For example, do

Der Chef ist wütend.


Der Chef wütet.

mean the same thing?

I'm asking because the German for English Speakers site says

The present participle is a way of using a verb as an adjective, and in German it's only used right before a noun, as in "running water" or "barking dogs."

The first sentence above seems to be an exception to this. (There are other exceptions as well; the German Wikipedia article has more information. But I think I understand most of them, and I'm trying to limit the question to a single issue.)

PS. So I gather that the reason this is an exception to the rule given above is that the participle's meaning has diverged significantly from the original verb. You can use (present participle) + sein, but only if converting it to the simple present tense would change the meaning. Since wüten/wütend sein is an example where the meaning would change, wütend sein is allowed.

I think a similar case is sich schleppen/schleppend sein. You can say Der Film ist schleppend to mean that the movie is slow and boring. But Der Film schleppt sich seems to imply some kind of movement, which might be applied figuratively to the plot, but it seems unusual to do apply it to the movie itself.

  • dwds.de/wb/w%C3%BCten
    – Paul Frost
    May 17, 2022 at 16:18
  • In the context of the boss, "Wüten" can also refer to them making drastic decisions due to being angry/irritated. 'Wüten' is also used somewhat ambiguously when someone is working intensely or in a way that leaves a lot of disorder. "Er hat in der Küche gewütet" can be used to describe someone cooking in a manner that leaves the kitchen in a messy state.
    – Mookuh
    May 19, 2022 at 17:40
  • @Mookuh: Interesting. With a word like Wüten I guess you can expect a whole host of figurative and exaggerated meanings. I'd translated your example as "He ran amok in the kitchen." -- A similar exaggeration.
    – RDBury
    May 19, 2022 at 23:46
  • No, not only right before a noun, by the way – wherever an adjective or especially adverb is used ('das Kind lief heulend nach Hause', 'der Chef schaute mich lächelnd an', ...).
    – Aconcagua
    May 20, 2022 at 10:42
  • @Aconcagua: Good examples. This is covered in the Wikipedia article; they have 'Der Mann geht singend durch das Haus', as an example.
    – RDBury
    May 20, 2022 at 15:41

7 Answers 7


Yes, there is a strong difference:

Der Chef ist wütend.

This means:

The boss feels angry.

It expresses just an emotion. It does not need to express any action. The boss can sit quite in his chair, looking nice and friendly, so nobody notices that he feels angry. It's just about the emotion the boss has.

Der Chef wütet.

This means:

The boss rages.

This is about a very emotional action. He shouts load, runs around and throws objects around the room. It is impossible not to notice what he is doing. Everybody can see and hear him destroying furniture and shouting loud.

Interesting is this:

Der wütende Chef (kommt auf mich zu).

This can mean two things:

  1. The angry boss (comes towards me.)
  2. The raging boss (comes towards me.)

Normally you mean #1: The boss feels angry. But depending on context it also could be #2: The boss is raging.

  • 4
    Instead of "the chef feels/is angry" you could also say "the chef is enraged". Rage really is a good translation here. It also works for storms; "the storm rages", "der Sturm wütet".
    – user53156
    May 18, 2022 at 9:23
  • 2
    I would think that today, "wüten" is used mostly with storms, and perhaps troops or other groups that vandalize a place much like a force of nature, but rarely with single persons. May 18, 2022 at 10:01
  • 2
    @Peter - Reinstate Monica: The DWDS usage database is a good test for that and you're right: fires, plagues, storms, a whole litany of disasters.
    – RDBury
    May 18, 2022 at 10:21
  • 2
    @KritikerderElche, no problem to use "Der Chef ist wütend" without being omniscient. It's easily possible to tell if someone is angry just by looking at them. Bright red face and neck, pressure-breathing, noticeably high muscle tension etc. All of which can happen without actually raging (i.e., shouting, smashing things etc.).
    – AnoE
    May 19, 2022 at 9:20
  • 1
    @KritikerderElche: Und gemessen daran, wie häufig in fiktionalen Texten der Autor ein allwissender ist, ist das keine relevante Einschränkung. May 19, 2022 at 10:25

The difference is that the verb, wüten, has fallen almost completely out of use except in idioms, while the derived adjective, wütend (angry) is still common, indeed probably the most-used adjective to describe that state of mind.

As often happens in such cases, the meaning of the derived adjective has faded somewhat; wüten implies actually running around breaking stuff and hurting people, while wütend can be performed perfectly well just by displaying a red face and shouting a lot.

  • 12
    wüten means to rampage, to riot or to cause havoc. It's still in use with storms or (violent) demonstrantions. A synonym would be toben. May 17, 2022 at 7:32
  • I don't think wüten is that rare, at least according to the handy Worthäufigkeit data given by DWDS, but you're right that it's less common than wütend. I gather that in the first sentence the boss is just angry, and in the second the boss is having a real tantrum and throwing things, or at least he's mad enough to.
    – RDBury
    May 18, 2022 at 11:37

These terms are completely different. Wütend sein is just description of mood (be angry), possibly connected to high blood pressure and some angry reactions when asked for something.

Wüten is always an action, possibly resulting from this mood. It is frequently used in connection with thunderstorms and ancient warriors on the battlefield. In office context it wouldnot be my choice of a verb, since it is at least means throwing papers around, shouting/cursing.

