I am a new student of German and am very interested in word origins.

"weiß" means "white" but also "know".

Do both definitions have a similar origin or is it a case like, in English, "bark" has two different meanings?

  • 1
    I don't think they have the same origin. weiß as a conjugation form is only written with ß due to the corresponding conjugation rule of ss. This site proposes different origins: wissen.de/wortherkunft/wissen wissen.de/wortherkunft/weiss
    – RoyPJ
    Jan 17, 2018 at 13:35
  • The connection in my humble opinion is found in weihen, i.e. sacred knowledge, and libated, washed, purified, made whole, wholy, but I'm not sure how to explain that in PIE grammar. Of course another connection is *wheyd- "to see" (if I recall correctly) and allusions to light, you see?
    – vectory
    May 17, 2019 at 6:00
  • Weis[s]heit "wisdom/whiteness" (ignoring the spelling which is arbitrary, as s is always sharp before consonants) very vividly relates olden age white hair and wisdom, too. It's appaling how quick the answers jump to the conclusion.
    – vectory
    May 17, 2019 at 7:16

3 Answers 3


"weiß" is an irregular conjugation of the verb "wissen", which indeed means "to know". Looking up "wissen" at Wiktionary, gives us that the word comes from the Proto-Indo-European "wóyde".

"weiß" can indeed also mean "white". However, when we look at the Wiktionary entry for "weiß", we see that the word stems from the Proto-Indo-European word "ḱweytos".

The Wiktionary entries for "wóyde" and "ḱweytos" show us that the words mean "to have seen, to know" and "bright or white" respectively; these words do not share the same origin.

  • You are mistaking PIE root with origin. PIE wasn't the end all be all, you know?
    – vectory
    May 17, 2019 at 6:01

No, these words have different origins.

"Weiß" as a colour is a cognate of English "white", information about its origin can be found here: https://www.etymonline.com/word/white

"Weiß" meaning "know" belongs to "wissen" and is related to Latin "videre" ("to see"). The meaning "to know" probably comes from "having seen" = "to know". This is supported by the fact that "wissen" is a preterito-present which means the present looks and inflects like a preterite. That's why it's "ich weiß", not "ich weiße". (The latter is possible but means something different: "I whiten")

  • 2
    "wissen" is also cognate with English wit.
    – psmears
    Jan 17, 2018 at 21:58

You are asking about two different verbs.

wissen (to know)

weißen (to whiten)

The i before ss is short while the ei is long. This reflects in the two stems of the old high German wiʒ vs. wīʒ. Vowel length is significant in German since those ancient times, so these are different stems.

  • 2
    ISTM he is not asking about two verbs at all. He is merely asking about homonyms. Jan 17, 2018 at 19:16
  • If someone asks about one verb and one adjective and a common root, it's useful to find the verb for the adjective. That way, the forms are identical and the different stem points out.
    – Janka
    Jan 17, 2018 at 19:39
  • 3
    I disagree. Often, there is not even a verb for an adjective. And it can be assumed that the verb is derived from the adjective, not the other way around, so there is no need to consider the verb at all. And the adjective would be the stem anyway. Jan 17, 2018 at 19:50

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