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I am studying the ways to call different type of fuel for a car.

In English the main words are:

  • fuel (general word)
  • gasoline (BrE: petrol)
  • diesel

In German I have found:

  • (das) Benzin
  • (der) Diesel
  • (der) Sprit
  • (der) Kraftstoff

What is the difference between them?

My hypothesis: People use just Benzin no matter what fuel type their car consumes. Informally they can also say Sprit as juice in English. Kraftstoff is an old technical term.

Is that right?

  • The n in "Benzin n" means that the article is neutrum, thus it is "das Benzin". The m in "Diesel m" stands for maskuline, thus it is "der Diesel". – Iris Oct 14 '16 at 14:27
  • Today vehicles can also drive with gas (Autogas, Erdgas). If I need to refill my car's tank, I usually just say "Ich muss noch tanken", without distinction what precisly needs to be refilled. – Iris Oct 14 '16 at 14:29
  • My car consumes Diesel and when talking about my car I would never use Benzin. So, I'm afraid the first part of your hypothesis is not right. – Em1 Oct 14 '16 at 14:49
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    Was sagt denn das Wörterbuch zu Benzin, Diesel, (Super, ...), Sprit und Kraftstoff? – user unknown Oct 14 '16 at 15:47
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    @Iris: Given that what is known as petrol in the UK is commonly called gas in the US, I think it is worth pointing out that when talking about fuels in German, Gas denotes gaseous gas (ok, gas that is normally gaseous on the Earth's surface, but which is made liquid again for storage by means of pressurized containers and such) rather than liquid gas. – O. R. Mapper Oct 14 '16 at 18:42
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The two main groups are Diesel and Benzin, the latter being further divided according to octane rating (Normal, Super, Super Plus). Sprit is a generic if somewhat colloquial term, Kraftstoff (or Treibstoff) a rather official one (if you must you can use Ottokraftstoff and Dieselkraftstoff respectively).

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    Normalbenzin bekommt man an der Tanke allerdings heutzutage nicht mehr, dafür bspw. E10. – Crissov Nov 2 '16 at 13:40
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Kraftstoff/Treibstoff are general terms for something that powers something.

There are many types of Kraftstoff/Treibstoff and you're not limited to cars/trucks if you use it. You can also use it for planes (Flugzeugkraftstoff => Kerosin) or even rockets (Raketentreibstoff). It's a general term that is not old! A typical place where you find it would be the fact-sheet at the car dealer as:

Kraftstoffart: Diesel

If you talk about cars or trucks, Benzin and Diesel are the traditional forms of Kraftstoff, the former being split into sub-types by the octane number ("Normal 95", "Super 95", "Super Plus 98", etc.). The latter can be split into types as well, like "Sommerdiesel", "Winterdiesel", "Bio-Diesel", etc. There are other Kraftstoffe, however, like Erdgas or LPG (Liquid Power Gas).

Sprit appears to be a rather colloquial term for everything that drives the engine of a car (people use it for alcohol they drink as well, which is definitely colloquial), but it is actually used in non-collquial environments, for example papers or the news:

Sprit wird wieder teuerer.

People would know that you're talking about Benzin, Diesel, Erdgas and LPG together.

The way people refer to "fuel" depends on what they want to say. There are many options. There are a few rules you can stick to:

If we talk about our own car, we usually refer to the real type of fuel our car needs, so we wouldn't generally say Benzin if our car needed Diesel. Or we would use Sprit. Or we would avoid the term at all. Examples:

Ich muss ja schon wieder tanken!
Der Sprit/das Benzin/der Diesel/der Tank ist schon wieder leer!

If you talk to people about the "Spritpreis", you could say:

Benzin wird auch wieder teurer!

Most people would know the same applies to Diesel then.

  • LPG is liquified petroleum gas. It's the lightest gas fraction from the oil refinery. – Janka May 3 at 20:44
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Your assumption is wrong in a central point: Nobody would use Benzin if their car runs on Diesel. The two are clearly distinct.

The overarching words are the other ones. Aside from the very colloquial Sprit and the rather formal Kraftstoff there is also Treibstoff — all of these can be used both for petrol and for diesel.

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    Nobody would use Benzin more than once :-( – gnasher729 Oct 15 '16 at 14:01
  • @Jan, nobody makes the mistake twice to use the wrong type of gasoline, e.g. refuel Benzin instead of Diesel. – Iris Nov 2 '16 at 13:59
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I would use Sprit only in conversation, I guess it can be labelled colloquial.

Diesel is obviously diesel (Biodiesel being a mixture with more plant oil and chemically more agressive, so not every car bears it) and Benzin is the generic term with the variants Normal(benzin) and Super(benzin), depending on its octane value but also applied as universal term for all sorts and diesel as well.

Kraftstoff is in no way dated, it is used quite often in more technical and "official" (read legalese) context.

  • What is legaleze? – Iris Oct 14 '16 at 14:31
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    I don't agree with "also applied as universal term"... Usually people distinguish between "Benzin" and "Diesel" and don't use former as synonym for latter. – Torsten Link Oct 14 '16 at 14:37
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    @Iris: It's normally spelt legalese, and it denotes the language/jargon used by law professionals. So, legalese [German] means Juristendeutsch, or, in a wider sense, Behördendeutsch. – O. R. Mapper Oct 14 '16 at 18:47
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Benzin and Diesel are different types.

Some cars only work with Diesel, some only work with Benzin.

There are various subcategories of Benzin like Super and some others. I'm no gas professional and just got my drivers license. On Diesel only cars you can usually find "TDI" on the back: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turbocharged_direct_injection

Kraftstoff is indeed an older word, but it can be both: Diesel or Benzin. It's abstract. Sprit also can be both. It's a more colloquial term.

The main difference between Diesel and Benzin is that Diesel cars don't consume that much (so you save money), but are a little bit more expensive. (fixed costs are higher than variable costs)

  • so viel Fehlinformationen und Halbwissen... diese Antwort hättest Du Dir besser gespart... So much wrong and almost wrong information. This answer should better be deleted... – Torsten Link Oct 14 '16 at 14:34
  • Was ist falsch an der Antwort. Benzin und Diesel sind beides Kraftstoffe, Kraftstoff ist der Oberbegriff. – Adrian Oct 14 '16 at 15:19
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    @adjan, z.B. der Quatsch über TDI, dass "Kraftstoff" ein "älterer" Begriff ist und das der Hauptunterschied zwischen Diesel und Benzinern in Kosten und Verbrauch liegt? – Stephie Oct 14 '16 at 15:27
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    Felix, welcome to German SE! Please don't be discouraged if your first post wasn't recieved too well - usually we're a quite friendly bunch. I realize that the learning curve here can be steep, but it's worth it. You have a few plainly wrong statements (see comment above), yet @TorstenLink was a bit out of line with his blunt statement, IMHO. I suggest you take the tour and browse our help center. German Language Meta is a good place for further reading as well... – Stephie Oct 14 '16 at 17:43
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    Ein Upvote ist mir die Antwort auch nicht wert, aber falsch ist hier nichts. Falsch ist nur, wer meint, die Antwort wäre falsch. – Em1 Oct 14 '16 at 20:18

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