On the Duden entry for ziehen, there is this sentence:

er zog ihn an den Haaren

DeepL and Google disagree as to the translation. I looks like it means:

He pulled on his hair.

This could mean that he pulled on his own hair, or he pulled on another person’s hair. Or it seems to me it could be saying:

He pulled him by his hair.

This clearly means he is pulling on someone else's hair. Can this sentence be interpreted out of context, or not?

2 Answers 2


No, the sentence in question is unambiguous:

Jemanden an den Haaren ziehen (to pull someone by their hair)

So if he pulls his own hair, it would be

Er zieht sich an den Haaren

If he pulls someone else by their hair

Er zieht ihn an den Haaren
Er zieht sie an den Haaren

There is another possibility, if you want to express to pull at someone's hair, which uses the dative, not the accusative:

Er zieht sich an den Haaren (In principle this is ambiguous, to the sentence above, however since you can only pull at your own hair, not pull yourself by your hair, this sentence will be inferred)

Er zieht ihm an den Haaren.
Er zieht ihr an den Haaren.

  • Well, you could (from a pure language perspective) construct a sentence that would mean "ich ziehe ihn an den [meinen] Haaren" - but that would involve very long hair, superglue, or a Circus environment and would definitly not work with my own haircut.
    – tofro
    Sep 13, 2022 at 15:28

The first translation is inaccurate and would be a translation of the sentence 'er zog an seinen Haaren' which has the same ambiguity in German as in English.

The second translation is accurate and has no ambiguity in either German or English.

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