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I am doing German A1 level. Was learning some useful words. Came across Fläche and Oberfläche. Both mean surface. Then what does Ober do here? It's like a word which has no purpose? I am using dict.cc and en.pons.com for word meaning.

Also I want to say about the surface of a mechanical part. Which is more appropriate here?

  • Lookup surface and face. They could be used almost in the same way as Oberfläche and Fläche, including the same dilemmas. Face is mainly used in a mathematical/technical/CAD context. – WalyKu Jan 12 '17 at 17:37
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    It's the same difference as between the english words surface and area. – mkrieger1 Jan 12 '17 at 17:56
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If you are about to translate the English word surface then in a lot of cases you could use Fläche and Oberfläche interchangeably although most of the time the more specific Oberfläche will be the word of choice.

But both words have meanings that are different from that surface translation and these meanings are NOT interchangeable:

e.g. for Oberfläche there is

  • interface: mostly used in the meaning of graphical interface for computer programs

The word Fläche has even more meanings as you can see here at dict.cc e.g.:

  • area
  • surface
  • expanse
  • flat
  • face
  • pane
  • stretch of land
  • I think, thats wrong... at least in german, these two words have a different meaning – FrankAus5419135 Jan 12 '17 at 10:37
  • thats what I said: If you translate "surface", then Fläche and Oberfläche could both be used (although most of the times Oberfläche will be chosen), but Fläche has a lot of other meanings besiders "surface", that was what I wanted to say... – Torsten Link Jan 12 '17 at 10:40
  • OK, then I understood it wrong. Thanks for explaining ;) – FrankAus5419135 Jan 12 '17 at 10:42
  • I will reword my answer to make it clearer – Torsten Link Jan 12 '17 at 10:43
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From what I've seen on context.reverso.net, Fläche is more mathematical and refers to the actual dimensions of something. For instance, I would use "Fläche" if talking about the area of a house, a sheet of paper, a wooden board, etc. Fläche is also used to refer to the front part of something (like "face" in English). Ex: Look at the face of the phone to see if it has any scratches. Fläche can also be used in conjuction with other words like Seitenfläche (side face).

Oberfläche is more for the physical aspect of a surface. Ex: The surface of the wood has an authentic feel. Oberfläche also means "graphical interface" like for computer programs.

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Oberfläche is surface (compare ober to sur). Fläche can also mean surface, but the main difference in usage is that an Oberfläche is always the surface of something, while a Fläche is not. So in mathematics if you study surfaces (2-dimensional manifolds), those are Flächen (plural), but if you talk about the surface of a sphere (or rather ball), this is the Oberfläche einer Kugel.

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Duden defines Oberfläche as

  1. Surface (=upper boundary) of a liquid
  2. Total area that limits a body (outer surface)
  3. Graphical interface for computer programs

and Fläche as

  1. lengthwise and widthways flatly extended area; flat field
  2. smooth outer surface, total area that limits a body, object
  3. (mathematics) flat or curved 2-dimensional object

So there is the mutual meanings of "smooth outer surface", where the words can be used interchangeable, but in general, the words have specific meanings are can't be switched.

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Both words are used interchangeably in some contexts, but in my experience the most common uses are as follows:

The word Oberfläche is usually used when talking about physical properties of a surface (rauhe/glatte Oberfläche) or when you want to emphasize that it bounds something (Wasseroberfläche). As a whole, Oberfläche can have any shape (e.g.: Oberfläche einer Kugel).

Fläche can have many meanings, but would mostly be used to refer to a 2 dimensional surface (flat = flach) or in the meaning of area (Flächeninhalt).

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    Your last statement is confusing, since a 2-dimensional surface typically is not flat. If it is flat, it is called plane or, in German, Ebene . – Martin Peters Jan 13 '17 at 7:51
  • @MartinPeters: I agree that in general 2-dimensional surfaces are not flat. However my point is about the most common use (outside of mathematics, etc) and if I hear the word "Fläche", my first association would be something flat, while the word "Oberfläche" does not have this connotation of flatness for me. – user1583209 Jan 13 '17 at 9:06
  • Yes, I did not say that you are wrong, just that it is confusing. After all, there is the mathematical meaning of surface. – Martin Peters Jan 13 '17 at 9:18
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I think both are surfaces. However Oberfläche bounds something, like Wasseroberfläche. Whereas Fläche can be (ideally) not bounding anything. Like a hand or a sheet of paper.

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