Stein and Felsen both translate to stone in English, but are they interchangeable? When I google images for both, I get mostly small palm-sized stones for Stein and something that I would call boulder for Felsen. Also I saw in my text-book expressions like:

Dieser steile Felsen ist sehr imposant.

but nothing with steiler Stein, which might signify that der Felsen are generally big in size.

So my question is: Can I translate Felsen with boulder and Stein with a small stone?

Please refrain from going into scientific definitions. This isn’t geological question. I just want to know how native speakers perceive the difference.

  • 1
    As I recently found out, the meaning of the English terms for stones of different sizes varies considerably between regions. Related: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/85817/…, english.stackexchange.com/questions/5931/…
    – chirlu
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 18:41
  • As a mnemonic you may use: You can jump from a Felsen into the sea [in Acapulco], and – after reaching the shore – you can pick up a flat Stein and skim it over the water surface.
    – Pollitzer
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 12:03
  • Stein can also translate to "rock", also "Felsen" can be a "rock". Große Steine in einem Fluß werden z. B. als rock übersetzt. Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 4:19

1 Answer 1


Your observation is right as far as i can tell. One would talk about a "Felsen" like in "boulder" in english. It typically refers to a bigger sort of stone while a stone would be something palm sized.

I would usally use "Felsen" for a big stone which can´t be moved in an easy way.

  • 4
    Felsen is also always in its natural, "grown" form, while Stein can have been shaped into form or even be man-made - That is pretty close to English, there's a "Grabstein" or "Tombstone", but no "Grabfelsen" or "Tomb rock", also see "Backstein" == "Brick"
    – tofro
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 20:26
  • @tofro this is a great addition! Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 22:07
  • And, "Felsen" typically refers to a part of the fixed landscape, whereas "Stein" typically denotes something movable. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 12:57

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