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Could somebody please explain to me, the difference between the verbs "spüren" and "fühlen"? I know they both mean to feel, but do they both have different connotations? My initial feeling was that one is more physical and the other more emotional/mental/non-physical... however I am unable to say which suits which.

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"Spüren" is related to sensory perception. Thus you can use it for sentences like

I can feel the heat. (Ich spüre die Hitze.)
I can't feel my legs. (Ich spüre meine Beine nicht.)
I can feel the motion of the sea. (Ich spüre den Seegang.)

"Fühlen" can be used in this sense too, so you can take each of the above sentences and replace "spüren" with "fühlen" without changing their meaning. But in addition to that "fühlen" can also refer to moods and emotions, which "spüren" can't:

I feel attracted to him. (Ich fühle mich zu ihm hingezogen.)
I feel good. (I fühle mich gut.)
I feel guilty. (Ich fühle mich schuldig.)

You cannot replace "fühlen" with "spüren" in these sentences.

  • 1
    Yes. It much resembles "sensing" and "feeling". – Ludi Jun 2 '15 at 20:53
  • Another consideration seems to be that fühlen can be used reflexively (sich fühlen) but spüren cannot. Correct me if I'm wrong about that. – Nate Cook Aug 10 '17 at 12:44
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Spüren

  • Physical or mental perception

    Ich spüre einen Schmerz.

  • Craving, jonesing

    Ich spüre ein Verlangen nach Pommes.

  • Instinctive perception

    Ich spürte, dass er noch etwas im Schilde führte.

Translations: to feel, to sense, to notice, to perceive

Fühlen

  • Physical or mental perception

    Ich fühle einen erheblichen Druck auf mir liegen.
    Ich fühle seinen Puls nicht mehr.

  • Sensation

    Ich fühle mich heute hervorragend.
    Ich fühle mich besser.

  • Self-estimation

    Ich fühle mich als Direktor berufen.
    Wie fühlst du dich jetzt als Direktor?

  • Pride

    Er fühlte sich als wichtigster Mann auf dem Platz.

Translations: to feel, to regard, to consider, to think

  • What exactly is a mental perception? How it differs from a sensation? Where do the feelings besides pride/self-esteem (eg anger, happiness, sadness, despair, loneliness) fit in the criterias above? – Alan Evangelista Oct 10 '18 at 6:14

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