It seems that "Gewehr" can mean gun, but also specifically rifles. Can "Gewehr" be used more generally to mean all guns, or does it only mean rifles specifically?

  • Gewehr (gevär) is something resembling a rifle. Waffe could be any weapon. Atomwaffe for example atomic weapons. Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 12:39
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    Certainly not in composite words. Luftwaffe and Luftgewehr are very distinct things.
    – Jens
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 13:04

2 Answers 2


Gewehr today typically denotes any gun that has a long barrel (as opposed to a pistol). Rifles, machine guns, even shotguns.

And no, it is not the generic term for gun, that would be Schusswaffe.

The word Gewehr itself was actually part of the language before guns were even invented - It used to mean anything that could be used as a means of long-range defense before you got into a melee fight, so it included battlements, walls, towers, barricades, whatever (The Grimm has an extensive explanation on that). Over time, the meaning focused on guns but still anything that would not apply to melee battle.

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    Add to that, "Waffe" would be akin to weapon, with the regular p>f correspondence
    – vectory
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 19:36
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    Since Wehr only means defense, there must be a particular language historic reason. Imaginably, pistols were an innovation taken from Italian, contrasting with the long builds. A Pistol is generically called "Handfeuerwaffe". In the same way, a "Schusswaffe" should, but practically doesn't denote an archers bow. In contrast to a bow, guns involve gun-fire, but we do not say "Feuerwaffe", though the term does seem to exist, to my surprise.
    – vectory
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 19:38
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    @vectory Why do you say a bow isn't a Schusswaffe? If you asked me to name one, I'd probably name a type of gun first, but if you asked me what type of weapon a bow was, I'd definitely say Schusswaffe. The crossbow is another such case.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 20:22
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    @JyrkiLahtonen look up „Schrotgewehr“
    – tofro
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 9:42
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    @Philipp Als das Gewehr werden u.A. auch in der Jägersprache die Hauer eines Keilers bezeichnet. Trotzdem würde ich das nicht zur Regel erheben, und es vor allem nicht versuchen, das jemandem zu erklären, der die deutsche Sprache lernen will. Es ist nunmal so, dass Gewehr zu 99,9% eine Schusswaffe mit langem Lauf bezeichnet. Ausnahmen gibt es, sie mögen interessant sein, aber für einen Lerner nicht hilfreich.
    – tofro
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 10:24

Waffe = weapon

This can be a gun, a bomb, a missile, and many other things that are made to hurt or kill people. Depending on the context, a Waffe also can be anything that can be used to hurt or kill people, independent of what it was made for - so a screwdriver, a baseball bat, or a box cutter can also be Waffen.

Gewehr = rifle, long gun

A Gewehr is any gun with a long barrel, i.e. something that shoots bullets, but not a pistol.

Schusswaffe = gun

Schusswaffe (literally: shoot-weapon) is the German word for any weapons that can be used to shoot bullets.

  • German language (and law) makes a clear distiction between a weapon, made for the purpose (a gun, a spring knive, a crossbow), and sth. that is just used as one in a given case (screwdriver, axe, bow and arrow ,..).
    – Karl
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 23:10
  • However, a "Seitengewehr" is a bayonet - a cold weapon, not a gun at all. Also note that if you look at the word Gewehr without context, it seems to mean "defense-stuff" without any mention of shooting :) Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 9:49
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    @rackandboneman That is a historical development. "Gewehr" used to denote anything you use for defense, even before guns were invented. Today, it (nearly) exclusively refers to guns. "Seitengewehr" is not a common usage today and even most native speakers will be confused to learn it's no gun at all.
    – tofro
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 11:50
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    @Karl: I somewhat disagree concerning language. A statement like "Eilig sah sie sich nach einer Waffe um und nahm einen der Schraubenzieher von der Werkbank." sounds completely idiomatic and it is clear that the screwdriver is her weapon (because she intends to use it as such). Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 14:46
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    Why are you discussing? I clearly wrote »Depending on the context« in my answer, and you all argue, that it depends on the context if you can call a screwdriver a weapon. But that is exactly what I've written. So, what is the purpose of your discussion? Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 16:57

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