I learned from DWDS that empfehlen was enphëlhen during the Middle High German period.
I am wondering what the descendant of hëlhen is in Modern High German?
(I don't think its descendant is fehlen, because the letter F in empfehlen results from a phonological merge; hence, it is not intrinsic for hëlhen.)

Besides, does anyone know any reference tool with which one may use for searching the modern descendants of middle/old high German words?

  • 2
    I am pretty sure it is the same "fehlen" family. "Fehlen" used to have the same meaning as "fail", and "empfehlen" most probably was close to ending up as "entfehlen" (That is, counseling s.o. in order not to fail)
    – tofro
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 4:51
  • 4
    Wiktionary gives a slightly longer etymology, where the base word was already no longer in use in M.H.G.. befehlen is given as a related word from the same stem. fehlen is indeed unrelated.
    – Chieron
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 6:41
  • Related (in German): german.stackexchange.com/questions/5298/…
    – chirlu
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 10:11
  • The Grimm does BTW apparently disagree with Wiktionary, but I really don't know who is right.
    – tofro
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 16:10

3 Answers 3


Looking at these three resources, you would be wrong with your assumption that the word is not related to fehlen:

Kurzes deutsches Wörterbuch - Eintrag empfehlen

Empfehlen, Kl I, aus emp, ahd. [alt-hochdeutsch] in, und fehlen, ahd. velahan, der Sorge, Gunst von Jemandem befehlen; [...]

Vokalspalter Blog - Eintrag Empf-

Warum schreibt man empfinden, empfangen und empfehlen mit empf- und nicht mit entf- wie z.B. entfachen, entfalten oder entfernen? Empfinden war schliesslich auch einmal ent-finden (also ‘herausnehmen’ oder eben ‘wahrnehmen’), empfangen einmal ent-fangen (‘fangen’ im Sinne von ‘nehmen’) und empfehlen einmal ent-fehlen (hat jedoch nichts mit fehlen zu tun, sondern ist mit befehlen verwandt; fehlen kommt von altfranzösisch faillir [edit 20.10.14, merci Christoph] (sic)

(with additional given source of Quelle: Kluge, Friedrich (2011): Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache. Bearbeitet von Elmar Seebold. 25., durchgesehene und erweiterte Auflage (1. Auflage: 1883). Berlin: De Gruyter.. The blog author is apparently a linguistic student, for what that's worth)

Also, a very fun and useful source:

Indo-European etymology - Entry fehlen

Proto-IE: *ēg'-

Meaning: to say, to tell

Tokharian: A,B āks- 'announce, proclaim, instruct, recite' (PT *āks-) (Adams 38-39)

Armenian: asem `sage'

Old Greek: *ēg'-t: hom. ipf. ē̂ er sprach' (sekund. nachhom. Neubildungen ipf. 1 sg. ē̂n, prs. 1 sg. ēmí); pf. (prs.-Bed.) án-ōga befehlen' (sekund. prs. anṓgō)

Latin: aiō, aī̆s bejahen, behaupte, sagen'; adagiō Sprichwort', prōdigium Vorzeichen', pl. axāmenta carmina Saliaria', indigitāre anrufen', Aius Locūtius der Gott, der durch seine Stimme das Herannahen der Gallier verkündete'

Other Italic: Umbr aiu `oracula'

Russ. meaning: говорить

This last resource is a fun rabbit hole to dive down into. As is:

Heinrich Tischner Etymologie - Entry fehlen and Ibid. - Entry ent-

That one can't be easily copy-pasted as it has a lot of links for further research.


According to my dictionary, the word traces back to Proto-Germanic *felhaną, and has no other Modern High German descendants. See also Wiktionary entry for Engl feal.

  • befehlen as in "befehl' dich Gott" seams to be another one.
    – tofro
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 13:42

Empfehlen Befehlen

Both refer to one person giving advice or a command to another.

Empfehlen --> Em --> Emission --> Giving out something.

Befehlen --> Be --> Bestücken --> Putting something on top of somebody.

Now does fehlen equal missing?

If you come from it this way.

  1. You ask for advice. Since you are at a loss on how to continue.

  2. Somebody gives you advise on how to fill up your loss.

  3. You go to your boss. You are his subordinate. Your mind is empty, you don't know what to do.

  4. Your boss gives you an order. Now your mind is full. It has an order. You can carry it out.

And again in English "give" is being used in both instances. You gives something to somebody that is lacking something.

Empfehlen = Entfehlen? Make it so there is nothing missing? Befehlen = Befüllen? Make it so it is no longer empty?

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