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In English, 'interchangeable' is used to express two things that can be swapped and used for the same purpose. It's a bit different than replaceable because that refers to one thing's ability to be swapped. Exchangeable is also slightly different because it means something can be replaced by a different thing. For example:

My glasses have interchangeable lenses. I use the dark lenses when I am outside during the day, and the clear ones when I am indoors or at night.

My laptop has a replaceable battery, in case the original one fails.

Money is exchangeable for goods and services.

From what I understand, 'ersetzbar' means 'replaceable' and 'umtauschbar' means 'exchangeable'; but 'austauschbar' seems to be used for all three. Is this correct, and if so is there a more precise word for 'interchangeable'?

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    Why do you think a dictionary cannot answer this question?
    – Tode
    Dec 28 '20 at 23:01
  • @TorstenLink I consulted Collins dictionary, which says umtauschbar means exchangeable, and ersetzbar means replaceable - but it says austauschbar can apply to all three. So does Langenscheidt. Cambridge says austauschbar can mean exchangeable or interchangeable. Also, I found this question hinative.com/en-US/questions/14756727 in which the answer given states that austauschbar and ersetzbar mean the exact same thing. That is why I posted this question. I'm confused as to how I would accurately communicate interchangeability, rather than exchangeability or replaceability.
    – teneyed
    Dec 28 '20 at 23:29
  • The only other way I can think to express what I'm not understanding, is if I were to say "Die Komponenten sind austauschbar." - how would someone know I meant interchangeable? Couldn't they mistake that for meaning you could swap the components for something completely different (like some magic beans for example's sake) or that the components can be replaced, should the need arise?
    – teneyed
    Dec 29 '20 at 0:08
  • There is a legitimate point here, both replaceable and interchangeable, having different meanings in English, and both translate to austauschbar. On the other hand, if the exact German meaning isn't clear from context, you could add an adverb to make it so; gegenseitig seems to work. It's often impossible to transfer the specific meaning of a word in one language to a single word in another language. dict.cc is useful for resolving this kind of issue.
    – RDBury
    Dec 29 '20 at 2:05
  • Add this explanation to your wuestion, then I will remove my close vote...
    – Tode
    Dec 29 '20 at 8:16
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It is the context that matters for these words in German. There are no hard rules really noted - so the following comes from experience. In the examples I use a valve (Ventil) in a radiator (Heizung).

ersetzbar

Is used when I get a part that is exactly like the one that was there. For example to replace an AAA battery that is empty with a new one. Same build, same function. Most often used in the context of getting the same item as before and in repairs. As with "Ersatz" (replacement) the action "ersetzen" implies some item that is no longer working / functioning as expected.

Example:

"Das Ventil in der Heizung leckt. Kann das ersetzt werden?" "The valve in the radiator leaks. Can this be replaced?"

umtauschbar

Is used when I want to exchange something. Rather even more restricted than "ersetzen" for items as used during guarantee replacements. Note that this can also mean I can get a very different item than the original purchase as the replacer sees fit.

Example:

"Das ersetzte Ventil in der Heizung leckt schon wieder. Ich fordere einen Umtausch." "The replaced valve in the radiator already leaks again. As it is under guarantee I expect a replacement."

austauschbar

While this word can be used for both the previous words (and will be understood by Germans after a bit of thinking) it can also be used in a broader context. From the verb "austauschen" its meaning is the replacement by a functionally equivalent item. Not necessarily the same. Implies also that the original item still functions although for whatever reason.

Example:

"Das Ventil in der Heizung ist schon ziemlich alt. Kann das ausgetauscht werden?" "The valve in the radiator is rather old by now. Can this be replaced?"

In context of language either "ersetzbar" or "austauschbar" applies if one word (or phrase) can replace another without losing the context.

Extra

bezahlbar

With regards to money the more common word used by Germans is "bezahlbar" (payable). The monetary phrase "is exchangable for" in German becomes more often "hat den Besitzer gewechselt" (has changed owner(ship)) or "hat einen Wert für" (has a value for).

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    I think a better translation for bezahlbar is affordable.
    – RHa
    Dec 29 '20 at 15:37
  • "Wechselbar" würde ich noch ergänzen. Dec 29 '20 at 16:44

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