Is there a difference in the meaning of these two words - überlastet sein and überfordert sein? I believe they both mean 'overloaded, overstretched, overwhelmed.'

For example, if you were to say that your team at work was overstretched/overloaded because there wasn't enough resource, which word would be more appropriate to use?

Or are they interchangeable?

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    The first means you're getting too many tasks to finish in the allotted time. The second means rather that you're getting some tasks that are beyond you no matter how much time you'd spend. May 27, 2022 at 7:38

4 Answers 4


"Überlastet" and "überfordert" are very similar, but can have different connotations.

"Überlastet" is more or less neutral: Something or somebody is stressed, loaded, burdened beyond what they can handle. There's little to no implication about whose fault this is.

"Überfordert" mostly has the implication that the overload is somebody's fault. If you say, for example, that an employee is "überfordert". This often has the implication that the employee isn't up to snuff, that they need to shape up and do better (or be replaced). It can also mean that the poor employee is unjustly burdened with execessive demands from their superior. It can be tricky to distinguish those two cases, but there's typically some kind of assigment of blame involved.

On a second level, "überlastet" tends to be used for a quantitative overload, while "überfordert" tends to be used for a qualitative overload. Meaning, if you're "überlastet" you generally can do the task, but not this much of it. If you're "überfordert", you are overwhelmed by the task in general. But this distinction is much less clear-cut than what I've described above.


There is a slight difference between both terms.

‘überlastet’ is used in the sense of physical overload, or strain. You could say ‘Ich bin überlastet’, meaning ‘I have more work to do I can possibly cope with’. An electric circuit can be ‘überlastet’ when charged with too high a current, blowing the fuse. A machine could be ‘überlastet’ when lacking capacity.

‘überfordert’ is used in the sense of mental overload, of lacking training for a given task, being out of one’s depth. Used reflexively, i.e., ‘sich überfordern’, it means ‘pushing oneself too hard’, be it working too much or training too hard (in which case it mostly refers to physical limitations).


Überlastet is about quantity, überfordert has a quality connotation. You can be one without being the other.

For example, if a good employee becomes known for solving problems well, they may get more and more work from people, and in the end, they may be "überlastet" because of the sheer amount of tasks, but you would probably not call them "überfordert".

If you give a sixth-grader a math problem that's on the level of ninth grade, they will be "überfordert", but not "überlastet".


Adding to the already excellent answers above, there is also an aspect of permanence, if you will: once you reduce the workload of an employee or team who is merely überlastet, things will go back to normal eventually. (Same if you reduce power consumption, network usage, weight carried etc.) If somebody is überfordert, however, you'd have to change the nature of their work, assignment etc. This doesn't have to mean that it's their fault, though: A trainer can überfordern his pupils by simply demanding too much of them, e.g.

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