A friend of mine says that one is typically used for people and the other one is for objects. The dictionary is no help, it gives the same translation for both. Is there a significant difference or are these two fully interchangeable? When should I use 'ruhig' / 'still'?


The Problem is that ruhig and still both have several different meanings. One of the meanings of ruhig is calm or serene, as in the example

Nun bleib mal ganz ruhig.

In this meaning, ruhig can clearly be used for people only, not for objects. Similarly, one meaning of still is guarded or reserved, as in

Du bist heute so still.

Again, this can only be used for people. So unfortunately there are no clear rules. If you really want to learn to use the two words correctly, I think you'll have to look at many examples and develop a feeling for the meanings. In the two Duden links above you'll find quite a few helpful examples.

But I agree with what others have said here already: don't be afraid of using the "wrong" word. People will still be able to understand you, even if they may pause and think for a second.

  • Upvoted and thanks! And an extra thanks for the Duden links, I would have used that site if I had known about it.
    – Ali
    Apr 28 '12 at 13:59
  • Even more complicated: "Nimm dir ruhig einen Keks, wir haben noch mehr". Here ruhig is used to express encuragement rather than meaning to take the cookie quietly.
    – con-f-use
    Apr 29 '12 at 0:04
  • @con-f-use: Right, that's a Partikel then, not an adjective. I didn't think of that version of ruhig. Apr 29 '12 at 7:59
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    @user: Lieber user unknown, ich weiß nicht genau, auf welcher Ebene ich auf Deinen Kommentar antworten soll; deshalb versuche ich gleich 3 Varianten. Dein obiger Kommentar ist wahrscheinlich nicht böse gemeint, aber die Formulierung "Ich verstehe nicht, wie Du sagen kannst ...", zusammen mit dem Punktabzug, kam bei mir beim 1. Lesen wie ein Angriff an, nach dem Motto "wie kannst Du bloß ...". Wissen kann ich es natürlich nicht, aber ich vermute, dass es Kommentare wie diese waren, die Gigili damals vertrieben haben. Apr 30 '12 at 7:05
  • 3
    3. Variante: Ich verstehe nicht, wie Du das nicht verstehen kannst, und wieso Du gleich einen Punktabzug gibst: Ich habe über Personen versus Objekte nachgedacht, und dabei habe ich Tiere ganz vergessen. Das kann doch passieren! Ich finde es gut, dass Du mich auf so etwas hinweist, aber fände es nett, wenn Du mir erstmal die Chance gibst, auf Deinen Hinweis zu reagieren - z.B. mit einer Klarstellung wie in der 2. Variante. Apr 30 '12 at 7:06


Der Motor läuft ruhig, aber nicht still. Hier bedeutet es regelmäßig, ohne Schlag und Unwucht.

Meist kann man sie aber wechselseitig verwenden:

Sitz still! Sitz ruhig. Beim Einschläfern wurde der laute Kläffer schnell ruhig/still.

Eine andere Unterscheidung: Im Sinne von beruhigt wird nur ruhig verwendet:

Ruhig Blut, wir steigen schon nicht ab! (Erhebt keinen Anspruch auf Realismus).

Hier wird nicht still Blut gesagt. Blut stillen :) gibt es auch, aber um Verben ging es ja nicht.

Ein Unterschied zwischen Personen oder Sachen ist mir derart unbekannt, dass ich nachfragen muss, wofür man denn angeblich ruhig, und wofür still verwendet?

Bei einer Uhr mit Pendel/Zeiger würde man nur sagen, dass sie still steht, oder dass der Zug auf freier Strecke still steht. Aber ebenso steht der Marathonläufer mit Seitenstechen bei Kilometer 35 still.

Es gibt auch noch aus dem Wirtschaftsleben den stillen Teilhaber, der nicht durch einen ruhigen ersetzt werden kann. Aber ich kann es nur aufzählen, nicht begründen.

