In English, we have blink and wink where wink is a voluntary action. In German, which one is the voluntary one and which one is not? When should I use one over another? Or are both of them is a synonym?

  • 1
    Hello Logos, the politeness of hellos and thank yous is not desired here, because it distracts from the question and I therefore deleted it from your question.
    – Iris
    Oct 12 '18 at 10:15
  • I see, understood. Thank you for telling me @Iris
    – Logos
    Oct 12 '18 at 10:27


The words blinzeln and zwinkern tell nothing about the number of eyes involved and careful investigation proves volition is no absolute criterion either!

On the number of eyes involved

The conjectures voiced in the other answer about the number of eyes involved in anblinzeln are completely misguided. You can definitely say:

Aus seinem verbliebenen Auge blinzelte mich der Pirat verständnislos an.

When I entered blinzeln m, my browser already proposed blinzeln mit einem Auge. It is used here and an doesn’t change anything about the number of eyes involved. An can be used to emphasise the voluntary nature but can also be directional.

I was initially inclined to agree with the claim in the comments that zwinkern involves only one eye, but more research shows this is not strictly required. Not only are there numerous counter examples counter example, second counter example, third counter example. The Duden also lists:

nervös, vielsagend, vertraulich [mit den Augen] zwinkern

To put the nail in the coffin, Grimm also notes:

allgemein gebräuchlich und verbreitet die engere bedeutung 'mit den augen zwinkern, mit den augenlidern zucken, sie zusammendrücken'

Grimm also mentions usages I never heard in the 20th century:

herr Barbarossa zwinkerte mit dem munde

On volition

It is my experience as a native speaker that zwinkern is usually voluntary and blinzeln involuntary. Blinzeln typically occurs when we wake up or when light blinds us. Thus it typically involves both eyes. But careful investigation reveals neither voluntary nature nor eye number strictly differentiates these words. Same holds for anblinzeln where an fulfils the role of English at. This can still be involuntary, and unintentional just as gape at/anglotzen or ankotzen/puke at or anstinken can. See below.

Indeed there are examples of blinzeln as a voluntary action in Grimm:

man biege nunmehr den kopf zurück und blinzle mit den augen. Göthe 52, 181;

Grimm also notes:

die augen halb öfnen und blinken lassen, oft um damit zu winken, aber auch unklar sehen, geblendet, halbblind sein

On the other hand there are examples of zwinkern as an involuntary action. One of Grimm’s definitions for zwinkern reads:

eine unbewuszte zuckende bewegung der augenlider

Response to comments: Anglotzen can be unintentional too Simply consider:

Er nahm mich nicht wahr, sondern glotzte mich aus toten Augen an.

  • "Glotz/Kotz mich nicht an!" assumes the other person is doing it on purpose and I would always assume/expect an intention with verbs like anglotzen or ankotzen (I've never heard anstinken).
    – Iris
    Oct 12 '18 at 10:13
  • @Iris They are typically but not necessarily intentional. Compare: „Er nahm mich nicht wahr, sondern glotzte mich aus toten Augen an“.
    – Ludi
    Oct 12 '18 at 13:11
  • @Ludi, What about this then? Every arbitrary amount of time elapsed, we blink our eyes unconsciously. Would you still use blinzen for this action? By the way, I just realized that the stemm of blinzeln is blinz, it sounded like the English blind... does blinzeln is an action always triggered by "blinding light"?
    – Logos
    Oct 13 '18 at 2:40
  • @Logos good question. Let me think about it. Blinzeln is not always triggered by light. As you can see from Goethe’s example it can be voluntary. It is usually etymologically connected to blinken/blink. It might also be connected to blind. Grimm makes such connection
    – Ludi
    Oct 13 '18 at 7:49


  • blinzeln — to blink
  • zwinkern — to wink with one eye

Well, those are obvious, they are cognates. But there's also

  • anblinzeln, zublinzeln — to wink with both eyes, to flirt with the eyes
  • 3
    Anblinzeln doesn’t imply anything about the number of eyes involved! Rather, the an corresponds to English at.
    – Ludi
    Oct 12 '18 at 6:16
  • 1
    @Ludi, I disagree. I think, you can't "(an/zu-)blinzeln" with only one eye. If only one eye is used, I would use "(zu-)zwinkern"
    – Iris
    Oct 12 '18 at 9:16
  • 1
    @Iris “Der Pirat erwachte und blinzelte mich aus seinem verbliebenen Auge Verständnislos an” ist sicherlich möglich. Da Blinzeln meist instinktiv geschieht, assoziiert man damit tendenziell beide Augen. Eher trifft jedoch eine Unterscheidung zwischen instinktiv und absichtlich, wie sie der op vernimmt. Die Beidäugigkeit ist keine Notwendige Bedingung!
    – Ludi
    Oct 12 '18 at 9:21
  • @Iris rund-ums-baby.de/kinderarzt/…
    – Ludi
    Oct 12 '18 at 9:25
  • @Ludi, beides (Augenklappe, motorische Störung) sind aber sehr besondere Fälle, an die ich nicht denken würde. Außerdem wird in beiden Fällen explizit erwähnt, dass es eine besondere Situation mit nur einem Auge ist.Ich würde daher bei "anblinzeln" immer von der Norm = 2 funktionierende Augen ausgehen.
    – Iris
    Oct 12 '18 at 10:08

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