I was wondering if you could help be figure out the difference between the two sentences.

  1. Er stellt sich dumm.

  2. Er stellt sich dumm an.

I think the first sentence is translated as, "He's playing/acting dumb", as "sich tot stellen" is to "play dead". But every dictionary that I look at gives pretty much the same translation for "sich dumm anstellen".

Where is the difference between the two?

  • It should be noted that er stellt sich XYZ works for a couple of adverbs, for example dumm, tot or taub, but not for others. For example, you can not say er stellt sich schnell or er stellt sich intelligent. In some cases er stellt sich XYZ an does work, however, for example er stellt sich intelligent an. Jun 15, 2018 at 9:26
  • It should also be noted that Er stellt sich XYZ also works with nouns and names, like Er stellt sich seinem Feind or Er stellt sich der Polizei. In these cases, the meaning is totally different. Depending on context, it could mean He confronted his enemy or He surrendered to the police.
    – Philipp
    Jun 15, 2018 at 12:23

2 Answers 2


The first emphasizes pretense in an action; the second emphasizes the effect of the action. Therefore, "sich stellen" is always intentional fakery; "sich anstellen" may not be.

To clarify:

Bei der Fahrprüfung stellte er sich ziemlich dumm an.

could describe someone who intentionally fails a driving test (for some unspeified purpose). But it's much more likely that the driver was simply nervous, incapacitated or otherwise impaired and failed despite being fundamentally capable.

In contrast,

Er stellte sich dumm.

definitely means that someone knows more than they let on.


This is simple:

Er stellt sich dumm.
He pretends/plays to be stupid. Or
He pretends not to know anything.

This means he acts and behaves in a way that other people might think he is stupid, although he really isn't.

Er stellt sich dumm an.
He acts awkward/clumsy/unadept.

This means, that he is doing something in a manner that is not skillful or not intelligent. This is not played. He really can't do it better.


  • sich dumm stellen

    Wenn du mit der Presse sprichst, darfst du nichts über die Sache in Manila ausplaudern. Wenn man dich darauf ansprichst, musst du dich dumm stellen.
    When you talk to the press, don't talk about the matter in Manila. If they address it, you must act unaware.

  • sich dumm anstellen

    Jürgen ist ein eigentlich ein sehr intelligenter und kluger junger Mann, aber wenn es um Mädchen geht, stellt er sich furchtbar dumm an.
    Jürgen is actually a very intelligent and smart young man, but when it comes to girls, he behaves terribly stupid.

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