I often see when people sneeze, the colleagues suddenly respond with the word "Gesundheit".

My question is that, can we use "Gesundheit" when somebody is coughing? If not, is there any word for it?

  • 4
    I say Gesundheit also after somebody coughs. Then they look either strange at me or tell me, that they were not sneezing. But, still they are thankful.
    – tommsch
    Aug 3, 2019 at 19:50
  • 3
    @tommsch If you kept doing that with me, I would probably start avoiding to cough in your presence after the fifth time. ;-)
    – Karl
    Aug 4, 2019 at 13:45
  • 2
    Can I just say that none of this is related to the German language. This is a pan-cultural habit, blessing someone only when they sneeze and not when they cough, when blow their nose etc. A related question that would be about language might be, why do so many English speaking people use a German word when a perfectly good English equivalent is available.
    – Mr Lister
    Aug 5, 2019 at 9:27
  • 2
    @tommsch i also do this and get the exact same reaction. It's always funny when they say "i only coughed".
    – Clayn
    Aug 5, 2019 at 10:36
  • 3
    @MrLister When I was young, I was told "bless you" originated from the false superstition that when someone sneezed their soul would be ejected from their body and it required an act of God to restore them. In order to avoid such heresy, I should instead wish someone "Gesundheit" since if they are sneezing it is likely they are in poor health. How much of that has historical basis in fact, I couldn't tell you, but as a young protestant, that was the justification given for preferring the German term.
    – jmbpiano
    Aug 5, 2019 at 16:22

5 Answers 5


No, not specific for coughing.

There is neither a word for it nor is it common practice for bystanders to comment any coughing, only in case you are really concerned about the cougher's condition.

As you figured out, a bystander's commit is usual for sneezing.

A current (last 10-20 years) "developement" of "Gesundheit!" from bystanders turns into "Entschuldigung." from the sneezer in business environment = where you disturb an unknown crowd, while being with friends, the "Gesundheit! - Danke." is common.

So you could derive a "Entschuldigung." as well from the cougher because he might have disturbed the bystanders.

(updated/ specified thanks to comments)

  • 5
    Never heard "Entschuldigung" in response of "Gesundheit". Unter Freunden ist die Reihenfolge so: "<Hatschi!>" -- "Gesundheit." -- "Danke." -- "Prost!". Aug 3, 2019 at 11:25
  • 7
    @MichaelHoppe It's not used in response to "Gesundheit". It's said by the one who sneezed instead getting "Gesundheit" from bystanders. If someone says Entschuldigung after sneezing, there usually is no response or further acknowledgment by others. I would say "Entschuldigung" is mostly used when you want to avoid that whole "Gesundheit"--"Danke" spiel which calls unnecessary attention to the situation.
    – kapex
    Aug 3, 2019 at 12:30
  • 3
    This is not such a recent development, it's something that the new Knigge invented some 10-15 years ago out of... uh... urgent need for something new. Much like all those new words that are not German at all, which the Duden (and Coca Cola Corp) invented, such as unkaputtbar.
    – Damon
    Aug 3, 2019 at 19:45
  • 4
    I agree, this is not a recent development. It may be 10 to 15 years old but definitely not to invent something new for the new thing's sake. Avoiding the Gesundheit-Danke-Spiel in a professional environment is reson enough. Aug 4, 2019 at 13:55
  • 3
    @Damon “Unkaputtbar” was hardly invented by Duden. It was included because it’s a word that’s in use (maybe not by you specifically, but demonstrably by many others). This is how dictionaries are supposed to work: descriptive, not prescriptive. Duden is a bit of both but it’s not prescribing the existence of a word, it is documenting its active usage. Aug 5, 2019 at 11:06

As far as I'm aware, the word "Gesundheit" is only used when people sneeze. It's similar to "bless you" in English.

One explanation I heard is that it is possible to sneeze for unrelated reasons (binding light, dust in the nose), and expresses the wish that the person sneezing should be healthy.

I never heard of a word in response to coughing, neither German nor English.

  • 3
    In the US and Canadian English, "gesundheit" is very frequently used in response to a sneeze as well, especially on the East Coast, although I believe it's much less common in Britain and Ireland. Probably from Judeo-German; in some parts of New York, you will hear the Yiddish זײַ געזונט (zay gezunt) instead. But yes, only when people sneeze. Aug 5, 2019 at 3:59

"Gesundheit" is only used when someone sneezes

It's supposed to be a custom from the days of the Black Death in Europe. The "Knigge" , which is widely considered the reference for questions regarding good manners in Germany, claims that you should no longer use this expression (and politely pretend to have seen and heard nothing). However, this rule didn't prevail (yet?) and people continue to wish others "health" when they sneeze.


As an addition to Shegit's answer, if you hear someone saying "Gesundheit" as a reaction to coughing, it is most likely that this person mistook the coughing for a sneeze (or is not sure what it was)


For completeness, if someone says something totally not understandable, like using a lot of technical vocabulary, some people say "Gesundheit" sarcastically to point out that you spoke so unclearly or that the word sounds so complicated that you might as well just have sneezed.

-Was bedeutet eigentlich DNS?

  • 2
    I’ve never heard this done in German. It’s (somewhat) common in English though. Aug 5, 2019 at 11:08
  • 3
    .. or for words or names that sound like someone sneezed. "What brand was that harddrive you bought?" - "Hitachi." - "Gesundheit."
    – WooShell
    Aug 5, 2019 at 11:41
  • 2
    My colleague uses this when we speak outside of English or German vocabulary. +1 to answer!
    – Sanctus
    Aug 5, 2019 at 12:47
  • 2
    That's totally colloquial and more like a joke in form of a running gag than a real thing to do. It's also done when there is a last name or a technical term which is hard to understand and considered a foreign word.
    – shaedrich
    Aug 6, 2019 at 11:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.