I am wondering about the difference between the verbs schaden, schädigen and beschädigen. In which conditions would we use these verbs? Below I have some examples. I don't know whether they are true.

  • Rauchen schadet dir.
  • Rauchen beschädigt dich.

  • Das schadet der Natur.
  • Das beschädigt die Natur.

  • Sein Verhalten schadet unserer Freundschaft.
  • Sein Verhalten beschädigt unsere Freundschaft.
  • 6
    Did you do any research about finding concrete examples, and can ypu tell what you don't understand about the differences specifically? Commented Oct 27, 2019 at 18:28
  • 2
    Now that you added examples: what do you understand? where do you get lost? Where do you think your understanding seems odd? Commented Oct 29, 2019 at 9:28
  • 2
    Voting reopen because the question cannot be simply answered by a dictionary, even though showing no explicit research effort in OP, which may have still taken place.
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 13:54

2 Answers 2


schaden = schädlich, nachteilig sein, eine Beeinträchtigung, einen Nachteil, Verlust darstellen; Schaden zufügen (Duden)

"Schaden" is the most general one and it means to have a disadvantage or negative effect. It can be used for objects and persons.

schädigen = bei jemandem/etwas einen Schaden hervorrufen (Duden)

"Schädigen" is often used if its not a physical damage (scatching the object/person), but more a general damage to a state or situation, e.g. "jemanden finanziell schädigen" (=ruining oneone financially) or "jemandes Ruf schädigen" (=ruining a reputation)

beschädigen = Schaden an etwas verursachen; schadhaft machen (Duden)

You can only "beschädigen" something not somebody, e.g. "fremdes Eigentum beschädigen" (=damage someones posession)

In regard of your examples:

Rauchen schadet dir.

Yes, that's correct.

Rauchen beschädigt dich.

No, you wouldn't say that as "beschädigen" refers to objects.

Das schadet der Natur.

Yes, that's correct.

Das beschädigt die Natur.

Reading this sentence, I wonder "who does it damage nature". As the damage is less specific I would say "Das schadet der Natur".

Sein Verhalten schadet unserer Freundschaft.

Yes, that's correct.

Sein Verhalten beschädigt unsere Freundschaft.

Yes, that's correct. However, as a native , I prefer schadet (I can't give an explanation why).

  • A grammatic derivation instead of intuitive judgement from usage would be worthwhile, whether v. schaden was a backformation from the noun to explain a "most general" meaning, or an inherited verb form from the verbal root, with an extended -ig form for a narrower sense. That is, I wondered before whether -ig implied continuity, persistence, recurrence (after ständig). Also cp schädlich, not *schädig?!
    – vectory
    Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 10:31
  • Also, I tend to disagree with your last remark. Cp Schwerbeschädigter "(severly) disabled person", vs behindert "handicapped, disabled; hindered"
    – vectory
    Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 10:38
  • @vectory, someone can be "Schwerbeschädigt", but you cannot say: "Ich beschädigte ihn schwer." I would say, the legal term "Schwerbeschädigter" refers to to the person's body, not the person.
    – Iris
    Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 10:44
  • Feel free to write an answer about the grammatic derivation or ask a new question. I just answered the question.
    – Iris
    Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 10:46

IMHO beschädigen can only be used, when material things are damaged - not umbrella terms like as nature, environment, universe ... but tangible/palpable, concrete/explicit, quasi manageable/handy parts of it: a tree, a stone ... the moon - if sth. or so. is big enough to damage it ;-)

For immaterial things or persons, animals, some umbrella terms etc. you can use schädigen or schaden in the majority of cases (except common figures of speech, f.i. in juristic phrases: Der Angeklagte hat ihn geschädigt. --> der Geschädigte, never der Geschadete). So I think, it's not correct to say Sein Verhalten beschädigt unsere Freundschaft, only schadet unserer Freundschaft or schädigt unsere Freundschaft.

  • So you deny that the phrase "Das beschädigt die Natur" is valid because the speaker cannot have in mind some specific area with trees and animals? Maybe I'm to "language-lazy", I did find both versions valid. Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 14:26
  • Yes, I do. Natur describes everything, which is not created by humans (de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natur), incl. universe, reality, character of r. and the essence of things - too extensive. I never read or heard: Natur beschädigt - it's definitely unusual. Maybe we could say, it's a philosophical question. But similar to inmaterial worthes like friendship you shouldn't use Natur beschädigen, much better: schädigen or schaden. ... - if you search in in a well-known searching-engine "Natur beschädigen"=764 results - and suggests: "Natur schädigen"=7290x, "Natur schaden"=40900x Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 15:02
  • Please also check out Umwelt at duden.de/rechtschreibung/Umwelt - beyond Bedeutungen 2a, Beispiele: der Umwelt schaden. - or compare with substantives: Umweltschaden vs. Umweltbeschädigung, die in der Natur angerichteten Schäden ... ok, that limps: Naturschaden/Naturbeschädigung don't exist in German ... but sometimes it's helpful to compare existing composite substantives to find out, which verb is correct. Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 15:44

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