"Bild" as in "image", "picture".

"Bildung", on the other hand: "cultivation", "refinement", "education", "culture".

My dictionary excursion leads me from "Bildung" to "bilden" (definitely related, esentially the same word). According to Wiktionary, on "bilden": "from Old High German biladōn or pilidōn, derived from the root of Bild."

On "Bild", on the other hand: from "Old High German bilidi, biladi, from Proto-West Germanic *biliþī."

Only the entry on "Bild" takes me all the way back to Proto-Germanic. The direct assertion "Derived from the root of Bild", in the entry on "bilden", is certainly promising as an answer, but.. Uncertainty strikes — possibly just because I don't know the first thing about Old High German. ("biladōn", "biladi", "bilidi"..)

Is it safe to assume that both "Bildung" and "Bild" in modern German stems from the Proto-Germanic word that comes up here?

  • dwds.de/wb/etymwb/Bildung
    – user41853
    May 14, 2021 at 17:53
  • 1
    Many of the German entries in Wiktionary are incomplete, so you should not rely on it as your sole source of information. DWDS usually was more complete etymologies, but they're written in a terse style with many abbreviations and acronyms, which make them difficult for learners to read. But the upshot seems to be that bilidi is the common OHG (=ahd) ancestor. As for the difference in meanings, chalk that up to the 1200 years that have elapsed between OHG and modern German.
    – RDBury
    May 14, 2021 at 18:27

2 Answers 2


One could write a very extensive answer on that, but I will try to break it down to your particular question. Just to be sure this detail isn't missed: -ung and -en are derivative suffixes, the morphological root of Bild/bild-en/Bild-ung/ein-bild-en/… is definitely -bild-.

It is safe to assume that Bildung (= 11th century OHG bildunga) was long ago derived from bilden (= 8th century OHG biliden/bilidōn) by the still productive suffix -ung(a) (see also here). At that time, however, bilden chiefly meant to form and did not at all mean to educate.

The verb biliden/bilidōn ('to form, to replicate') and the noun bilidi ('form, image') are both older than the first written records of the German language, so no common ancestor is attested, but their form and meaning are arguably close enough to suppose they have the same root.

If the reconstructed PIE root biliþī is accurate, it would definitely be close enough to biliden/bilidōn and bilidi as well.

All these forms only meant something along the lines of '(to) form, (to) image, (to) model'.

The most important change

…happended not before the middle of the 18th century when the term bilden ('to form') was applied to the classical humanistic education ideal of 'forming' young people. As bilden became popular as a metaphor for to educate, the noun Bildung got its present-day meaning and popularity.

This late shift of meaning explains why they mean seem unrelated at first. But until about 1750, Bildung meant 'image making, forming', thus the relation to Bild ('image, form').

And today, Bildung can still mean 'creation, formation'. Contemporary examples:

ein Team bilden
to form a team

team formation

eine Schlange bilden
to queue/line up (literally: to form a snake)

bildende Kunst
visual (~imaging)/plastic arts (not: educating arts)

nation building

  • 1
    It is also still used in a more literal sense: Schlackebildung, Rußbildung. May 15, 2021 at 13:47
  • The Dutch understanding of beeld is 'sculpture', also playing into the 'sculpturing' towards 'sculpture´ concept. May 20, 2021 at 21:21

The "-ung" in Bild-ung does not relate to the Bild part, because a Bild is not a process.
There is no reason for a Bild to ever need an -ung at the end.
This -ung relates to the process the Bild is a product of, which is some not further defined variant of -Machung or -Formung or -Gebung.
In this case the resulting Bild is that of character or ability or imago even, rather than a visual image or a statue.
So Bildung not only relates to, but actually is a process involving a Bild.

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