I've come across the two prepositions zu and über used with the noun das Thema. Which of the following sentences sounds "more correct" to a native speaker?

  • Heute sprechen wir über das Thema Fremdsprachen.
  • Heute sprechen wir zum Thema Fremdsprachen.

Danke sehr im Voraus! :)

  • In English you can "speak about" an issue and "speak to" an issue, both meaning about the same thing, and neither being more correct than the other. I think the difference, if any, would be "speak to" implies the subject is currently controversial and should be addressed, and "speak about" means the subject is simply something that the speaker felt like discussing. It wouldn't work with another verb though; you can "think about" something but you can't "think to" something. So I wonder if this is related to sprechen specifically or are other verbs, e.g. denken, possible examples.
    – RDBury
    Mar 10 at 15:04

Heute sprechen wir über das Thema Fremdsprachen

refers to a conversation.

Heute sprechen wir zum Thema Fremdsprachen

would normally be used to denote "we give talks on the foreign language topic" - so it wouldn't normally be used in such a context - talks are normally given by a single person like in

Heute spricht Professor Müller zum Thema Fremdsprachen


Which preposition to use mostly depends on the verb they're being used with. Basically every verb can be supplemented with a set of prepositional objects, and certain prepositions can mean a certain thing or be idiomatic or less idiomatic when used with a certain verb. That's not a German peculiarity, it's the same in English and other languages.

The verb here is "sprechen", and for this verb, the usual preposition for adding the topic is "über". So

Heute sprechen wir über das Thema Fremdsprachen.

would be the usual way to say it.

The alternative

Heute sprechen wir zum Thema Fremdsprachen.

sounds slightly less fitting, but I can imagine native speakers using it, too.

With other verbs, both might be equally possible or there might a preference for "zu" or some other preposition.

Sophie merkte zum Thema Fremdsprachen an, dass sie für Kinder leichter zu lernen sind als für Erwachsene.

Here, über das Thema would be less fitting.

As @tofro mentioned, the verb "sprechen" has a second, less common, use where it means "to give a talk", especially in an academic context. When "sprechen" is used in that sense, "zu" is a more natural choice.

Dr. Sheldon Cooper spricht auf der Konferenz am Montag zum Thema Superasymmetrie.


All good answers, but I wouldn’t conclude that “zum Thema” is less common in German generally. My impression is that at least in educated usage, “zum Thema” is the default if you let go of “sprechen” and ask more generally. As the prior answerers noted, there’s interference from the diff between “sprechen über” and “sprechen zu,” which is properly a different question from the usage of the noun “Thema.”

Agree also that esp. once you do subtract the verb “sprechen,” there’s some parallelism to English’s choice of “on a topic” (zu) or “about a topic” (über).

BUT to my ear, in either language, when you use “about” or “über,” the noun “topic” instantly becomes extra verbiage that it’s better to cut out. Hypothesis: this is why we say and hear “zum Thema” often and “über das Thema” less (once again assuming we leave the verb “sprechen” out of the question). “More on this topic” = “Weiteres zum Thema.”
“On the topic of climate change” = “zum Thema Klimawandel”. (Cf. simply “about climate change” = “über [das] Klimawandel”)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.