In English we place the word key in front of a word to show the importance of the terms, every branch has its own key words. For example for the sake of this site German, grammar, online German language forum etc. might be key words. But translators translate key word to Stichwort, so which should I place at the beginning of the terms: Stich- or Schlüssel-?

Could you please provide the correct usage of Stich/Schlüssel and show the difference?




  • 1
    Did you try to look your German constructions up in a dictionary? Why not? Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 5:55
  • 3
    I'd just like to note that key ... could also translate to Haupt.... For example the key feature or some software could be the Hauptfunktionalität or Hauptmerkmal. Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 12:53

3 Answers 3


A Schlüssel (key) is something that unlocks something, both in a literal and in a figurative sense.

So if you are talking about reveiling, gaining access or unveiling something, the compounds with Schlüssel- are the way to go:

You may unlock a market (Schlüsseltechnologie), have an ability that gives you access to a certain job (Schlüsselfertigkeit) or a knowledge that allows you deduce the complete information (Schlüsselinformation) etc.

BUT there is a concurrent, possibly older concept in the German language using the term Stich, which means sting or stab and has a plethora of uses, in the figurative sense often something along the lines of "pick one element (or a few elements) to represent the entity".

The DWDS writes for Stichwort :

  1. Wort, das in einem Lexikon, Wörterbuch behandelt wird, Stichwörter
    -> dieses Wörterbuch enthält zehntausend Stichwörter

  2. Wort, auf das hin ein Schauspieler einsetzen oder auftreten muss -e
    -> jmdm. für seinen Einsatz das Stichwort geben
    -> das war das Stichwort für einen Streit, der nun ausbrach

  3. Wort als Hilfe, sich etw. zu merken -e; meist im Plural
    -> er notierte einige Stichworte für seinen Vortrag

And as origin:

Stichwort n.

  • ‘stechendes, verletzendes Wort’ (15. Jh.),
  • ‘für einen bestimmten Zweck aus einem Zusammenhang herausgenommenes Wort, letztes Wort eines Schauspielers, nach dem ein anderer einsetzt’ (18. Jh.),
  • ‘Lemma, behandeltes Wort in Lexika’, im Plural ‘Anhaltspunkte, Gedanken für den Aufbau einer Rede, eines Aufsatzes’ (19. Jh.),
  • in den letztgenannten modernen Verwendungen im Sinne von ‘hervorstechendes, herausgestochenes Wort’.

So while in English keyword can mean "secret word to unlock something" and "word to represent an entity", in German you have to distinguish between a Schlüsselwort and Stichwort - the latter being the more frequent one.

Note that Schlüsselwort is a keyword in the sense of unlocking a secret (a password) while a Stichwort is used to structure Information or trigger an action.

  • Could you please add a reference for your interpretation of "Schlüsselwort" as password? I wouldn't understand it this way.
    – user6495
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 9:18

The English word key does not have a perfect German counterpart.

That is the key issue here. I could think up a few key cases and present you the key results. You may then find a few key words but the key message should also be clear: That the key’s key concept is lost in translation.

Das ist hier der springende Punkt. Ich könnte mir ein paar wichtige Fälle überlegen und dir davon die Schlüsselergebnisse präsentieren. Du könntest dann ein paar Stichwörter/Schlüsselwörter darin finden, aber die Hauptnachricht sollte deutlich sein: Der Kern des Konzepts ist in der Übersetzung verschollen.

(I’ll admit that both the English mock-up and the translation are not perfect. You can probably word quite a few things better and also use Schlüssel- in more contexts. However, Schlüssel- will never actually reach the versatility of key — which is my key point.)


Well for the first pair i think @oberflansch gave a good explanation.


So I'll try to give some more "help" for the 2 other pairs:



First I'd say that i never heard or read the "Prefix" "Stich-" in that context. But a few other examples that work could be

Stichtag = appointed date/key date

Stichpunkt = headword

Stichproben = spot test, random samples (No relation to "key something", emphasizes randomness)

stichhaltig = valid/sound/cogent

and stichprobenartig

A theory that came to my mind, maybe it could be helpful:

Stich usually means stab/sting etc. so it refers to something one would/should remember because of the effect and this somehow doesn't apply for a Strategy or an Information.

While Schlüssel usually points at something that lead to success or a decisive change. I would like to explain some of those words according to my explained interpretation:

  • Stichwort = Refers to a word one should remember, maybe because it's important or significant ...
  • Stichpunkt (Stichpunkte) = Are points one wants to remember. Example you are holding a speech and you don't want to forget a couple of points then you mark them to remember them!
  • Schlüsselstrategie = would mean the strategy which lead to success or to a significant decision!
  • Schlüsselinformation = could mean the most important Information (->success) or the missing Information (->significant, decisive)
  • Schlüsselwort = Is an important word so it's at least significant in the context, and as a word like that also should be remembered there's a link to Stichwort!

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