  • Thanks for your help. Could you give me a short advice which one to use to be on the safe side? Unfortunately, I am just getting more and more confused... :(
    – Ali
    Apr 28 '12 at 11:20
  • OK, I revised the question. Anyhow, I up-voted your answer.
    – Ali
    Apr 28 '12 at 11:22
  • @Ali I agree with uu's Answer, which could of course be extended to dozens of use cases. Unfortunately there isn't a rule of thumb that tells you in one short sentence when to use one or the other. It's possible that some linguists have written in depth about still/ruhig, you would have to look on the web. Of all the mistakes learners of German can make, using still instead of ruhig (or vice versa) would rank very low on the severity scale, in my opinion. Apr 28 '12 at 11:32
  • @EugeneSeidel OK, I understand, I just wanted to understand this but I am even more confused... How about an 80% rule? What if I use still for persons and ruhig for objects? Or I avoid using still altogether?
    – Ali
    Apr 28 '12 at 11:41
  • @Ali Let's say you're in a German restaurant and you want to order a glass of water. (Unlike in the U.S., there is no complimentary glass of water with your meal.) Then you would say ein stilles Wasser bitte. If you get it wrong and say ein ruhiges Wasser by mistake, the waiter damn well better be ready to get you a Volvic without batting an eyelash. Apr 28 '12 at 12:05

As other answers already pointed out, there are a lot of different meanings that those words encompass. Since the question does not clarify the context, what we're exactly talking about, I want to respond to the three intersecting definitions.

Before I start, I want to mention one very important fact. Two words are never fully interchangeable, otherwise one of those words will die soon. If two words have the same meaning, one is superfluously. That means, there is ever a subtle distinction between words, but, of course, in some contexts they are interchangeable without changing anything in meaning.

So, back to the words. The three meanings which those words share are:

  1. noise, sound
  2. motion, movement
  3. calmness, sedateness

(1) can be used for people, animals and objects. For (2) I'm not completely certain. You can use it for people and animals for sure, but I think it could be possible for objects, too. Though, I don't know any example right now. The latter one can only be used for people, and rarely for animals, too. Most times, when you use the latter one for animals, this is quite related to (2) as you will see in the examples below.

Note, often you will rephrase the sentences using still or ruhig as nouns (Stille, Ruhe), or using different words with similar meaning (e.g. leise). I just want to show a couple of sentences, using both the adjectives and the nouns.

Before I show the examples, I also will mention that there are a lot of examples, where the words ruhig or still are used figuratively, but I don't want to incorporate them into my answer.

  • noise, sound

Wir haben ruhige Nachbarn.

Nachdem ich mich über sein nerviges Gebrabbel aufgeregt habe, wurde er ganz still.

Der Hamster lief die ganze Nacht im Laufrad. Erst als er Ruhe gab (ruhig/still war), konnte ich einschlafen.

Das Gequietsche vom Laufrad, war nervig. Nachdem ich die Scharniere geölt habe, kehrte wieder Stille ein. (Here the object is still)

  • motion, movement

Ich konnte vor Nervosität nicht ruhig/still sitzen bleiben.

Bevor die Katze ihre Beute angreift, sitzt sie ganz still da und beobachtet ihr Ziel. (This also refers to noise)

  • calmness, sedateness

Ich fühlte eine innere Unruhe, dennoch zeigte ich mich ruhig und gelassen.

Unmittelbar nach dem die Spritze gesetzt wurde, hielt der Hund still. (Though, the obvious result is that he doesn't move any more)

Immer wenn Fremde zu Besuch sind, läuft unser Kaninchen unruhig durch den Stall.

  • I almost agree with "Two words are never fully interchangeable". In my opinion, extremely rare exceptions do exist, like Lift und Fahrstuhl. What do you think? Apr 30 '12 at 9:28
  • Nevertheless, great answer! (I first overlooked that you wrote "which those words share" - that's a very good aspect that wasn't mentioned before.) Apr 30 '12 at 9:29
  • @HendrikVogt Well, lift is actually the English word which is eingedeutscht. But finally, all these words Elevator, Paternoster, Fahrstuhl and Aufzug have a subtle distinction in what they mean, while Fahrstuhl und Aufzug are often used interchangeable. Lift is most common for Skilift (again, differs from Aufzug), and when you use it for Personenaufzug, in my opinion, it is still the English word, and maybe it will get an own connotation with time, it will displace Aufzug, or it will disappear from German language, again.
    – Em1
    Apr 30 '12 at 9:39
  • My bad, I actually meant Aufzug and Fahrstuhl - there I just don't know of any difference. As for the other words, there are indeed differences in meaning and/or usage. Apr 30 '12 at 10:16
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    Well, as for the 2nd meaning of Fahrstuhl I don't quite agree with the Duden - that object I would always call Rollstuhl :-) Of course I do agree that there are other meanings of Aufzug. I just meant that Fahrstuhl and Aufzug are 100% interchangeable if you refer to a lift. So personally, I'd write "(almost) never fully interchangeable", but I admit this is a really minor nit-pick. Apr 30 '12 at 11:03

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