The word "Leidenschaft" strikes me as having a quite weird construction. The Wiktionary entry simply states its etymology to be "Leiden" + "schaft". However it makes little sense to me why "suffering-ship" becomes "passion". When did the word come into daily use, and is there any particular cultural background to it?

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    Note, that "leiden" as a verb also means that you either like someone or can tolerate something/someone. For example: "Ich kann ihn gut leiden".
    – Em1
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 21:10
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    "Eifersucht ist eine Leidenschaft, // Die mit Eifer sucht, was Leiden schafft." - Grillparzer
    – tofro
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 7:35
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    I presume you have never been in passionately in love with someone who didn't love you back. To quote Joan Baez: "You suffered sweeter for me Than anyone I've ever known".
    – rghome
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 9:12
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    A passion is something that makes you suffer, if you don't follow it. If you have a passion for football, you will be unhappy if you cannot play or watch football. A passion is a suffering that you permanently have to indulge to be bearable.
    – user4973
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 9:10
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    Note that "passion" actually does mean "suffering" in English (cf. "the passion of Christ"). The more figurative meaning has come to dominate these days, but the original meaning is still valid.
    – MPW
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 17:35

7 Answers 7


There is a very interesting fact about »leiden«, »leid«, »Leid«, »leidlich«, »leider«, »erleiden«, »Beileid«, »beleidigen«, »Leidenschaft« and similar words: They do not derive from the same root. There are two distinct etymological roots for this words.

root 1: leid

Ich bin es leid, dir jeden Tag die Wäsche zu waschen.
I am weary/tired from washing your laundry every day.

In swiss dialects this word still is used as adjective, but in standard German you use it only as a predicative expression (i.e. as part of a sentences predicate) as shown in the example above.

This word derives from the Old High German adjective »leid« which means disgusting, unpleasant or distressing. The english verb »to loathe« (Britons loathe immigration in principle) and the adjective »loath« (I'm loath to cheat on a test) both derive from the same root.

Words, that come from this root are:

  • Das Leid (noun)

    Er tat mir kein Leid an.
    He did me no harm.

  • leidig (adjective)

    Die hohe Arbeitslosigkeit ist ein leidiges Thema.
    High unemployment is a vexed issue.

  • beleidigen (verb)

    Damit wirst du ihn aber beleidigen.
    So you're going to insult him.

  • Beileid (noun)

    Die Trauergäste sprachen der Witwe ihr Beileid aus.
    The mourners offered their condolences to the widow.

  • verleiden (verb)

    Seine ständigen Sticheleien verleiden mir den Spaß an der Party.
    His constant taunts spoil my fun at a party.

  • leider (adverb)

    Dieses Hemd ist mir leider zu groß.
    Unfortunately, this shirt is too big for me.

root 2: leiden

Die Kinder leiden Schmerzen. Maria kann Walter gut leiden.
The children suffer from pain. Maria likes Walter.

This verb originally means in modern German: to endure or to bear. So a more verbatim (but less English) translation of the example sentences would be:

The children endure pain. Maria can endure Walter very well.

But even German native speakers don't have endure or bear in their mind when they use this word. They also think in terms of like or suffer, depending on the context.

But I said »in modern German«. Endure/bear was not the original meaning. »Leiden« meant »to travel« (to walk, ride, drive), but the focus of this meaning was not on the transportation, or on moving from A to B, but on the long, boring and sometimes painful time you spend for traveling.

In Old High German this word is »lidan« or »irlidan«. Later can be translated as »erleiden« in modern German, but also as »erfahren« which has a different etymological root, but almost the same meaning. And in »erfahren« you have »fahren«, which is »to travel« in english. Also the noun »Erfahrung« (experience) has this travel in it.

This travel more often was a metaphoric travel (the travel through a certain period of time, i.e. a phase of happiness or a phase of sorrow) than a travel through space. And there is even a connection to the verb »leiten« (to lead) which also derives from the same root.

