In English, there’s a difference between the verbs to cite and to quote (both links refer to Merriam-Webster).

The website differencebetween states (and I quote):

Cite vs Quote

The English words “cite” and “quote” are very similar and are used by people, sometimes, without knowing the differences between them. They cannot be interchanged or confused with each other. “Quoting” is basically repeating something someone has said or written verbatim, and “citing” means giving reference to a particular subject or words or thought by some person who is proficient to prove a point or theory or thought.
“Quoting” refers to reproducing the words of another person verbatim; “citing” refers to giving an example of some subject for substantiating oneself.

Google Translate offers zitieren for both to cite and to quote, and Leo lists zitieren and anführen (among other meanings) for both.

If I want to be precise and retain the meaning of quote or cite, how should the following sentences be worded in German?

  1. The judge cited a number of laws to prove his point.
  2. The student quoted Shakespeare in his presentation.
  • 2
    @userunknown Es geht hier nicht darum, dass der Unterschied zwischen to cite und to quote erklärt werden soll, sondern darum eine deutsche Entsprechung für diesen Unterschied zu finden, da zitieren im Deutschen beide verschiedenen Bedeutungen abdeckt. Es ist also durchaus eine Frage zur deutschen Sprache, die auch völlig ohne den Verweis auf to cite und to quote gestellt werden könnte, die hier nur als Beispiele fungieren.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 0:43
  • 1
    @userunknown Ja, danke für den Tipp, das hatte ich tatsächlich nicht getan. Dann könntest du nach dem Edit ja deinen Kommentar löschen. Dann lösche ich natürlich auch meinen ;-)
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 15:35

2 Answers 2


You are correct in assuming that the two meanings of cite and quote are often merged (and mixed up) in the one German word zitieren, much like the two English words are sometimes imprecisely interchanged.

The German term for using someone else’s words verbatim (word for word), i.e. the English quote, is zitieren (meaning 1 in the Duden entry).

In the following two sentences, zitieren means that a passage of text is quoted without alteration:

  1. Ich zitiere [wortwörtlich] den Bericht der letzten Vollversammlung.
  2. Um Goethe zu zitieren, „sag’s ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken!“

There are other ways to say this, depending on context. For example, in our second sentence, you could also use bemühen ironically:

Um Goethe zu bemühen, „sag’s ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken!“

The English verb to cite is a bit more difficult, because it may mean to quote, but it can also mean to just refer to something without actually quoting it. The German words anführen and verweisen correspond very well to this: They tell us that some text, opinion etc. is used. That actual piece of text may or may not be quoted (meaning 2 in the Duden entry of anführen; meaning 2 and 3 in the entry of verweisen):

2a. vorbringen, erwähnen, aufzählen
2b. benennen
2c. zitieren, wörtlich wiedergeben

2. auf etwas hinweisen, aufmerksam machen
3a. veranlassen, sich an eine bestimmte andere Person oder Stelle zu wenden
3b. (Rechtssprache) übergeben, überweisen

To sum it up: If you quote something verbatim, always use the original wording, and call it zitieren / Zitat. If you cite something without quoting its words, like a reference to another work in your term paper, call it verweisen / Verweis.

And finally, using the examples from the question:

  1. The judge cited a number of laws to prove his point.
    Der Richter führte eine Reihe von Gesetzen an, um seinen Standpunkt zu belegen.
    Or: Der Richter verwies auf eine Reihe von Gesetzen, …
    [He may or may not have additionally quoted them.]
  2. The student quoted Shakespeare in his presentation.
    In seiner Präsentation zitierte der Student Shakespeare.
    [He actually used Shakespeare’s words.]
  • Frage gerettet und gut beantwortet!
    – David Vogt
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 10:49

You can only quote someone, while you can cite someone or something.

German speakers don't make a difference, it's both either zitieren (to cite/to quote) or wiedergeben (to quote/to cite).

Jürgen gab bloß Thomas wieder.

Jürgen just quoted Thomas.

Jürgen gab bloß wieder, was auf dem Schild stand.

Jürgen just cited what was written on the sign.

  • 1
    The main difference requires a knowledge of another language than German and is off-topic here. I expect Aaron to have this knowledge, and his question being about the —to English speakers— puzzling fact German does not make this difference.
    – Janka
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 11:12
  • 1
    Na ja, mir stellt sich da noch die Frage, worin genau der Unterschied zwischen Zitieren und Rezitieren im Deutschen liegt. Das sollte hier mit rein. Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 11:44
  • 1
    Wer verwendet überhaupt je das Verb rezitieren?
    – Janka
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 12:36
  • 2
    @Janka: Gedicht aufsagen = rezitieren ... wäre meine Verwendung von rezitieren. Ansonsten fehlt mir in der Frage, worin der Unterschied von quote und cite im Englischen besteht, Philipp hat einen Hinweis "kommentiert". Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 14:05
  • Ich würde hingegen einfach ein Gedicht aufsagen.
    – Janka
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 14:08

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