Background Information

I am learning about environmental issues in my German lessons at school and learnt a few verbs, including recyceln. I recently also discovered that you can use the verb recyclen, which according to dict.cc has the exact same definition:

to recycle


  • Is there actually a difference in the definition of the two words?

  • Is there a reason why there are two verbs that are almost identical?

  • Would there be any reason to use one instead of the other?

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    Welcome to German.SE. I had a personal feeling about to much highlighting. Please reverse my edit in case you are totally fine. It is your post, not mine. I felt to much emphasizing on such a short post. Feb 21 '20 at 15:42
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    @ShegitBrahm I did emphasise it a bit much. It looks a much cleaner like this. Feb 21 '20 at 15:45

Every German verb ends in -n. To transform a foreign verb to a German one ("eindeutschen") you can add an -n or -en and you're basically done.

Taking the English verb (to) recycle, the German form would be recyclen.

However, since you can kind of hear an "e" here: recycele (especially if you pronounce it slowly), Germans would rather write it like this: recyceln

The latter is also recommended by Duden, although both forms are equally valid for all intents and purposes. There is neither a difference in meaning nor a hidden implication.

  • This answer does not even mention two important aspects: parallelism with similar native verbs and pronunciation.
    – mach
    May 18 '20 at 20:26
  • And what verb would be similar and native? Rezyklisieren? Pronunciation was not asked in the OP. May 18 '20 at 21:39
  • German happens to have native verbs ending in -eln. Pronunciation is not OP’s question, but an answer to their third question.
    – mach
    May 20 '20 at 3:54
  • Both Verbs are pronounced the same and I addressed this. May 20 '20 at 8:41

Both mean the same: https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/recyceln

There are two ways to write the word, as one reflects more the German pronunciation (recyceln) of the word than the other, which would be more like the original way to write it (recyclen).


"Would there be any reason to use one instead of the other?"

I prefer to use "recyclen", since the rule for the pronounciation of "c" in foreign words of Latin origin is that "c" followed by e, i, y, and ö is pronounced like "z" or "s" (like in this case), while "c" followed by consonants and the vocals a, o, and u is pronounced like "k". See for example Circus = Zirkus. So, "recyclen" is "risaikeln" (close to the original English pronounciation), while "recyceln" would actually read as if it is to be pronounced as "rezüzeln" which would not be understood at all.

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    All related German words like Zyklus, zyklisch have no e after the k either.
    – guidot
    May 18 '20 at 10:50
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    Thanks, Guidot. However, I don't really see your point here. I was talking about the pronounciation of "c", and you don't say "Zykelus", do you? May 18 '20 at 11:18
  • Very good point. I learned something here: a good reason to prefer one over the other.
    – Olafant
    May 18 '20 at 12:19

Answers to the three questions:

  1. No, both recyclen and recyceln are pronounced the same, and both mean the same.
  2. Yes, there is:
    • The form recyclen follows the pattern that foreign verbs are incorporated into German by adding -n. Take the English word recycle, add -n, and you get recyclen.
    • The form recyceln follows the pattern that German verbs phonetically ending in [l̩n] are always spelled with -eln in modern German orthography, cf. verbs like segeln, basteln, füsseln, fälteln, räkeln, häkeln, vereiteln etc. etc.
  3. Yes, there is: the pronunciation. When it is followed by I or E, the letter C is pronounced as soft C. In German, the traditional pronunciation of soft C is [ts], but in loans from English or French, it would be fortis [s]. The spelling recyceln suggests a soft C (a pronunciation like [rɪˈsaɪsl̩n] or [reːˈtsyːtsl̩n]). The spelling recyclen suggests the correct pronunciation with a hard C ([rɪˈsaɪkl̩n]). That is why the spelling recyclen may be preferred.

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