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I am trying to find a way to translate aufregend, begeisternd and spannend at their best, and I am also not quiet sure about how to discriminate between them.

Can someone clarify this, with also some correct or most common usages in sentences?

  • Sorry I was not that clear in my question. 1) I would like to find the best way to translate them in English, so that I have a clear (possibly) word in mind. 2) And also I wish for examples that would clarify the meanings and translations even more. – E.V. Jan 28 '15 at 9:24
  • Aufregend und spannend wurde kürzlichst diskutiert: german.stackexchange.com/q/20240/1224 – Em1 Jan 28 '15 at 9:32
  • I still hope it is possible to discuss it in English as well. – E.V. Jan 28 '15 at 9:33
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All these words have a great overlap in meaning and the translation really depends on context. Some examples:

  • a football game is spannend (entertaining, exciting) but rarely aufregend. The only occasion where I consider a game aufregend was the latest world championship final, which Germany won. Though, I would go with nervenaufreibend or nervenzerreißend (nerve-racking).
  • a book can be spannend (fascinating, exciting). You can apply aufregend, too, but that's less common. Probably an aufregendes Buch is very thrilling, or vibrant.
  • the upcoming year can be considered as spannend (challenging, exciting), the previous year was either spannend or aufregend (eventful, unsettling).
  • a lecture, a visit to a museum, ... can be spannend (interesting, fascinating) but not aufregend.
  • an adventure, the life, ... can be both spannend and aufregend (varied).
  • your first day in school, university, ... is aufregend (exciting, thrilling), but not spannend. A specific day can be spannend (eventful), though.
  • a person (or rather its personality) can be both aufregend and spannend (exciting, interesting).

The list would be sheer endless. The point I'm trying to make is that there's no 'correct' translation of any of these words. I left out begeisternd so far because it's just not that common (see Ngram). Not quite sure when I would use that word.

If you're looking for a translation, disregarding any context, exciting is a good translation for all of them. But if you add context, the translation varies a lot.

So, what's the difference?

  • Spannend causes a feeling of interest, fascination or enthusiasm, and a usually pleasant feeling of shudder. Something is not boring or uninteresting.
  • Aufregend evokes the same feelings, but usually it's more dramatically, excitingly, thrillingly. It affects you and your feelings more.

I still avoid any statement about begeisternd. I'm way too unfamiliar with that adjective. The verb is very common, though, and means to fill someone with enthusiasm or excitement.

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They are all very slight variations on "exciting". They all mean that to an extent, but in slightly different ways:

  • spannend might be best translated as "suspenseful". This can be associated with the related word Spannung which means "suspense" or "tension". It should be noted however that the common usage of this term has become more generic over time. People often describe their job or university studies as "spannend" if they find them interesting and engaging.
  • begeisternd is more like "enthusiasm inspiring". This can be associated with the word Begeisterung which means "enthusiasm".
  • aufregend is the hardest to describe in English for me. I would associate it like in the other cases with the word Aufregung which means "a commotion". This is also an excitement of sorts, but could be interpreted as something good or bad depending on context.

They can all pretty much be used interchangeably as far as I can tell, but the connotation changes as I have described above. I would still feel comfortable translating each of them the same (as "excited") though.

As Em1 points out, there is also a matter of the relative degree of excitement that each term expresses. As a non native speaker, I don't feel qualified to address that aspect.

  • I might be mistaken, but I'd consider something aufregend more excitingly than something spannend. In the same way, I'd think of something thrilling more excitingly than just exciting. Not sure about the English ones though, as not being native English speaker. – Em1 Jan 28 '15 at 10:42
  • @Em1 That is a good point, probably something I overlooked. In English, the distinction doesn't seem that strong to me personally. I decided to focus on the semantic differences since they are fairly clear, I think. – Tim Seguine Jan 28 '15 at 10:45

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