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I mean, I know that "eintreten" can also mean "to enter", but I'm quite confused about the usage of these two words of the meaning "to occur"

I happened to come across this sentence

Lassen Sie mich verdeutlichen, welche Schwierigkeiten eintreten können.

can you replace "eintreten" with "auftreten" in this sentence?

Herzprobleme können manchmal auftreten.

or what about the other way around? What's the difference?

  • Where did you find the example with "Schwierigkeiten eintreten"? I think, that is wrong and it should be "Schwierigkeiten auftreten". – Iris Sep 21 '16 at 13:21
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    @Iris even if I would prefer "auftreten", "eintreten" sounds familiar to me. – Medi1Saif Sep 21 '16 at 13:24
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    Sorry, yes, it is correct. There is even a German law using this formulation "Der Arbeitgeber schaltet bei Eintreten von [..] Schwierigkeiten ..." (gesetze-im-internet.de/sgb_9/__84.html) – Iris Sep 21 '16 at 13:25
  • @Iris from another forum actually! (but that thread was since last year so i didnt want to continue) and thanks a lot :) – kitkatgr Sep 21 '16 at 13:27
  • Juristen oder den Gesetzgeber als Sprachautoritäten auftreten zu lassen halte ich für sehr gewagt. – user unknown Sep 22 '16 at 1:14
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I was tempted to say “no difference at all” but there is a slight difference, that I try to explain:

Auftreten would most probably mean, that something happens, that you did not expect at all. It just comes up from something that you didn't see upfront.

Eintreten is something you expected to happen, if special circumstances are met, that you most probably knew or could have known in advance.


Let’s take one of your examples (slightly modified):

Let’s say, a man is in the hospital.

In the first case he is a 25 year old man, and he is there because of a broken leg:

Während der Mann auf der Liege lag, trat plötzlich ein Herzstillstand auf.

  • No one would have expected a heart attack in that case → auftreten

In the second case he is a 75 year old man, who was brought to hospital because of a previous heavy heart attack.

Während die Ärzte ihn noch behandelten trat plötzlich der (endgültige) Herzstillstand ein

  • This was somehow expected, because of the story before → eintreten

But: I think that not a lot of German speaking people would really use these two words differently.

  • Regarding your "but:" - so, is it safe to say they can be used interchangeably in everyday speech? Or are you saying that they don't use them differently from your examples? – BruceWayne Sep 21 '16 at 17:00
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    Both words are, in my opinion, rarely used in a colloquial way. Talking to a friend, i'd say "der Mann hatte einen Herzinfarkt", or "Etwas ist passiert", or "Ab und zu kommt auch XXX vor". You need to be a somewhat professional writer to use "eintreten" or "auftreten" (writing your bachelor's thesis or a manual for some device counts as professional heree), and in this context, I think most writers would use "eintreten" for something that is terminal in some way, while "auftreten" denotes a problem that happens, gets fixed, and disappears. – Guntram Blohm Sep 21 '16 at 17:39
  • Can it be also said that auftreten and vorkommen are synonyms (or similar) in this meaning (happens unexpectedly), while eintreten and vorkommen are not? – Ad Infinitum Sep 21 '16 at 18:08
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    @AdInfinitum No really. Vorkommen in this context is more for general statements ("Es kommt nicht häufig vor, dass Knochenbrüche zu Herzstillstand führen" => "It's not common that broken bones cause heart attacks"), but nobody would say "vorkommen" to say a specific person had a heart attack . – deviantfan Sep 21 '16 at 21:02
  • Liegt der Unterschied hier nicht darin, dass das Eintreten des Todes ein singulärer, finaler Fall ist, dessen Wirkung andauert? In beiden Fällen nutzt Du plötzlich, was jeweils Überraschung bedeutet. Wenn der Tod eintritt muss das m.E. überhaupt nicht überraschend sein. – user unknown Sep 22 '16 at 1:19
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Keep in mind that both words also have a location related meaning:

eintreten = enter into a closed location

auftreten = get on stage / do a performance

You also can use these words if you enter e.g. a party:
eintreten = join the people,
auftreten = show the others your presence.

You can in einen Verein eintreten = join an association (become a member),

but in einem Verein auftreten means: you are doing a performance in/at a meeting of an association.

  • +1 for You can in einen Verein eintreten – Ad Infinitum Sep 22 '16 at 11:16
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Eintreten signifies a deeper relationship than auftreten, even though they both mean to "occur".

In the "hospital" example put up by one of the other posters, one man had a heart attack after being hospitalized for a broken leg, while the other man had a heart attack after previous heart attacks. You use "auftreten" to describe the first man's heart attack, because it had no relation to his broken leg, and eintreten to the describe the second man's heart attack, because it was obviously related to his previous history.

In the "party" example, you use auftreten to describe a person who "drops by," says 'hi' and leaves. You use eintreten to describe someone who arrives, and spends the whole night "mingling."

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