It seems there are two main meanings for the verb kehren. Wiktionary lists two separate etymologies (from two or three separate Old High German ancestor words that look very similar):

  1. to sweep
  2. to turn


Do native speakers consider these two meanings to be connected or related somehow? If so, how?

Or is this considered to be a verb which coincidentally has two wholly separate, unrelated meanings that have (one way or another) converged on a single word in the present day?


Note that I'm not asking so much about historical etymological details, rather whether present-day native german speakers consider the two meanings (to sweep & to turn) to be related or similar in concept or meaning.

As a native English speaker, I would probably say I would consider these two verbs to be mostly, if not entirely unrelated in English. (Whether I'm actually right about that, I don't know, but that's not really what I'm curious about here. I'm curious about common present-day perception.) So I'm curious if German speakers feel the same or differently.

  • 8
    The problem about the modern perception could be that "kehren" in the sense of "to turn" is very rarely used without prefix. You'd rather use "umkehren" or so.
    – Chris
    Jul 15, 2015 at 22:09
  • 8
    Ich kehre ja lieber ein als um. Prost!
    – Carsten S
    Jul 15, 2015 at 22:31
  • 1
    @Stephie, dabei seid ihr, so leid es mir tut, ja eher für die Kehrwoche bekannt.
    – Carsten S
    Jul 15, 2015 at 22:37
  • 1
    @CarstenSchultz Klar. Aber in der Kehrwoch' wird die Straße gefegt. Man darf bei der Kehrwoche keine saubere Sprachlogik erwarten, nur eine saubere Straße! (vgl. Atlas, ich komme aus dem blauen Randstreifen...)
    – Stephie
    Jul 15, 2015 at 22:39
  • 1
    There are many more examples of merges in English. eg light (1. leicht vs 2. Licht). So you can just as well ask do English speakers consider "light" in "light coloured" and "light hearted" somehow related? Feb 7, 2016 at 16:16

2 Answers 2


To me: Not related at all. But I have a hunch that this is due to two reasons:

  1. The verb "kehren" (= turn) alone is rarely used. Typically I would expect a prefix, e.g. umkehren, einkehren, abkehren, zukehren, verkehren.... Besides, there are regional preferences: I (from the Southwest) would usually go for "drehen" instead.

  2. Then, you need to consider that "kehren" in the sense of "sweep" is not the predominant expression in the entire German-speaking area. Compare Atlas der Alltagssprache for kehren/fegen: kehren/fegen

I, personally, percieve them as unrelated and I would expect Germans from the northern parts to do so as well, mostly due to 1. above.

  • 4
    What the heck is fürba?
    – Liglo App
    Jul 16, 2015 at 10:51
  • 3
    @BarthZalewski Never, ever question Vorarlbergerisch ;)
    – Jan
    Jul 22, 2015 at 8:19

Wenn ich drüber nachdenke, ist die Bewegung des Kehrens ja ein vor und zurück des Besens mit einem Schwung bei jeder Kehre, wie eine Acht, aber im Alltag denkt man nicht drüber nach und sieht keine Gemeinsamkeit, weil man keine Borsten an den Schuhen hat und der Weg durch die Umkehr nicht sauberer wird.

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