I had to make a translation to German and my teacher corrected me saying that “Ich erkrankte” is not proper German as this word is old-fashioned and I should use krank werden instead. I’ve looked it up in many dictionaries only to find that there’s no mark old-fashioned or dated attached to the article on the word.

Is my teacher correct about this?

  • 4
    Rather than dated I would say it's not Umgangssprache Oct 9 '14 at 20:49
  • It was an essay called "Meine Sommerferien" which she asked us to write in Praeteritum, so that it would differ from Umgangssprache, so I'm still a little bit puzzled whether she was right or not.
    – Dan
    Oct 9 '14 at 20:57
  • 4
    Mit "erkranken" lassen sich gut Sätze bilden, die den Namen der Krankheit enthalten "Sie erkrankte an (Masern|Mumps|Röteln|Pocken|Krebs|Asthma)". Mit "wurde" ist hier nichts - "bekam" wäre Umgangssprache. "Sie bekam (...)". Erkrankte ist fraglos eleganter und m.E. nicht veraltet, wenn auch nicht so salopp. Oct 10 '14 at 0:13
  • 1
    What was the complete sentence?
    – Carsten S
    Oct 10 '14 at 11:48

I don't think it is so much dated as being the wrong context. "krank werden" means that you start to feel sick, usually from a more harmless sickness such as a cold. "erkranken" usually implies severe diseases, such as cancer:

Mit 86 Jahren erkrankte er an Krebs und starb innerhalb eines Jahres. (At the age of 86, he developed cancer and died within a year)

Edit: I did some statwork:

 8% common diseases like cold
20% more severe like Malaria
48% premature death such as cancer or severe incapacitation, such as blindness
25% no sickness mentioned

45% are Partizip Perfekt

I did this manually with the help of program I've written. It imports results from COSMAS II. Unfortunately, I forgot to randomize their order, so all results are from "St. Galler Tagblatt" (I did 100).

  • I see. A pity they don't put such info in dictionaries.
    – Dan
    Oct 9 '14 at 22:11
  • 2
    @Dan: Ein Glück, dass solche Fehlinformationen nicht in Wörterbüchern stehen. "Krank werden" und "sich krank fühlen" muss nicht immer zusammenfallen und fällt oft nicht zusammen. Dass es üblicherweise eher harmlose Krankheiten sind wird daran liegen, dass man die hochriskanten so selten überlebt, sprich auf diese nur ein bis zweich Chancen hat, auf läppiche Erkältungen dagegen viele. An leichten Krankheiten erkrankt man aber genauso. Oct 10 '14 at 0:06
  • It's also interesting to take a look at "Typische Verbindungen" at duden.de/rechtschreibung/erkranken : schwer, lebensgefährlich, unheilbar, Aids, Krebs, ...
    – blutorange
    Oct 10 '14 at 1:17

To answer this question with some authority one would have to count occurrences. Unfortunately, a quick Google Ngram chart will not help, because I would not know how to exclude the past participle „erkrankt“.

That said, I do not have the impression that „erkrankt“ is dated. It is true however that compound constructions are often perceived as simpler and that „ich bin krank geworden“ would be heard more often than „ich bin erkrankt“ (or even „ich erkrankte“). In a written text I would not find „ich erkrankte“ unusual.

As for Veredomon's impression that „erkranken“ is used for more severe illnesses than „krank werden“, I can only guess that that is because one chooses words more carefully when speaking of those. One surely can also „leicht erkranken“.

  • 1
    erkranken is almost always used with a specifier. This is usually either an adverb (leicht / schwer / plötzlich) or an followed by the name of the illness.
    – Crissov
    Oct 10 '14 at 11:38

I think one very important aspect is that "erkranken" is in most cases used with a particular sickness and only in very formal context without one:
So, it's perfectly idiomatic to write "Ich bin leider erkrankt." in an automatic email notification.
But in an essay describing your holidays "Ich erkrankte." sounds horribly stilted.
(I'm guessing here, but I suppose you wanted to express the English "I got sick." or something like it. If you had included the particular illness, your teacher would probably have reacted differently: "I erkrankte an der Grippe." would have been ok - although still slightly formal, but that is just a feature of Präteritum....)

  • Especially an euphemistic use in a context like "During the wild ride on the roller-coaster, I got sick", it should rather be "Währende der wilden Achterbahnfahrt wurde mir schlecht/übel" (or even ".. musste ich mich übergeben") Oct 10 '14 at 21:37
  • @HagenvonEitzen: Richtig, "I got sick" ist zweideutig; "sich übergeben" wär aber "I was sick" - jetzt aber Themenwechsel, mir ist gar nicht gut... :)
    – Mac
    Oct 15 '14 at 8:50
  • Solche Mehrdeutigkeiten (z.B. heisst "zweideutig" doch eindeutig was anderes?!?) sind letztlich zum K... ;) Oct 15 '14 at 10:28

Bei Anwendung von "erkranken" schwingt die Konsequenz mit, dass man deshalb in seinem Leistungsvermögen eingeschränkt ist. Deshalb wird dies oft (aber nicht nur) mit "harten" Krankheiten verbunden.

Man würde also sagen "Ich bin leider erkrankt und kann deshalb nicht kommen." oder "Ich erkrankte an Parkinson und musste mich deshalb aus dem Berufsleben zurückziehen."

Vermutlich würde man dagegen kaum sagen "Ich erkrankte an Schnupfen."

Usage of "erkranken" normally implies some focus on the negative consequences of the illness. For this reason, it is often used with "hard" (dread) diseases.

So, you would probably say "I was ill ('erkrankt') and therefore I couldn't come." or "I was diagnosed with ('erkrankte an', literally I got) Parkinson's disease and therefore had to retreat from job life."

On the other hand, one would rather avoid a sentence like "I got ill with ('erkrankte') a cold."

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