Both have the meanings "repair" and "mend". Are they used interchangeably or each fits in specific places more than the other ? I am really finding a big difficulty knowing to use each.
If you're not sure, use reparieren -- it's more common than ausbessern.
You would e.g. say: "Max repariert ein Auto", but not "Max bessert ein Auto aus."
In another context: "Max repariert einen Zaun" could be replaced with "Max bessert einen Zaun aus".
I would say, "ausbessern" is more like like filling a hole or like @Pharguin said, improving something.
You'll find "ausbessern" more in relation to clothes, while "reparieren" comes up in a rather mechanical context. - However, this is not a universal rule as you can see in the example with the fence (Zaun).
There are qualitative differences.
- Ausbessern is less strict, it means something like "revamping", "overhauling", "restoring", "touching up" or perhaps "improving", while
- Reparieren is stricter, it is fixing something that was broken and/or is not functional anymore, i.e. it really means (fully) restoring the functionality or shape of something.
If a e.g. car doesn't work anymore, you repair it (Reparieren - restore the functionality), while if the body work has dents or scratches, you overhaul the car (Ausbessern). Note that Reparieren generally means to fully repair something, while Ausbessern can also mean to partly restore something, as well as you can.
Again, the difference is mainly qualitative.
Usually "reparieren" is used when fixing something that is broken, i.e. that is not working without the fix at all or at least partially. "Ausbessern" on the other hand is used for describing the process of improving (a part of) something that is already working, but maybe not yet optimally. This is highly subjective, though, and the two can most if not all the time be used interchangeably. Please also note that the Duden lists "reparieren" as a generally more frequently used word, which I can confirm based on my experience.
As already stateted reparieren is more frequently used than ausbessern and there are only minor differences. They depend on
- how much is broken/how strong the functionality is limited
- Extent and effect of the fix
If the thing is completely broken and does not work at all any more
- Reparieren: At least functional again maybe back to the orignal
- Ausbessern: In general not possible
If the thing is at least partially function or took only some damage:
- Reparieren: Fully functional again maybe back to the orignal
- Ausbessern: Functional again, maybe only temporary and not as good as new
If there is only a scratch/minor problem with no or only slight impact on the functionality:
- Ausbessern/Reparieren: Both are possible
If there is only a scratch with no or impact on the functionality:
- Ausbessern: Probably preferable over reparieren
Let's have a look into common practice and then derive more general conclusions from it.
1) Cases where reparieren is used well, and ausbessern would be strange or plainly wrong:
Ich muss das Auto zur Reparatur bringen.
Ich muss den Wasserhann reparieren.
Kannst du mal das Deckenlicht reparieren?
Der Hausmeister repariert die Kaffeemaschine.
2) Cases were only ausbessern is good:
Frau Müller bessert ihre Tagesdecke aus. (
Die Lloyd-Werft soll den Unterwasseranstrich der QR2 ausbessern (
Unserer Rad- und Wanderwege sollten ausgebessert werden. (repariert could be used too, but I would find it odd)
Warte, ich muss noch schnell mein Make-up ausbessern (
3) Cases where both are possible, depending on context:
Die Straßenmeisterei bessert die Fahrbahndecke aus / repariert die Fahrbahndecke.
Pioniere der Bundeswehr sollen die Landebahn bei Prizren ausbessern/reparieren
Ganz sauber muss der Beton sein, damit später der Mörtel an den Stellen hält, die mit 30 Tonnen Zementspachtel ausgebessert/repariert werden müssen.
Herr Pötschke bessert seinen Gartenzaun aus/repariert seinen Gartenzaun
(Some of these examples were taken from a real-world text corpus of German language.)
My conclusion is: reparieren is for univeral use; ausbessern is predominantly used for improvements of the surface of something.
The example with the fence (Zaun) and ausbessern seems a bit strange, but obviously the fence is seen here as a surface whose integrity is being restored by the ausbessern activities.
The example with the cement filler (Zementspachtel) would actually call for ausbessern, as Spachtel clearly refers to repairs being done to a surface. On the other hand, the sheer amount of cement used here (30 metric tonnes) make me accept reparieren as well.
"Reparieren" means to "repair" something that has experienced a major loss of functionality, perhaps making it equivalent to its original, "new" condition, or nearly so.
"Ausbessern" refers to "improving" something that had a minor loss of functionality, or even no loss at all, and improving it somewhat (from a low base).
"Reparieren" is more commonly used, because it is the more common phenomenon.