This word "widersetzen" is really confusing me. Let me give you some examples, motivated by similar sentences I have found on the internet:

  1. Er widersetzt sich dem Befehl.

  2. Sie widersetzt sich seinem Kuss.

  3. Das Volk widersetzt sich den Invasoren.

  4. Die Idee widersetzt sich der Logik.

Now, examples 1. and 4. would suggest that "sich widersetzen" is "defy", but then it seems that "trotzen" works here as well. Examples 2 and 3 suggeset that the meaning is more along the lines of oppose/resist, but then there are things like "sich stellen gegen", and one would not really say "it opposes logic".

Can anybody maybe put me on the right track as far as a reasonable translation is concerned? I understand, you should not translate words, rather meanings, but I can't seem to get a handle on the meaning here.

  • 1
    I don't see, where widersetzen is different from the English counterparts oppose and defy.
    – guidot
    Jul 9, 2018 at 6:55

2 Answers 2


You seem to understand the meaning of the sentences quite well. The most suitable person to give you good, adequate translations of theses sentences in English is probably you yourself.

My impression is that you simply have to give up the idea that for one word in Language A (in all its variuos use-cases) there will be one specific word in Language B. There isn't. (Otherwise computer linguists weren't a thing.)

To help you, I try to express the meaning of these sentences in simple (basic) English. I think this should help you find good translations in more elaborate registers of speech. The German examples you quote are of rather high register: written language, theatre, radio (as opposed to street and youth language, informal chat etc.)

Er widersetzt sich dem Befehl.

He does not do what the superior person told him to do. This may be open resistance, or resistance in some hidden way.

Sie widersetzt sich seinem Kuss.

She behaves in a way making clear that she does not like to be kissed; or at least she pretends to be not liking it. Still the action is too weak to stop the kissing.

Das Volk widersetzt sich den Invasoren.

Members of the public do verious visible or invisible things to stop the invadors, or to make their life difficult.

Die Idee widersetzt sich der Logik.

The idea is not logical. It is contrary to logic. A thinking person cannot accept this idea. Note: etwas widersetzt sich der Logik is a very high register of speech, almost manieristic. Acceptable, but... well, a bit overdone.

Now it is your turn to find appropriate English phrases.

Later addition regarding "This ideas defies logic":

More normal ways to express this in standard German would be

Die Idee ist unlogisch

Der Idee fehlt es an Logik

Or if you want to use casual language (possible with good friends, or when offending your counterpart is no problem for you):

Die Idee ist Quatsch.

Or if you speak to superiors:

Ich verstehe die Idee nicht ganz.

Die Idee erschließt sich mir nicht.

  • 2
    Ich denke die Antwort hätte um einiges gekürzt werden können, aber trotzdem +1
    – Squareoot
    Jul 5, 2018 at 18:08
  • Thank you for your continuous help. Yes, I have come to the realization that there is not a 1-1 translation of words, and words can mean different things in different contexts, but defining the contexts themselves is sometimes troublesome. For example, does my logic example fall within the same context as the Befehl example? If so, then defy works great. I would never have known, however, that "Logik widersetzen" is of high register, because "defying logic" is normal, everyday speech in English. So then it comes down to, what is the philosophical difference between "defying" these two things.
    – Mark
    Jul 5, 2018 at 18:09
  • ...in any case, I will take your advice. If I can ask one more related question. In my third example, "to oppose" seems like a reasonable translation, but so does "resist". Resist is somewhat stronger, implying an active resistance/fighting back, while oppose can simply mean, they are simply against the occupation. One can be opposed but not resist. What would you say "sich widersetzen" best describes?
    – Mark
    Jul 5, 2018 at 18:16
  • 1
    @Mark context is key, like so often. You have to decide in each case what fits best. Both versions may be correct.
    – Stephie
    Jul 6, 2018 at 9:40
  • 1
    @Mark Regarding Example 3 (the invaders), "sich widersetzen" is more like your "to resist", i.e. implying something more than just "feeling opposed"; it involves action. Jul 8, 2018 at 16:35

I think "widersetzen" is quite well translated with "to be resistant towards", though that sounds odd in english in some places. Also, as Christian said, wiedersetzen is more open as to whether the action being resisted is successful. However, "to resist" works quite well IMO:

He resists the order.
She resists his kiss.
The people acted resistant towards the invaders.
The idea is resistant to logic.

Especially with the last one: "Die Idee widersetzt sich der Logik" means to me: the idea is sane enough, that initially/intuitively you judge it as plausible. But on closer inspection you just can't seem to make it fit with your facts. "Die Idee widerspricht jeder Logik" is much stronger: right from the moment you first hear of the idea you deem it fundamentally wrong.

  • Thank you. Yes, I think this is a part of my confusion. To "resist" something, at least in English, has a connotation that the effort has been successful. You can then suggest that widersetzen=offer resistance, but then things like, "offer resistance to the order", or "offer resistance to logic" sounds very funny...
    – Mark
    Jul 5, 2018 at 20:08
  • @Mark somehow I can't stop thinking about this. What about "be resistent towards"? Does that remove the connotation?
    – marstato
    Jul 6, 2018 at 6:41
  • Now you understand my difficulty :) Yes, this does remove the connotation, and is a great suggestion. Another option (I think) would be the phrase "actively resist", or "offer resistance". "She didn't actively resist/offer resistance to his kiss." Now, this is still not the way I would write it (I would say "she didn't try to resist" or something), but it may be a good way to remember the meaning of the word "widersetzen". Thank you for the discussion.
    – Mark
    Jul 6, 2018 at 7:47
  • Resistant towards is not typically a good translation. It often implies a passive resistance/immunity. These are better captured by resistent sein or widerstehen.
    – Ludi
    Jul 10, 2018 at 8:50

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