So, »leiden« was not necessarily a word with negative connotation, but its meaning was influenced by the other word, »leid«, and so »leiden« was infected by the negative aspects of »leid«.

But still there are usages for leiden with a positive connotation, as in the sentence »Maria kann Walter gut leiden«. And from this positive meaning was built another word:

die Leidenschaft

This word was invented in 17th century to have a German replacement for the french word »passion« (which has a latin root and exists in English too; see blow).

Words that derive from »leiden« are:

  • erleiden (verb)

    Markus musste den Verlust seiner Geldbörse erleiden.
    Markus had to suffer the loss of his wallet.

  • das Leiden (noun)

    Karies ist ein Leiden, das viele Menschen haben.
    Caries is a disease that many people have.

  • das Mitleid (noun)

    Angela hat Mitleid mit den Flüchtlingen.
    Angela has compassion for the refugees.

  • die Mitleidenschaft (noun)

    Das ganze Dorf wurde durch das Hochwasser in Mitleidenschaft gezogen.
    The whole village was affected by the flood.

  • die Leidenschaft (noun)

    Das Beobachten der Bewegung der Sterne ist Georgs große Leidenschaft.
    Watching the stars movement is Georg's big passion.

But also the word »passion« came into German Vocabulary:

Die Passion

like in

Die Matthäus-Passion von Johann Sebastian Bach
St Matthew Passion from Johann Sebastian Bach

In Christianity, the Passion is the final period in the life of Jesus Christ leading to his crucifixion on Mount Calvary. So, it is a time of suffering and enduration.

But you find »Passion« and the adjective »passioniert« also as Synonyms for »Leidenschaft« and »leidenschaftlich«:

Ernst ist ein passionierter Schachspieler. = Ernst ist ein leidenschaftlicher Schachspieler.
Ernst is a passionate chess player.

The word »Passion« comes from the latin noun

lat. passio = suffering, disease

which itself is a derivation from the verb

lat. patior = to endure, to suffer, to bear, to tolerate

And there are a lot of German and English words, that derive from this root:

The english noun »patience« (Geduld in German) means to be »patient« (adjective) (able to remain calm and not become annoyed), and the German »Patient« (patient in english) is a person who has to be patient to be cured, becasue he/she is suffering from a sickness.

So, the english word »passion« originally also has the meaning »to endure something« or »to be patient on something«, as well as the German »Leidenschaft«.

  • 'leiden können' means to 'like'. So the root is ambiguous.
    – TaW
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 10:18
  • @TaW Yes, that's correct. Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 14:30
  • Interesting, but I think the verb 'verleiden' (lead away from or towards something else) belongs under root2, the Old High German »lidan« or »irlidan« which has a strong connotation with travel and direction. In Dutch, the verb 'leiden' has the same meaning as the modern English verb 'lead' and German 'leiten', and a 'leider' is the same as a 'leader', the one who shows other in which direction they should travel. The connection you make to travel being hard is somewhat fanciful. In Dutch, 'lijden' is a separate verb that has all the connotations of suffering and illness that patior has. Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 18:28
  • To add to @ElisevanLooij, 'leiden' and 'lijden' have the same pronunciation :-) Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 22:28
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    Ehe ich zum Ende der Antwort gegangen bin, hatte ich schon gewusst, wer sie geschrieben hat.
    – Denis
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 9:12

Leidenschaft has been coined in the 17th/18th century in analogy to the French passion, which also has a root with the meaning of suffering, compare Passion of Jesus in the Christian religion.

Reference: Etymologisches Wörterbuch (Wolfgang Pfeifer) (you may have to scroll down to Etymologie and click mehr)

  • See also πάσχω or paschó, which means “to suffer.”
    – Greg Bacon
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 12:06
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    We may also note in passing that the same Latin verb for ‘suffer’ gives us the word patient; the medical sense is less altered. Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 11:22

This actually makes perfect sense, as the English word "passion" itself comes from the Greek verb πασχω meaning "to suffer" - so this probably has more to do with English losing this connotation, than with German adding it.

