The meaning of sentences using "wie" or "nach" in this context can be very similar:

Das klingt wie Gewehrschüsse!


Das klingt nach Gewehrschüssen!

(That sounds like gunshots!)

Differences I notice are: The meaning seems to be the same, or almost the same.
There is a grammatical difference.
The second one is formally correct, but I am not sure whether the first is strictly correct too. It is certainly understandable, and also acceptable as a correct sentence for practical purposes - but it may not be theoretically correct.
There is some kind of subtle difference in style - but what is it? Maybe the first is more common in spoken language, and the second in written language?

These are all details - but it feels like I am missing something. Probably the difference on a more abstract level, like "The sentences are of different types, which are ..."

How can the sentences be described?
Do they mean the same?

2 Answers 2


They do not mean the same, there is a subtle difference:

Das klingt nach Gewehrschüssen. could be translated as That sounds as if someone was shooting with a gun., while Das klingt wie Gewehrschüsse. would be translated as That sounds like gunshots..

The difference is the following: nach Gewehrschüssen klingen means that the heard sound is taken as an indication that somebody shot a gun. While wie Gewehrschüsse klingen is referring to the fact that the heard sound is similar to gunshots.

Since something which sounds like gunshots can very often be seen as an indication of gunshots, the extensions of the two expressions tend to overlap very often. But a critical situation, a situation where you can see the difference between the two expressions, is a situation where it is clear that the heard sound cannot be an indication of actual gunshots, for instance if the actual source of the sound is visible and is clearly not gunshots. Here, only Das klingt wie Gewehrschüsse. is possible, because Das klingt nach Gewehrschüssen. does not make sense anymore: Since the source of the sound is clearly not gunshots, the sound cannot be taken as an indication of gunshots.

This also holds, if nach is used with other verbs of perception, like in nach etwas riechen for instance.

  • 3
    In other words "...nach Gewehrschuessen" could be "That sounds of gunshots" (excuse the quirky English there), and using "wie" is "That sounds similar to gunshots"? So in this video where a sound is heard, both instances could be used by people in Times Square. However, if I saw the motorcycle backfire, and my friend didn't and the friend said "Das klingt nach Gewehrschuessen!", I could reply, "Nein, das klingt wie Gewehrschuessen, aber es war ein Motorrad." ...?
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 18:47
  • One could speculate that, if nah and nach are akin, that the underlying sense of das klingt nach had been that is nearly, opposite to your suggestion. On the other hand one could hold that nach in the tempospatial sense implied a sense of consequence, as you do. I know nothing about nach itself to support either idea. I hold that the semantics of the immitative, i.e. not inherently identifying expression largely rests on klingen, if only because singing is inherently immitative. PIE *ghel- (was it?) is actually "call, cry" or sumsuch ...
    – vectory
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 23:04
  • and our figure of speach is firmly self reflexive, das hört sich nach etwas an and, you tell me please, das klingt [sich?] wie. It helps that the basic self reflexive preverbal root is *se, so we can compare so wie, das klingt so; Also cp. En so much ("sehr"), thus cp. the nearly doubtless das klingt sehr nach .... Now, also cp *nu which was used either as an inquisitive particle in negation the sense "isn't it", but also meant "now". Now, what do you say. Does that sound no good or does it?
    – vectory
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 23:10
  • Last but not least compare -sund (gesund), En sound and healthy, vs Lat sono vs sound, vs *sem- "one, complete" (gesamt, Summe, similar), vs Lat sum "I am", Ger sein. That could strengthen the argument for prevalence of immitation in accoustics. Sadly linking *sem- to -sund (since terminal m widely changed to n in German or earlier, so I heard) does not fit my expectations.
    – vectory
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 23:17

There really is a -very subtle- difference in the two meanings:

When you say

Das klingt nach Gewehrschüssen

then usually you are quite sure, that the sound you hear really are gunshots. There is a small possibility, that the sound is something else, but you do not believe it.

When saying

Das klingt wie Gewehrschüsse

then the sound might be gunshots, but you are not absolutely sure, it might be something else. Depending on the emphasis you might even say "but they aren't" with this sentence.

  • I'm not aware of the difference. Are you making that up? My main problem is with your last sentence. I see little to indicate missdirection in the denotional sense other than that we'd rather just say "das sind ...". The emotional connotation (those could be, I'm already scared) and the evaluative connotation (those don't scare me but could have) are equaly valid.
    – vectory
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 23:37
  • Is this your default question, if somebody „is making something up“ whenever you are not aware of that thing?
    – Tode
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 6:24

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