Both are translated as "feel", or in their noun forms as "feeling". Is there any difference in meaning or usage or anything else?

  • 1
    In a nutshell: "fühlen" == "to feel" - "empfinden" == "to sense"
    – tofro
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 14:23
  • 1
    @tofro, und "spüren"?
    – Denis
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 7:50
  • 1
    @denis "to sense" as well
    – tofro
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 5:45
  • It's so fascinating how many of you tried to explain it yet there is no proper answer to the question . One of you saying it means psychological feelings other one is saying fühlen is used for psychological feelings xd Commented Jan 29 at 13:12

3 Answers 3


"fühlen" can mean sensing something physically:

Ich fühle wie etwas Warmes mich berührt.

I feel how something warm is touching me.

And "fühlen" can describe an emotional state.

Ich fühle Trauer.

I feel grief.

"empfinden" shares the latter meaning with "fühlen" and actually describes a state of mind.

Ich empfinde Trauer.

I feel grief.

In addition, "empfinden" can be used to express an opinion.

Ich empfinde das als unfair.

To me, that's unfair.

"empfinden" is always rather formal. More common alternatives to the latter sentence are

Ich finde das unfair.

I think that's unfair.


Das ist unfair!

  • "sensing some directly" seems ambiguous to me and it doesn't help to differentiate between both verbs. From your example "Ich fühle wie etwas Warmes mich berührt", I think you mean "sensing something physically, with the sense of touch" (e.g. heat, cold)? Commented May 15, 2021 at 10:24
  • @AlanEvangelista yes, I meant "sensing something physically"
    – user195692
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 22:12

To feel or "fühlen" is same in German as in English.

"empfinden" and "Empfindung" is related to "Feelings". You can feel and think about it as example you could say (psychologically):

  • Ich empfinde als es beschämend was er macht.
  • I think it's shameful what he is doing.

"Gefühl" and "fühlen" can mean:

You feel something on your skin or you feel sad (physically or psychologically). This isn't possible with "empfinden/Empfindung"


Empfinden" and "die Empfindung" relate to psychological feelings (happy, sad, etc).

So can "fühlen"and "das Gefühl". But these can also relate to physical feelings (hot, cold), which the words in the previous paragraph cannot.

When "fühlen" is used in the sense of "empfinden," one uses the reflexive form, sich fühlen.

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