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    I thought "passion" derived from Latin passiō-n < passus < patior "suffer", from PIE *peh¹- "hurt"?
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 18:41
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    Hm, I wonder now where the passion fruit comes in.
    – Pavel
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 12:08
  • This is wrong. It is almost directly from the Latin passio (genitive passionis, stem passion-). The Latin and Greek words are certainly related, sharing a common ancestor, but the English word does not come from the Greek.
    – MPW
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 17:41

Both the German Leiden and the English passion were originally used in the context of Christ's physical sufferings on the Cross. Only later was the connotation of a strong emotion or desire added to the English, and the French passion.

This was only reflected in German from the late 17th Century when translating French passion to Leidenschaft, a then newly formed composite. The meaning of the stem noun Leiden (suffering, disease) was unchanged by this.


Although you are asking about the german word, here is a good explanation to how the latin word passio meaning suffering became passion:

The simple answer is that the English word passion referred to Jesus' suffering long before it evolved other, more sultry meanings. Today, the word still refers to Jesus' torments

The English word has its roots in the Latin passio, which means, simply, "suffering." Its first recorded use is in early Latin translations of the Bible that appeared in the 2nd century A.D and that describe the death of Jesus. The Latin word was borrowed prolifically in Old English religious texts, where its meaning remained exclusively theological. But when the Normans invaded Britain in the middle of the 11th century, their conquest infused thousands of French words—including passion, which also referred solely to the sufferings of Jesus—into the spoken language. The record is sketchy, but it seems that once passion was in use in both languages, it began to develop broader meanings. The first new senses in English referred to martyrdom and physical suffering or affliction, and by the 13th century, passion was being used to refer to any strong emotion.

The process accelerated greatly as the English vocabulary exploded in the 16th century. Many words accrued new meanings during this period; literature and vernacular poetry flourished, and a renewed interest in classical learning may have given Latin a more direct influence on the language as well. Passion, for instance, may have been shaded by an obscure definition of the Latin passio as an "affection of the mind" or "emotion." (Etymologists believe that this more arcane meaning drew from the Greek word pathos.) Over the course of the century, the word came to signify a panoply of emotional afflictions, such as "extreme anger," "a literary work marked by deep emotion," and, finally, "strong sexual attraction or love."

The first sexual usage is attributed to William Shakespeare, who wrote, in Titus Andronicus, "My sword … shall … plead my passions for Lavinia's love." It wasn't a great leap from Shakespeare to the entirely modern senses of passion, which developed, with his and others' help, over the next few decades.



"Leiden" can mean "to suffer," but it also has the connotations of "to bear." In this, second, sense, "Leidenschaft" refers to the "ability to bear."

If you are "passionate" about something (in the English sense), you have a large "ability to bear it."

The German version is a somewhat more heavy or negative approach, but that is how German is sometimes. Other posters have pointed out that the word's antecedents, from e.g. Greek, had the "suffering" connotation, to which the German remained "true," while the English version lost it.

  • And I guess that's totally the way of science you went there. Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 21:30

The meaning of the "passio" in Latin and its equivalents in other languages has been strongly influenced by the original Greek semantic pattern (since Latin philosophical terminolgy has been modelled after Greek and in other languages after Latin). In Greek thought, emotions were considered as passive processes in the soul - since as the source of autonomous activity was regarded the intellect and the emotions (passiones, pathé) were considered to belong to the non-rational part of the soul. So "pathos", "pathéma", "passio" gradually developed various meanings: "suffering">"enduring">"passivity">"emotion">"passion" (in the sense of strong positive emotional attachment to an object, activity etc). This semantic field of Latin "passion" was then taken over by (or at least strongly influenced) the semantic field of German "Leidenschaft". The German language is especially prone to imbibe or mimick the Greco-Latin patterns of thought and semantic relations, even if they are not justified in the language "internally".

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