittig vor dem Mast hängen.


In everyday life, there's usually not much of a difference. In a strict sense, a Flagge is just any flag. It has no sentimental value apart from the country or colors it represents. It is entirely exchangeable, any flag will do. A Fahne on the other hand is one of a kind: the regimental colors, the scout troop's sacred ceremonial flag, you get the idea.

Of course there are also people who will scoff at the idea and consider Fahne and Flagge perfect synonyms. Fahne is the broader term; if you limit yourself to one word, use this one.

  • Actually, it's the other way around.
    – Philipp
    Jun 25, 2014 at 13:40
  • 1
    Come again? Not in my book, no.
    – Ingmar
    Jun 25, 2014 at 14:05
  • see my answer for a detailed explanation
    – Philipp
    Jun 25, 2014 at 14:06
  • 1
    It's just wrong. See my quote from Brockhaus. What do you have to back up your theory?
    – Ingmar
    Jun 25, 2014 at 14:13

This is something many native-speakers also get wrong a lot, so you usually don't have to worry much about using the two terms synonymously. But when you want to be exact:

The "Flagge" is the symbol itself, while a "Fahne" is a piece of cloth representing this symbol.

A country/state/organization usually only has one "Flagge" but there are many "Fahnen" which depict their "Flagge".

The German Grundgesetz article 22 paragraph 2 reads:

Die Bundesflagge ist schwarz-rot-gold.

(Translation: the federal flag is black-red-gold). Note the singular.

You see many "Deutschlandfahnen" hanging around at car windows during the soccer world cup, but there is still only one "Deutschlandflagge", which is the abstract symbol they all depict.

You can buy a "Fahne" at a shop, but it would be really hard to buy a "Flagge", which would mean that you would buy the exclusive trademark and copyright rights to make use of it.

You can attempt to steal a "Fahne" from someone by trying to take away the physical object. You can attempt to steal a "Flagge" from an organisation by using an identical one until everyone associates it with your organisation and not the one it came from originally. One could say that Romaina has stolen the "Flagge" of Chad by picking the (almost) same colors in the same arrangement for their new national flag, but accusing Romania of stealing their "Fahne" would mean that Romanians went to N'Djamena, removed the flag from the flagpole in front of the National Assembly and brought it to Romania.

  • 6
    Das ist einfach eine abstrahierende Verwendung des Wortes Flagge. In der Verfassung steht sicher auch etwas über den Bundesadler: trotzdem nennen wir auch dessen Verkörperungen zb auf Papier so. Bei der Flagge ist es nicht anders. Wenn ich den Großen Brockhaus zitieren darf: "Flagge: aus Stoff gefertigtes, meist lang-rechteckiges Zeichen, um die Zugehörigkeit zu einer Körperschaft, bes. einer Nation erkennen zu lassen. F. können im Unterschied zu den Fahnen durch gleich aussehende Stücke ersetzt werden."
    – Ingmar
    Jun 25, 2014 at 14:08
  • The quote Die Bundesflagge ist schwarz-rot-gold. applies to all flags, but I understand that this is hard to grasp from the words alone. If this quote would only apply to The One Flag ("Fahne"), the appearance of all other flags would be left undefined, which is not the intention. See also protokoll-inland.de/PI/DE/Beflaggung/Allgemeines/… Jun 25, 2014 at 19:58
  • This is an excellent explanation; in English, these two concepts (a physical flag and the design of which a physical flag is an instance) are synonymous, with their meanings distinguished by context alone. When one says "The U.S. flag" or "The Canadian flag", it is usually understood that these refer to the general design, and not a specific piece of cloth. That the two are distinct in German is fascinating, and also quite useful to know.
    – S. G.
    Apr 20, 2016 at 16:22
  • 2
    @S.G.: Fascinating, but wrong. Oct 31, 2016 at 13:56

Eine "Flagge" is a "flag," that is a random piece of cloth flying in the wind.

Eine "Fahne" is a "banner," that is a flag of a specified shape, color, and other description.

E.g. The "red-white-and-blue" (of the United States). Or the "black-red-and-gold (striped) banner of Germany.

  • I don't think it's quite that simple, or that such a 1:1 translation is possible. In all translations that I've seen, the German Fundamental Law specifically mentions a "Federal Flag" (not: Banner); the same is true for the Austrian Constitution ("The flag consists of three identically broad horizontal stripes of which the intermediate is white, the upper and the lower are red.")
    – Ingmar
    Jun 26, 2014 at 3:17
  • @Ingmar: In those instances, the governments were so specific in defining their "flags" that they turned them into "banners." A banner is a certain type of flag, and likewise, a "well-defined" flag becomes a banner.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 26, 2014 at 13:30

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