I may be wrong, but, I seem to recall that gehört is both the past participle of "hören" and that of "gehören" (for which it is also the third person present tense), and the two verbs are not semantically related at all.

Imagine you are presented with the sentences

Die Katze, die mir gehört hat, ist schön.

Die Katze, die du gehört hast, ist schön.

Everything is here clear because in the first case you have the cat as a subject and in the second you have it as the object. With these two particular verbs I wasn't then able to come up with a confusing sentence.

Is it (generally speaking) possible to have confusion with verb forms which are exactly the same, so that it is not clear which one is used?

  • 2
    If Takkats answer is the answer you were looking for then you should edit your question... a lot
    – Emanuel
    Jul 18, 2013 at 20:09
  • The answer serves its purpose. I wasn't looking for some example of confusion in this particular couple of verbs, I was looking for someone to tell me whether this may happen or not, in general. And, the main answer is: yes, you have to rely on the context. Moreover, the etymology adds the reason behind the identical spelling, so why not? Other answers are also useful to further explore the issue. Jul 18, 2013 at 20:16
  • 2
    Another example is "gestanden", e.g. "Gestern habe ich bei der Polizei gestanden" could either mean "Yesterday, I confessed (a crime) to the police" or "Yesterday, I stood (around) near the police". Stehen (to stand) and gestehen (to confess) have the same participles, though on purpose, as gestehen is derived from stehen.
    – Dario
    Jul 21, 2013 at 19:18

4 Answers 4


The example you gave is interesting indeed, as from their etymology both words do come from the same root "hören" (Old High German hōren). They also have the same origin with the English "to hear" (Old English hēran).

The prefix 'ge-' to build "gehören" was used to emphasis hearing, and also is found in both, Old High German (gihōren), and Old English (gehīeran). Only later it also was used to show family membership (think of "what is the name we hear") and other possessions.

Today the old meaning is mostly lost but it may still be heard in some regional dialects when children are asked:

"Wem gehörst Du denn?"

To resolve confusions coming from the same spelling and pronunciation of words which now have gained different meanings we depend on grammar or context. If these are missing there indeed is a great danger for getting it wrong.

Sources and further reading:

  • 1
    I don't understand how this answers the question since the OP acknowledges the fact that there is no confusion possible for gehören vs. habe gehört. What purpose does the etymology serve here? Where is the example that does contain confusion? Also, I do not understand why this answer was accepted as correct. If this is the correct answer then the question needs heavy editing. No offense @Takkat
    – Emanuel
    Jul 18, 2013 at 20:08

Yes, that is absolutely possible, though rare in practice (unless it is an intentional pun in jokes, book titles etc.).

One well-known unintentional example is das gelobte Land (the Promised Land). Martin Luther coined it from geloben, which now is obsolescent; many people today therefore think it is derived from loben and understand it as the praised land. (Modern versions of Luther's translation write das Land der Verheißung instead, but das gelobte Land is still a common phrase used figuratively.)


Imagine two friends, Hans and Willi.

Hans has just lugged a sack of cement up a flight of stairs. Satisfied with his performance, he exhales:

Uff, geschafft.

Willi grins at him and asks:

Geschafft oder... geschafft?

The wordplay comes from the fact that the participle geschafft can mean both "done", "accomplished", "complete" (as in Ich habe es geschafft) and "exhausted", "beat", "winded" (as in Ich bin geschafft.)


There are many verbs that have several different meanings. Especially the ones with prefixes. However, most of the time, the grammar will tell them apart just like in your example. Here are a few context dependent ones.. however, one meaning is dominant for each of them.

  • Das Licht geht nicht an. (doesn't work/is totally not ok)
  • Ich stelle mir die Uhr vor. (5 minutes ahead/visualize
  • Lass uns das morgen abmachen (take off the picture/agree on the appointment)
  • Stell dich nicht an! (don't wait in line/don't be all like "hmmm I don't know")
  • Ich beschreibe das Blatt (describe/write stuff on it)
  • Well, one thing is the same verb having different meanings, a thing that happens in many (probably all) languages, one other thing is having two different verbs with a form (a tense/a person in a tense) spelled exactly the same in the conjugation; it is the latter I am curious about. Jul 18, 2013 at 20:25
  • same answer then... yes. But grammar will clear up even more of the cases.
    – Emanuel
    Jul 18, 2013 at 20:27

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