Is there a good online resource — free or not free — to look up the etymology of German words?

Something like Duden's "Herkunftswörterbuch"?

  • @thei really? Where is the original?
    – Pekka
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 19:59
  • 3
    @thei, you're question (german.stackexchange.com/q/2/34) is more about German-English dictionaries, at least the way I get it. Here it's rather about monolingual specialized dictionaries. Commented May 24, 2011 at 20:04
  • I intended to collect both, but it is probably better to separate it.
    – Phira
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 21:20
  • Poking around the Internet, I found a review of Intuitive Vocabulary—German, which seems to be what I, at least, was looking for.
    – Calion
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 21:17

10 Answers 10


The largest etymological resource for the German language is the DWB, Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm, or just Grimm for short. It is, however, not suited for learners of the language, and is sometimes even hard to understand for natives. If you're just looking for a quick explanation of the origin of a word, it's also not the best one.

It's an interesting read though if you're interested in the evolution of the language since the 16th century.


The German Wiktionary often lists the etymology of words under the „Herkunft“ header. Note that that is usually quite concise.


The one that I know of is DWDS:

It has some data from the "Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen (nach Pfeifer)", it's usefulness will depend on the actual term you're looking for.

  • +1 - Actually, besides Grimm, the Pfeifer is the most detailed german etymological dictionary!
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 8:21

Kluge. Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache. Bearb. v. Elmar Seebold. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter (25) 2011, ISBN 978-3-11-022364-4

A standard reference for German etymology. It is available online from some University Libraries if you have access there, but you can buy it as E-Book or Android App:

E-Book: http://www.degruyter.com/view/product/42888?rskey=p8lKVW&result=1

Android-App by Google: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=de.doctronic.xaverplayer4android.kluge


TL;DR The best online resource for extensive etymology information is DWDS (Digitales Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache). I justify this and explain interesting informations in this context in the text below.

I recently completed my search for good etymology resources of german words myself and will now share my results with you:

Best affordable resources

Creating an etymology resource is no trivial thing, so there aren't many extensive such resources, just four:

I found these resources after searching some google search sites for the keywords "etymologisches Wörterbuch" and similar names and also searched amazon (I also found this pdf which also lists Paul Hermann's "Deutsches Wörterbuch" - but this seems way too much expensive). German Wiki for Etymologisches Wörterbuch also lists a dictionary by Ursula Hermann (which seems not to be maintained because it's newest version is from 1982), similiarly there is a dictionary by Rolf Hiersche which were only some papers (not dictionary and not maintained from 1990), another dictionary by Lutz Mackensen which isn't maintained as well (from 1966). Something that isn't maintained is probably not worth maintaining because there are better things, so I ignore those (they are probably difficult to get anyway).

Best free online resources

The resources you get online are either digitaled versions of already existant resources or are collaborated works.

  • Deutsches Wörterbuch DWB von Grimm online: The university of Trier provides an online version of that early resource.
  • DWDS: There you get a digital version of Wolfgang Pfeifers "Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen" (based on the 2. version, the newest one is 3. version).
  • Duden Online: Duden often provides online a short information about the etymology (this does not compare to the "Herkunftswörterbuch" - it's very short information).
  • (Just to clarify: Kluge is, not even partly, digital available for free; Similiarly Paul Hermann's work isn't online available for free)
  • And finally the community driven online resource Wiktionary: You will see that, the etymology information there is mostly ultimately based on the already named resources (e.g. Kluge). And the Etymolgy information is in comparison to DWDS relatively short.

My judgement: Use DWDS. There you will get not only a direct etymology information but also many crossreferences to other words (which I think is very interesting for someone who is interested in etymology). There you can also get to the correct article of DWB by Grimm with one click. Duden Online and Wiktionary are only interesting if you want only short etymolgy information directly for the words you look up (so there are in comparison less crossreferences). It's also interesting if you don't find something in dwds.

Just want to add the utility I see in studying etymology: Knowledge is the key in our world and it developed during a long time. Units of knowledge are given words, to communicate those knowledge units. So, when we understand the etymology of words, we understand how the humans devloped an understanding from the world, and also have many content connections that we normaly don't see. So in short: One can understand the world a bit better :).

  • It is worth to mention that the etymology part of dwds actually feature the dictionary by Wolfgang Pfeifer.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 13:35

Duden offers some limited etymology information when you search for a word. For example:


Herkunft: spätmittelhochdeutsch (mitteldeutsch) merechyn, Verkleinerungsform von mittelhochdeutsch mære, Mär


A 2011 edition of Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache by Friedrich Kluge has been mentioned in an answer by Martin Schwela dated Feb 13 '15 at 0:57. I don't have enough points to chime in there so I'll do it here instead.

A completely free, out-of-copyright edition is available at the Internet Archive link below. It's in German and English. While the headwords and entries and all in German (in old form Gothic type) and the 'relatives' of the entry word that appear in the explanations are in their original languages, the rest of each explanation is in English.

Details and links: https://archive.org/details/etymologicaldict00kluguoft


Etymologie, Etimología, Étymologie, Etimologia, Etymology, die Lehre von der Wortherkunft (Conrad Horst)


You might give wiktionary a try. It's a community driven dictionary, which also discloses the etymology of the words.

  • It's community driven which means that you shouldn't use it for etymology. Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 15:13

I find this resource extremely useful:


EDIT: Since some people couldn't figure out how to use it, I'll add an example. Say you want to know etymology of some word, like, "Dach". Go to the very end of the page, where you see "German" field and enter it there. It works pretty much like google, offering you the search results over the databases it has. For the "Dach" you get:

Proto-Germanic: *ɵakjan- vb., *ɵaka-n, *ɵakjō(n), *ɵakinō; *ɵakō; *stakōn Meaning: cover, thatch IE etymology: IE etymology Old Norse: ɵekja wk. decken, kleiden; mit einem Dach versehen'; ɵak n.Dach, Decke, Dachmaterial, zusächtliche Büsse'; ɵekja f. Dach, Decke'; staka f.unzubereitetes Fell' Norwegian: tekkja sbs.; tekja vb.; tak; dial. toka Schweinehaut' Old Swedish: ɵäkkia sbs. Swedish: täcka vb.; tak Danish: dial. täkkeStrohdach'; täkke vb.; tag Old English: ɵecc(e)an bedecken', ɵäkDach', ɵecen f. Decke, Dach' English: thatch Old Frisian: thecca vb.; thekke Old Saxon: thecinaDecke, Dach'ж theccan Middle Dutch: dac dak, dekriet'; dēken f.deken'; decken Dutch: dak n.; deken f.; dekken Middle Low German: dak dak, dekriet'; decken; decke Low German: dēkendeken' Old High German: thecken (8.Jh.) decken'; thahDach, Haus, Bedeckung' (9.Jh.), decchī f. `Decke, Dach' Middle High German: dɛcken (prt. dacte/dachte) wk. 'decken, bedecken; schützen, schirmen'; dach st. n. 'Dach, Bedeckung, das Oberste, Stützende' German: Dach n., decken

It looks extremely illuminating to me.

  • Welcome at German SE! It would increase the value of your answer if you could describe your resource and say why do you find it useful.
    – Matthias
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 14:52
  • How do you use it?
    – Carsten S
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 23:26

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