From what I see, tief means deep while niedrig means low. However, I have seen some websites claim that tief can also be used as low. Is it situational or geographical? Is one more common than the other?

  • 2
    Wiktionary lists both "deep" and "low" as possible translations for "tief". They give the example: Du hast das Bild zu tief gehängt. ― You hung the picture too low. There is a difference, since you'd never translate "niedrig" as "deep. It's just that German draws the line at a different place than English. This kind of thing is common with different languages.
    – RDBury
    Commented Mar 16 at 14:53
  • @RDBury isn't that the answer? (even when assuming that this might be closed with "use of dictionary"... though I still understand asking about these differences)? Commented Mar 16 at 16:21
  • Thank you for answering! Could I use tief and niedrig interchangeably when in the context of low? Using the example "Du hast das Bild zu tief gehängt", could I also say "Du hast das Bild zu niedrig gehängt"? Would they have the same meaning/both sound correct? Commented Mar 16 at 18:16
  • @planetmaker - Henning Kockerbeck's answer had a lot of information that I didn't know. I was just trying to point out some possible issues with the question.
    – RDBury
    Commented Mar 17 at 5:00
  • Yes, it does. It is also an insightful answer to me, thus +1 Commented Mar 17 at 7:57

1 Answer 1


It's mostly a question of the base line. As you've pointed out, "tief" means something like "deep", while "niedrig" means something like "low":

Das Schiffswrack liegt tief unter der Meeresoberfläche.
The ship wreck lies deep below the sea's surface.

Die Wolken hängen sehr niedrig über der Wiese.
The clouds are hanging very low above the meadow.

So "tief" is typically below some base line, while "niedrig" is above some base line (not much above, but above).

Regarding your picture example from the comments, you can imagine multiple implicit base lines:

Du hast das Bild zu niedrig (über dem Boden) aufgehängt.
You hung the picture too low (above the floor).

Du hast das Bild zu tief (unterhalb der Sichtlinie) aufgehängt.
You hung the picture too deep (below the line of sight).

The latter example would probably sound strange in English, but is completely fine in German.

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