  • 2
    This does not address the main problem of the OP - that wütend is a participle of wüten. May 17, 2022 at 12:13
  • The words have a common root, Wut, and the meanings are related if not the same. But I take your point that wütend sein is considered a figure of speech while wüten is taken literally, at least when applied to people. It's been mentioned that wüten is used a lot with disasters, and you wouldn't say a fire is literally "raging" (from anger), but that seems to be a common expression in both English and German. So I guess both terms can be figurative but it different ways.
    – RDBury
    May 18, 2022 at 10:46
  • Die Einschränkung auf ancient warriors erscheint mir von Wunschdenken getrieben. May 20, 2022 at 23:34

They don't mean the same thing at all, and the reason is that while "wütend" ("angry") is etymologically a participle of "wüten" ("to rage"), it has functionally become an adjective sharing the same word root.

In modern language use, they have to be considered separate words with separate dictionary entries. Consequently, this doesn't really constitute an exception from the rule since "wütend" is not being employed as a participle even though that is its origin story.

  • Sometimes it's hard to tell because dictionaries often list the participle separately as an adjective even when it's meaning is basically the same as the root verb.
    – RDBury
    May 18, 2022 at 11:34

This is more an extended comment than a profound answer.

Some of the previous answers claim that "wüten" is no longer in use except in the context of forces of nature or warrior hordes. I disagree although I admit that "wütend sein" is the standard expression to decribe feelings of anger. But if these negative feelings are very strong it may still be adequate to use the verb "wüten". Here are some examples from DWDS:

  1. Er sprang zornig auf und wütete.

  2. Ich kann es nicht länger mit ansehen, wie Sie gegen sich selber wüten [Stephan Zweig, Amok, 327]

  3. Der Wirt, der sich zunächst zurückgehalten hatte, wütete geradezu, wenn jemand vorschlug, Schluß zu machen. [Degenhardt, Franz Josef: Die Abholzung, Berlin: Aufbau-Taschenbuch-Verl. 1999 [1985], S. 24]

  4. Die aber wüten nur um sich, weil sie verkaufen wollen. [konkret, 1980]

  5. So wütet er vor allem gegen die, die an ihn wie er an sie gebunden ist. [Die Zeit, 28.05.2001, Nr. 22]

One can also use the combination "herumwüten". Examples:

  1. Er tobt, er wütet herum – er hat unsere Familie zerstört.

  2. Er redet wirr und wütet herum, das ist eine Auswirkung der ganzen Drogen.

  3. Er murmelt Unverständliches vor sich hin, wütet herum und befiehlt mir Arbeiten zu verrichten, die ich schon Tage zuvor erledigt habe.

  4. Das Kind wird von seinen Emotionen überwältigt – es wütet.

  5. Der Chef patrouilliert zwischen den Schreibtischen und nähert sich einer Mitarbeiterin, die vor Nervosität die Bleistiftspitze abbricht. Vom Geräusch provoziert, rastet er völlig aus, wütet herum und droht sogar mit Rausschmiss. Wer einen Choleriker zum Chef hat, kann sich eben keine Fehler leisten.

  • I agree that wüten is used quite a bit while not applied to disasters. But it is often used figuratively in that way. Both English and German have raging fires and raging storms, but think a raging plague sounds very odd in English, apparently not in German. Thanks for finding these examples; apparently wüten does not necessarily mean you're actually throwing things, but it still means you're more upset than just wütend.
    – RDBury
    May 18, 2022 at 11:30

There is a difference in meaning.

While etymologically the adjective (not participle!) wütend was once derived from the verb wüten and their meanings still have a little bit to do with each other, they are for all intents and purposes separate words in modern German. In fact, you can put wüten and wütend into the same sentence and they would each add a slightly different nuance to the final product:

Der wütende Chef wütet in seinem Büro.

The wütend tells us that his primary emotion is anger while the wütet tells us that his actions are raging, smashing things, etc. The difference becomes more obvious (in my opinion), if we exchange either word for something similar and see what comes out:

Der enttäuschte Chef wütet in seinem Büro.

Here, the action is the same but the root cause is disappointment rather than rage (compare ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed.’).

Der wütende Chef brüllt in seinem Büro.

In this case, the boss is still angry but he is voicing his anger by yelling rather than by smashing objects.

All of the above is very different from a true participle which is understood as a participle in modern German, e.g. bellend.

Der Hund bellt.
Der bellende Hund

*Der Hund ist bellend.

The final one is not considered idiomatic German, but the first two convey exactly the same meaning.

(The last one might be found in meme speak in German internet communities; e.g. I have read ‘Ich bin weinend’ by native Germans multiple times on Twitter but the phrasing is still not considered idiomatic standard German.)

  • "Der Hund ist bellend" would be a poor translation from English, but not German IMHO.
    – U. Windl
    May 20, 2022 at 6:11
  • @U.Windl Yes, that is exactly what I said. However note that native Germans sometimes post stuff like this on Twitter for memes.
    – Jan
    May 20, 2022 at 11:23

Not a good linguistic explanation, but I think the major difference is that "wütend sein" is the state of the person (mostly), while "wüten" typically refers to actions of the person (typically affecting other persons or things, like throwing things around). https://german.stackexchange.com/a/70604/39153 says similar. Probably the second one is more specific than the first one; while the boss is "wütend" you might try to avoid him, but when the boss is "wüten"ing, it's most likely too late when the action is against you.

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