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I am having troubles figuring out nuances of the meaning of „Ankleiden“ and „Bekleiden“. Are these words exact synonyms? What are the appropriate situations to use each of them?

I tried to go over dictionary articles for both of them, but could not pin down exactly when using one of the words would be appropriate, whereas the other one would not fit. Any help is appreciated!

  • Related: die Bekleidung und die Kleidung – unor Apr 27 '16 at 18:27
  • They are not symonyms, although their meaning overlaps of course. "Ankleiden" as a verb refers to the act of getting dressed or robed, somebody putting on clothes. "Bekleiden" is a more general reference to the act of getting dressed, often used as a past participle bekleidet, i.e. wearing clothes. – Ingmar Apr 28 '16 at 6:11
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"Ankleiden" is the action of actually dressing up - From naked to fully in clothes. Mainly used in the reflexive form, but you can also dress up someone else. Works only for actual clothing.

"Bekleiden" has the general meaning of "to cover" - Can be used for

  • putting someone else into clothing, i.e dressing up someone else
  • Describing the action that clothing or pieces of clothing do (it "covers" people).
  • Covering not only people: You can also "ein Amt bekleiden", that is, you are covering that function, or "eine Wand bekleiden" (fitting tapestry)
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First off, note that both words are not used a lot in colloquial. These are rather formal words.

However, in this case, as so often, it's important to understand how the prefixes an- and be- affect the meaning. Admittedly, it's hard to grasp for be-. But basically the prefixes are the opposites to aus- and ent-.

The word pair an-/aus- is pretty simple. It's on/off. You put clothes on or off.

If I had to describe be- and ent-, I would say that it describes a change of state (between opposites), a supply (or withdrawal, respectively), or the idea of (un)covering something.
It depends on the context which description is better. An example would be bewässern/entwässern (irrigate/drain) where you supply or withdraw water to an area of land.

In case of be- and ent- kleiden, you can either think of (un)covering your body or changing from the naked to dressed state or vice versa, i.e. get dressed or undressed.

In the end, it doesn't make a difference if you say ankleiden or bekleiden. Same for auskleiden and entkleiden. But as mentioned in the beginning, they aren't used a lot anyways. So, talk about anziehen and ausziehen.
If you use them, though, be aware that ankleiden is separable whereas bekleiden is not.

Ich kleide mich an.
Ich bekleide mich.


As mentioned in the other answer, there's a second meaning for bekleiden. That meaning is not covered by ankleiden, so you can only go with bekleiden.

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They are not exact synonyms. For example, in figural speech, you can "ein Amt bekleiden" (hold an office) but you cannot "ein Amt ankleiden".

Ankleiden means the act of putting on a dress. (change from undressed to dressed)

Bekleiden is rather used figuratively ("ein Amt bekleiden") or in the form "mit etwas bekleidet sein" (to wear something).

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    I would partially disagree here as also mentioned in the other answers: "sich bekleiden" means to put on any piece of clothes to not be naked anymore - or as an adjective "bekleidet" would be synonymous to "not naked". Ankleiden covers the whole dressing process, meaning that after the ankleiden you are "fully" dressed for whatever (e.g. social) purpose. – senegrom Apr 27 '16 at 22:21
  • senegrom: I agree with you, but this usage of "bekleiden" is rather uncommon - at least here in Vienna, it's more common to say "ich ziehe noch schnell was an" than "ich bekleide mich noch schnell". – ammoQ Apr 28 '16 at 6:12
  • Yes. Certainly, bekleiden is quite formal and probably not used that frequently. – senegrom Apr 30 '16 at 1:30

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