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Anschlag and Angriff both seem to have the meaning of attack, but what are their differences?

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Both terms have other meanings as well, but in the sense of ‘attack’ or ‘assault’, their differences may be summarized as follows:

  • A singular destructive event without consequent action is an Anschlag, e.g. in terrorism.
  • When it is possibly met by Verteidigung ‘defense’ it is an Angriff, e.g. in war, sports and chess.

An Angriff is also more likely to be considered legitimate or legal by the author than an Anschlag.

Die USA reagierten auf die von Al-Kaida verübten Terroranschläge vom 11. September 2001 mit einem militärischen Angriff auf die in Afghanistan herrschenden Taliban.

  • When there is no defense, I'd say it is just as much an "Angriff" (albeit a very easy and quickly decided one). – O. R. Mapper Jul 22 '15 at 7:14
  • @O.R.Mapper It can be an Angriff without a battle ensuing, but a (successful) Anschlag is never followed by a fight. A Gegenschlag ‘counter-attack’ may follow, though. It’s also in the word roots: greifen implies a longer lasting action (with halten) than schlagen. – Crissov Jul 22 '15 at 7:49
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Very good question! I am a native speaker and my initial reaction was that "Angriff" is the general term, while "Anschlag" has to be morally condemnable.

Anschlag often describes covert terrorist activities, but I think the covert nature is not essential. I think that originally the essential element was the destructive character, as suggested by Duden's definition:

gewalttätiger, auf Vernichtung, Zerstörung zielender Angriff

I am not sure, how much this definition reflects everyday usage, because I would not hesitate to call a killing with a syringe a "Mordanschlag". Such a killing is not "destructive", but can be connected with "Vernichtung".

There are also many meanings of "Anschlag" that don't relate to attacking.

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    I would (also as a native speaker) call a murder by poison injected with a syringe "Mordanschlag" but upvoted your answer because I prefer your broader definition of "Anschlag" which I think is important in describing the term. My reason is that e.g. in war you might want to cripple the enemy's capabilities by sabotaging some of their infrastructure (say, a bridge) which I would then call "einen Anschlag auf die Brücke", without there being any objective connotation of terrorism, since it's a war situation. (Edit: also see de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anschlag) – Rainer Verteidiger Jul 21 '15 at 15:52
  • @RainerVerteidiger Thank you and fully agreed! That's what I too am saying, "ich würde nicht zögern es einen Mordanschlag zu nennen". – Ludi Jul 21 '15 at 16:07

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