How do the usage of these two words differ?




Google translate tells me that both mean 'painted'

  • 4
    This is not the first question I nearly closed immediately due to can be answered by a dictionary. I consider Google translate hardly as significant research and suggest a look at this resource page.
    – guidot
    Apr 11, 2022 at 8:06
  • 1
    I agree. I know that this will sound old-fashioned, and I don't know what your financial situation is, but buying an actual good dictionary would be very useful.
    – Carsten S
    Apr 11, 2022 at 8:13
  • One could argue that any possible question could be answered by enough research. The answer may exist in a dictionary but I wasn't able to find it by google searching. So, I believe making the information accessible here would not only be useful for me but all others. Sps there was a concept which easily findable and done many times on the internet, then I would agree 1000% with you @guidot
    – Babu
    Apr 11, 2022 at 9:05
  • 1
    @Buraian: Instead of commenting I advise to add substance to the question; what information did you manage to get from whatever dictionary and what is still unclear.
    – guidot
    Apr 11, 2022 at 9:34
  • Checking a reasonably good dictionary (there are also free ones online) is a basic curtesy to the other users. Yes, we do build a knowledge library, but that doesn’t mean that we should start before that level of research, which we also expect from future users who supposedly are benefiting from this. If after checking a dictionary (or even two?) there still are open issues, we’ll be more than happy to discuss the finer details.
    – Stephie
    Apr 11, 2022 at 10:39

2 Answers 2


malen, malte, gemalt

There is a related question where I explained the difference between zeichnen, malen and färben. But anmalen was not mentioned in this answer

This is what I wrote about malen:

You use a brush, tip it into a colored liquid and then you use the color-soaked brush to applicate the color onto a more or less stabile surface. (You can not paint a picture on the hair of a woman.) You fill areas when you are painting, those areas build a pattern that will be interpreted as a picture. If you want to get thin lines, you have to use a thin brush. The suface on which you applicate the color can be smooth or also rough (like stone, or a wall made of bricks). The result is called »Gemälde« (painting) or often just »Bild« (picture). A typical Gemälde is not monochrome, typically you will see lots of colors in a painting.

The point is: At the end you have a picture.

anmalen, malte an, angemalt

Her you also use a brush to applicate paint onto a surface, but the result is not a picture. It's just a painted surface.

Silvia hat die alte Holzfigur rot angemalt.
Silvia painted the old wooden figure red.

So, at the end there is no picture on the wooden figure, just a layer of paint.

You can use anmalen also if the item to be covered with paint is not completely painted:

Lisa hat sich ihr Gesicht angemalt.
Lisa has painted her face.

That's a pejorative way of saying,

Lisa hat sich geschminkt.
Lisa put on makeup.

There is another word you should learn:

ausmalen, malte aus, ausgemalt

This means to paint the walls of a room.

Frau Drachsler ließ alle Zimmer des Hauses weiß ausmalen.
Mrs. Drachsler had all the rooms of the house painted white.

You could also say

Frau Drachsler ließ im Haus alle Wände weiß anmalen.
Mrs. Drachsler had all the walls in the house painted white.

But when you have all walls of a room painted, it's better to use ausmalen.

Here you can see another difference:

  • anmalen for walls, single items etc.
  • ausmalen for rooms only
  • I think the terminology for this is effiziertes and affiziertes Objekt. Just like eine Münze schlagen vs. einen Hund schlagen. Apr 11, 2022 at 7:49
  • 1
    Ausmalen can also mean "to color in". "Das Kind malte die Zeichnung aus" - 'The child colored in the drawing'. With this meaning the difference to "anmalen" is that with "ausmalen" you add color to an existing drawing, while with "anmalen" you paint something else on top of it.
    – xyldke
    Apr 11, 2022 at 9:30
  • I'd go as far as saying that "to colour in" is the main meaning of "ausmalen". The described usage is regional. Apr 11, 2022 at 9:46

The difference is in the role of the corresponding object.

Malen means that the grammatical object is also the object of the painting.

Ich male das Auto - I paint a picture of the car.

Anmalen means that the object is the surface of the painting.

Ich male das Auto an - I paint something on the car.

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