Die netten Menschen am Zoll sind immer sehr _____.

a) hilfsbereit b) hilfreich

I think "hilfsbereit" should work, and the sentence would mean that the nice people at customs are always ready to help.

Does "hilfreich" also work to mean that the people are always helpful? Can "hilfreich" be used with people, or only with things?

4 Answers 4


Both can be used to describe people, with a difference: hilfsbereit means that someone is glad/likely/ready to help. It can, but does not necessarily mean that this person actually does/did something helpful - for that you have hilfreich.


Telling you

Du warst heute sehr hilfsbereit. You were very eager to help today.

instead of

Du warst heute sehr hilfreich. You helped a lot today.

is like when you played well and the trainer tells you "You were very motivated today" instead of "You played well today". And the same way you could have been motivated without playing, you can be hilfsbereit without helping.

Er ist ein sehr hilfsbereiter Mensch. He is always glad to help.
Er ist ein sehr hilfreicher Mensch. (~)

Sounds a bit weird, I'd understand it as so. is always of use. This is why I'd say that your similar task-statement using "immer" doesn't work with hilfreich, either. The other example above is restricted to heute and hence does. Lastly,

Die Notizen in dem Buch sind sehr hilfsbereit.


You are right about a) being correct and the meaning of the resulting sentence.

"hilfreich" directly applied on people - to me it sounds a bit strange. E.g. when I wanted to thank someone I would rather say "Sie haben mir sehr geholfen" oder "Sie waren mir eine große Hilfe". But the Duden explicitly gives examples in that direction, so it is definitely possible. And the phrase "jmd. hilfreich zur Seite stehen" sounds ok for me as well - here it is rather the action than the person that is in the focus.


I would say "hilfsbereit" refers to a person who tends to help others. And "hilfreich" mostly refers to non-persons as in "Ich hoffe meine Antwort war hilfreich", meaning was of some help. Occasionally "hilfreich" can refer to a person, meaning that person has helped a lot.


"hilfsbereit" is someone who is willing to help - that doesn't mean that what this person does is actually helpful (but the word doesn't indicate that someone isn't actually helping, it's neutral in that respect).

"hilfreich" is someone or something who or which is helpful. A screwdriver is "hilfreich" if you need to loosen a screw. A car mechanic is also "hilfreich" if he fixes your car. "hilfreich" doesn't strictly speaking imply willingness to help (being "hilfsbereit").

In many situations you will have a person who is both "hilfsbereit" and "hilfreich" at the same time, and the words could be used interchangeably without much preference for either. "Hilfsbereit" is probably more commonly used. And "hilfsbereit" is more a permanent character trait, while "hilfreich" tends to be used for a single event.

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