Can zu and für be used interchangeably with das Leben or das Essen and similar nominalized verbs?

Das Geld reicht für das Leben.
Das Geld reicht zum Leben.

Die Menschen nehmen sich kaum noch genug Zeit für das Essen.
Die Menschen nehmen sich kaum noch genug Zeit zum Essen.

  • Do you by 'similar words' mean 'nominalized verbs'?
    – c.p.
    Apr 19, 2015 at 11:40
  • @c.p. Exactly! I'm going to edit my question to make it more clear.
    – stillenat
    Apr 19, 2015 at 11:47
  • Out of curiosity: Is it coincidence that you chose leben and essen, i.e., two verbs that are a special case regarding your question?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 19, 2015 at 18:07
  • @Wrzlprmft It's just that it was easier to come up with examples for these two words where I didn't see any difference in meaning. But now thanks to your explanations it has become a bit clearer.
    – stillenat
    Apr 20, 2015 at 9:30

2 Answers 2


In most cases, the two can be used interchangably. For example, I do not see a difference in meaning between:

Sie gab das Signal zum Wenden.
Sie gab das Signal fürs Wenden.
Sie gab das Signal für das Wenden.
She gave the signal to turn.

Ich bin zu alt zum Fallschirmspringen.
Ich bin zu alt fürs Fallschirmspringen.
Ich bin zu alt für das Fallschirmspringen.
I am too old for skydiving.

However, I would consider zum here to be much more idiomatic than fürs, which is in turn more idiomatic than für das.

The first exception from this I can think of is when the nominalised verb has an additional meaning that the regular verb does not. For example, das Leben cannot only refer to the process of living but also to a life as a whole. So, there actually is a difference in the following example of yours:

Das Geld reicht zum Leben.
Das Geld reicht für das Leben.

The first variant can only refer to the process of living, i.e., the money we are talking about here suffices to sustain living, e.g.:

Mein Gehalt reicht zum Leben.
My salary allows me to live.

The second variant can additionally refer to life as a whole, e.g.:

Dieser Lottogewinn reicht fürs Leben.
This lottery win will last for life.

Something similar applies to das Essen, which may also refer to the whole ritual arond consuming food, while the verb essen is more narrow. This allows for a small nuance in your second example:

Die Menschen nehmen sich kaum noch genug Zeit zum Essen.
Die Menschen nehmen sich kaum noch genug Zeit für das Essen.

In the first case, people do hardly take their time for consuming food at all. The second case could also refer to people not taking their time anymore to sit around a table and dine but instead consume their food during other activities.

Also note that such substantiations can evolve their own meaning when referring to a special event. For instance, in a particular context, Fallschirmspringen in the above example can refer to a special skydiving event and not skydiving in general. For example, one could say:

Ich bin zu alt für das jährliche Weihnachtsfallschirmspringen. Aber im Sommer werde ich wieder fallschirmspringen.
I am to alt for the annual Christmas skydiving. But I will go skydiving again in summer.

The example given in Jan’s answer is another instance of this.

A second exception is when für means in exchange for or similar. Here, you cannot replace fürs or für das with zum. For example in the following sentence:

Sie gab ihm 10 € fürs Rasenmähen.
She gave him 10 € for mowing the lawn.

This is particular weird, if für can be mean both, in exchange for and to like in the following example:

Sie gibt ihm 10 € zum Einkaufen.
Sie gibt ihm 10 € fürs Einkaufen.

In the first case, she gives him money so he can then go buy something. The second case can also mean that he already went shopping and she gives him 10 € to compensate his expenses.

Finally, there are some fixed expressions, which require zum, e.g.:

Es ist zum Heulen.
It makes you cry. – It is pathetic.


No they can't. This might be true for a lot of cases, but they can have subtly different meanings:

Das Geld reicht zum Essen.
Das Geld reicht für das Essen.

The first sentence implies that whatever money the speaker gets is enough to keep her fed (while also implying that it's not enough for much else).

The sencond sentence, on the other hand, implies that the money the speaker has at the moment is enough for whichever exquisite, expensive or otherwise costly food she wants to buy right now (or maybe tonight at the latest).

Generally, I would say that the für forms are more likely to be understood as one-time statements (hence accusative), while zu with the dative are more likely to be understood as long-term statements. This is analogous to what is used for locations: If a preposition is followed by a dative, it is understood to mean being somewhere, as with im Haus, im Garten. If, however, the accusative is used, it is understood as a movement towards somewhere: in das Haus, in den Garten.

  • I don't quite understand your last paragraph. How does accusative vs. dative have an effect on our understanding of time (one-time vs. long-term)?
    – stillenat
    Apr 20, 2015 at 9:43
  • @stillenat I added another two lines to explain that. What I meant is that with locations, preposition <dative> is understood to mean being there, while preposition <accusative> is understood to mean moving somewhere — the former is a state while the latter is an action.
    – Jan
    Apr 20, 2015 at 12:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.