I want to say, "I was overwhelmed by the workload." I see the word überfordern but I'm not sure if that's correct. Can I say, "Ich war von der Arbeitsbelastung überfordert."?

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    "but I'm not sure if that's correct." Why so? What makes you doubt? Jun 2 '20 at 20:49
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    Yes you can say that Jun 2 '20 at 21:36
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    Nope, not strong enough. The German equivalent is at least "überwältigt". Jun 3 '20 at 6:24
  • I think that "overwhelmed" only by minority translates to "überfordert" ... my dictionaries: dict.leo.org/englisch-deutsch/overwhelmed or dict.cc/?s=overwhelmed. So what is your intention: do you get too much workload or are you just surprised from the amount (much, few)? Jun 3 '20 at 6:31
  • The intention is to say that I can't handle the workload. It's too much.
    – Tim
    Jun 3 '20 at 8:34

The verb "to Overwhelm" is "überwältigen" or "übermannen" in German, but in some situations it also can be "überschütten" or "überhäufen":

Lisa was overwhelmed with emotions when she saw her mother again after 30 years.
Lisa wurde von Gefühlen überwältigt/übermannt, als sie nach 30 Jahren ihre Mutter wieder sah.

The clerks were overwhelmed with inquiries after the management published the new policy.
Die Angestellten wurden mit Anfragen überschüttet/überhäuft nachdem die Geschäftsführung die neue Richtlinie herausgegeben hatte.

The German verb "überfordern" is "to overcharge", "to overburden", "to swamp" or "to overstrain"

Ich war von der Arbeitsbelastung überfordert.
I was overburdened by the workload.

"Überwältigt sein" means that something causes an surprising high amount of emotions, but that doesn't mean that you can't deal with it, and even more important: It has no negative connotation. In my first example Lisa was extremely happy wo see her mother again. This is a very positive emotion, and Lisa probably was able to deal with this emotions, but still to see her mother again was a much stronger sensation than she would have expected.

"Überfordert sein" means that something did rise over the limit that you can deal with. It is too much, you can't handle it any longer. And it has a strong negative connotation. It can mean, that someone is too week, or that the load was too high:

Der Neue ist ja schon mit den einfachsten Aufgaben überfordert.
The newbie is overburdened even by the simplest tasks.

Das ungeheure Ausmaß der Katastrophe überforderte sogar die bestens vorbereiteten Einsatzkräfte.
The enormous extent of the catastrophe even overburdened the well-prepared emergency services.

  • I don't agree that "überfordern" is stronger than "überwältigen", on the contrary. To me, "überwältigt sein" means specifically that you can't handle it in a confident, controlled manner. Something's happening to you and you can't help it. It may be often used as an euphemism, though.
    – Lykanion
    Jun 3 '20 at 7:43
  • On a similar note, I'm not sure the translation is correct regarding the clerks. The clerks are certainly "überschüttet" with so many inquiries that they are "überfordert" by the sheer amount, but in essence they are simply "überwältigt", which, in my opinion, is being expressed by "overwhelmed". Don't you think that using "überschüttet/überhäuft" loses a part of the meaning?
    – Lykanion
    Jun 3 '20 at 7:52
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    @Lykanion: I disagree on that: überwältigt ist in erster Linie eine Überraschung ob dessen was da ist. Also emotional. Das trifft keine Aussage zu "schaffe ich das oder ist es zuviel". Überwältigt is not stronger or weaker then überfordert, it is something different. Jun 3 '20 at 9:23
  • @Shegit Brahm: Yes, I'd agree that both are different. I don't agree that "überwältigt" is first and foremost about surprise and emotions, see e.g. dwds.de/wb/%C3%BCberw%C3%A4ltigen
    – Lykanion
    Jun 3 '20 at 9:28

Überfordern is somewhat dangerous to use, since it may suggest, that one were not sufficiently qualified for the job.

The most neutral term is überlastet, which simply means übermäßige Belastung and which neatly scales down to ausgelastet (enough work assigned) or nicht ausgelastet (could manage additional tasks). Since überlastet does not combine well with Arbeitsbelastung due to the same stem, I propose:

Ich war durch das Arbeitspensum überlastet.

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