This question is about the time of day, just before sunrise, which in the UK is known as dawn, or morning twilight. Is there a distinction in German between the uses of "Morgengrauen" and "Morgendämmerung", or are they interchangeable? Many thanks.

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    Welcome to German.SE. When you say it is known to you as dawn or morning twilight - under which circumstances do you use which one of these? Can you point that out in examples, please? How did the dictionaries you used describe each word? Aug 20 '20 at 7:23


Dämmerung connects with the verb (zu) dämmern which translates as (to) dim and thus is equivalent to dawn at the morning and dusk at the evening. As Germans like longer words (I am one) we connect some extra nouns to make longer words like "Morgendämmerung" = "dawn" or "Abenddämmerung" = "dusk".

The understanding is a phase where there is some light still, just not full like during the day or absent during the night. Hence the word "Dämmerung" on its own has an implicit connection to times during the day.


"Morgengrauen" (there is no real equivalent for the evening) connects with the adjective "grau" like the colour "grey". Implicit understanding means the time during the dawn where colours are not easily distinguished. Like in "In der Nacht sind alle Katzen grau." which means "All cats are alike at night." As such it is implicitly refering to the time when night ends and before morning starts.

The connection to dread ("Grauen") is more of a play with words to express an emotional state instead of a factual.


Either word describes the factual time reference of the change from night to morning, however "Morgengrauen" ends implicitly earlier than "Morgendämmerung".

  • Welcome to German.SE. Do you have additionally a link to e.g. a dictionary or "timetable" to show (& quote!) your explanation? I understand everything, just for reference and further reading. Aug 21 '20 at 14:11
  • I wish I could find any specific links to support my "claims". However apart from reading a lot of literature, learning and interpreting Goethe, Schiller and Heine (plus a few others) in school plus about 45 years of life experience I was unable to find real fact links in form of simple dictionaries. Sep 1 '20 at 7:32

They both mean the same thing, the first light at the beginning of a new day. However, "Morgengrauen" contains grau (grey), which does not really have the connotation of a bright sunrise. "Morgendämmerung" is a fairly neutral term, which allows for any lighting conditions.

  • In astronomy and physics "Morgendämmerung/-grauen" specifies the time between absolutely darkness and before sunrise ("Abenddämmerung": between sundance and absolutely darkness), so when you see the first sunbeam, the "Morgendämmerung" is off. Aug 21 '20 at 10:59

The difference is in the emphasis. “Morgengrauen” is the time when the morning is still dark and gray=grau. Emphasis on bad visibility, being gray. “Morgendämmerung” is the time when the sun starts to appear and then to rise. Emphasis is on the darkness ending.

They are the same time. They are the same / different just like “glass half full” and “glass half empty” are the same or different.


The words are synonyms. However, in my opinion "Morgengrauen" has a slightly negative connotation - "Morgendämmerung" has a nicer sound. This may be a psychological effect: "Grauen" has the meaning of dawn, but also of dread.

The corresponing "Abendgrauen" seems to exist, but it is an unsual expression.

  • to me Morgengrauen has a positive connotation when it is used to say "im Morgengrauen schleichen wir uns raus und beobachten Tier x". In this example I would never use Morgendämmerung. My connotation is not with the single word "Grauen", it is completely different from that and works only with the entire word. Aug 20 '20 at 12:34
  • I think both variants can be used neutral - but:... in German exists a winged word / a witty idiom says while playing with words: "Mir graut, es kommt der Morgen." for: I dread, morning dawns. ;-) Aug 21 '20 at 11:12

To me, Morgengrauen ends earlier than Morgendämmerung: as soon as there is sufficient light to start seeing colors, it is not Morgengrauen any more. Morgendämmerung lasts until the sun touches the horizon.

Very roughly, that would put Morgengrauen as the twilight before civil twilight starts.

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