Until now, the only word I knew for airplane was "das Flugzeug", but today I saw this example in Duden:

Seine Maschine fliegt noch in der Nacht Richtung Berlin ab.

I was surprised at the use of the word "die Maschine" and found out it can also mean "plane".

So, what is the difference between these two words and their usages?

  • 5
    Man sagt "meine Maschine" nur dann, wenn der Kontext (Flugreise) vollkommen klar ist. In allen anderen Fällen sagt man "Flugzeug" oder - flappsig - "Flieger" (letzteres nur im Mündlichen). Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 10:02
  • It's the same as the English speaking world says "machine" for computer. Germans use machine for plane but not for computers.
    – äüö
    Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 9:23
  • äüö I am using Maschine for computer though (in German). It simply depends on context. When context is clear, you use Maschine. If you are a cook, you use your Maschine for mixing food. If you are a seamstress, you use your Maschine for sewing. If you are a pilot, you use your Maschine for flying. If you are a farmer, you use your Maschine for harvesting corn or whatever. If you have a dairy farm, you use your Maschine for milking. I use my Maschine for writing. A computer is anyway mostly just a modern Schreibmaschine. Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 14:25

3 Answers 3


Maschine is a hyperonym of Flugzeug: the latter is a kind of machine, but there are many other kinds of machines.

Seine Maschine flog nach Berlin.

In a sentence like this, the context makes it pretty clear that Maschine refers to an airplane. This figure of speech is called synecdoche. There are different types of synecdoche.

  • Er ging nach Amerika. (=die Vereinigten Staaten)
    totum pro parte (the whole for the part)
  • Das kostet fünf Euro pro Kopf. (=Person)
    pars pro toto (the part for the whole)
  • Hast du ein Tempo? (=Taschentuch)
    species pro genere (the species for the genus)
  • Wir Zweibeiner glauben, daß wir die mächtigsten Wesen dieser Erde sind. (=Menschen)
    genus pro specie (the genus for the species)

Maschine for Flugzeug is of the last type; the genus is used for the species.

These figures of speech can become lexicalised, i.e. conventional. In fact, Duden has Flugzeug as meaning 2a) of Maschine. The same holds for all the other examples I gave: Person is listed in dictionaries as one meaning of Kopf etc.

  • Not sure whether English examples are the best choice to illustrate how something works in German. But even so, I do not understand the example "We mortals." Do you mean it refers just to humans rather than all mortal beings? Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 8:50
  • @O.R.Mapper While I believe that synecdoche works the same across languages, I replaced the English examples by German ones, as it seems more appropriate for the site. (And you understood the example involving mortals correctly.)
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 10:16
  • 2
    In der Lyrik kann man auch mit einem Motorrad nach Berlin fliegen, aber lass uns lieber nach Las Vegas reiten, die Sonne putzen. Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 21:02

Maschine is a broader term, you often hear it instead of Motorrad (motorcycle) for example. This behavior is called Totum pro parte, “the whole for a part“.

  • 2
    Calling this a totum pro parte seems a bit wide-stretched for me. It works only if you go beyond the apparatus itself and see all types of machines as a totum, and the sub-type of flying machines (airplanes) as pars of this totum. Is this an accepted use of totum pro parte? Similarly you may say Er bestieg sein Tier where actually a horse (Pferd) is meant. Still totum pro parte? Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 10:12
  • 1
    PS I would rather say, a good totum pro parte is: Der Kürschner nähte aus der Kuh eine Tasche where actually not the entire Kuh is used for the bag but of course only the cow's hide, but for brevity in the furriers' trade they call that hide a cow. Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 10:16
  • It might be a bit streched, but from what I learned in German class this definitely still is a totum pro parte. If you call something by a (more) generic term it almost always falls under the definition of totum pro parte
    – Nanogamer7
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 10:26
  • Okay, perhaps I simply struggled a bit with going beyond one object (the cow --> its hide) and apply the concept on multiple things (all apparatuses --> only those that fly) Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 12:34
  • 2
    From my personal experience "maschine" is the less formal term, in both cases. I live in Austria (Lower Austria) though, so this might be a regional difference.
    – Nanogamer7
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 13:09

Yes there is a significant difference.

  • "Maschine" refers to any kind of machine including airplanes, typically liners
  • "Flugzeug" refers to an airplane of any kind including military ones
  • "Flugmaschine" typically refers only to small planes (with few to no passengers) including historic ones

Most "Flugzeuge" can be called "Maschine" but most "Maschinen" are not a "Flugzeug".

  • 2
    Soll mit Punkt 2 gesagt werden, dass "Maschine" nicht für Militärmasch- ... - sorry - für Militärflugzeuge benutzt wird? Was ist eigentlich mit Segelflugzeugen? Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 12:50
  • @userunknown Mit Punkt 2 soll gesagt sein, dass "Flugzeug" für Militärmaschinen verwendet werden kann und es nicht unüblich ist. Punkt 1 sagt bereits, dass Maschine für jedes Flugzeug verwendet werden kann. Ich würde aber eher "Militärflugzeug" als "Militärmaschine" sagen und "Militärflugmaschiene" ist ungebräuchlich. Ich meine die meisten DInge durchaus so, wie ich sie schreibe.
    – hajef
    Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 10:11
  • Wie Du es schreibst ist aber missverständlich. Du sprichst von e. signifikanten Unterschied und kommst dann mit einer Liste aus 3 Punkten - da erwarte ich erstmal 3 Unterschiede. In a) sagst Du "typischerweise Linienflugzeuge", in b) "inklusive Militärflugzeuge". Ist das im Kontrast zu Punkt 1 zu lesen, ist das eine zweite Differenz - das ist unklar. Was ist mit Segelflugzeugen? Was ist mit den Unkrautvernichtungsflugzeugen? Was mit Hubschraubern? Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 20:32

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