I didn't understand the difference between Bild, Abbild and Abbildung. From Wikipedia:

Abbild bezeichnet ein Bild und seine Beziehung zu einem darauf abgebildeten wiedererkennbaren Gegenstand.

I found this definition very abstract. Could someone show me more concrete examples?

  • 1
    Vor allem ist die Erklärung massiv tautologisch und daher Mist. – user unknown Jan 2 '15 at 6:44

"Bild" means just picture.

"Abbild" means a picture or object that closely resembles an original picture or object (or at least is intended to resemble it). But the word is only rarely used.

"Abbildung" has two common meanings:

a) A construction method to create an "Abbild" out of an "Bild", for example in geometry or optics, or simply the (internal technical) process that happens in a camera while taking a photograph.

b) More confusingly, "Abbildung" can also mean just a picture in a document, especially in scientific texts where the pictures are numbered and referenced. "Ein Beispiel dafür ist in Abbildung 2.3 zu sehen."

  • Meaning (b) is usually called "figure" in English texts. – celtschk Feb 16 '15 at 23:06

With that question you get a lot of Germans into a jam. Me too. I can only try.

Bild is the most general word for anything that gives a visual representation of someone or something, just as English picture. A Bild can be a painting on a wall or a photo in a newspaper or a child's drawing.

Abbildung is just a variant for Bild. As it is much longer you won't hear it very often in spoken language. In books that have a lot of photos of objects you can find the abbreviation Abb.for Abbildung + a number. Abbildung is mostly used for pictures made with a camera, not for paintings or drawings, a mechanical reproduction of an object.

Abbild is another variant of Bild. Not frequently used. I can't think of a typical situation where I would use Abbild. Actually I think you can forget Abbild and Abbildung in your active vocabulary. All you have to know is that they are variants for Bild.


Another variant, used only in religious context and the sentence: Der Mensch ist das Ebenbild Gottes (Man is the image of God). The old word element Eben- expresses the idea of similarity.

  • Also note that in mathematics Abbildung has additional meanings. – Hulk Jan 2 '15 at 8:35
  • Bild too (eg. Bildmenge, depending on the context) – deviantfan Jan 7 '15 at 0:16

Abbild could be distinguished as a synonym of Kopie, the latter being the standard expression nowadays. Proper equivalents in English would be replica, reproduction or facsimile. If you look closer, Abbild is something slightly different, as Kopie in general carries the connotation of a model having been duplicated without inspiration, whereas Abbild does not. Anyway, Abbild has never been used for written documents, where "Abschrift" was the proper choice. The Abbild usually transfers more substantial properties of the model to the duplicate: Das Abbild eines Hauses may be a house itself, whereas die Abbildung eines Hauses is certainly not.

Abbildung in most cases means illustration, figure etc., but it can also indicate an analogy of a more abstract nature.

Bild has the most general range of meanings of the three, and its particular meaning very much depends on the context. The most common meanings are:

  1. a picture on the wall: Er besaß mehrere Bilder von Picasso
  2. a mental picture: Er wollte sich von der Situation ein Bild machen
  3. a memory: Das Bild von dem Unfallwagen ging ihr nicht aus dem Kopf
  4. a sight: Die Elefantenherde bot ein majestätisches Bild
  5. an illustration: Es war ein Buch mit vielen Bildern
  6. a metaphor: Der Schriftsteller sprach gern in Bildern

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