What does Verhältnis actually mean?

Verhältnis means ratio

I know that the verb halten means to hold.

Is there any subtle relationship between the verb halten and Verhältnis and ratio?

  • Related: Check the "Herkunft" section of Duden
    – Baz
    Oct 4, 2013 at 13:53
  • 1
    You want to understand “verhalten” first.
    – Carsten S
    Oct 4, 2013 at 13:56
  • 3
    As a side note: "Ein Verhältnis" can also be "an affair". ;) Oct 4, 2013 at 14:05
  • It's not so easy. Almost never one word in a given language translates into only one single word in another language. Depending on context you can have dozens of different translations. Depending on context, the German verb »halten« can be translated as »carry, hold, stop, breed, last, think« and many more. There are lots of situations where it simply would be wrong to translate »halten« as »hold«. And there also are lots of situations, where it would be wrong to translate »Verhältnis« as »ratio«, because also »Verhältnis« has lots of different translations with different meanings. Dec 27, 2016 at 9:17
  • 1
    Actually is a very poor choice, to describe, what you're looking for. Dec 27, 2016 at 14:53

3 Answers 3


The noun Verhältnis is a derivative of the verb sich (zu etwas oder jemandem) verhalten. (In contrast, the noun Verhalten is another derivative of sich verhalten but concerns the usage without zu etwas oder jemandem.)

Verb and noun express a relationship in general. In detail this can mean:

  • an affair (Only in case of the noun Verhältnis. The corresponding verb would be ein Verhältnis haben.)
  • a familial/professional/whatever relationship between persons
  • a ratio or abstract relationship between numbers, quantities, structures, … for example the ratio of 2 numbers, 2/3, or the orthogonality of straight lines.
  • another question : why does not beziehung mean a ratio as verhaeltnis , vielen dank im voraus
    – iye
    Oct 4, 2013 at 15:02
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    @iye ad 1) another question, ad 2) why should it? Beziehung is "only" relationship between something (can also be between objects)
    – Vogel612
    Oct 5, 2013 at 0:34
  • @iye: Ich sehe da keinen gr. Unterschied. Man kann an Schnüren ziehen und jmd. mit einem Seil halten. Insofern finde ich da mehr Ähnlichkeit als Unterschied. Auch: "In welcher Beziehung/in welchem Verhältnis stehen A und B zueinander?" ist sehr ähnlich. Dec 27, 2016 at 14:49

Lets start with the verb


this verb has this meanings:

  • to prevent something from moving by using physical power in the opposite direction

    Dieser Träger muss das gesamte Gewicht halten.
    This carrier has to hold/carry the whole weight.

  • to keep a status unchanged

    Ich will mein Gewicht halten.
    I want to keep my weight.

  • to breed farm animals or pets (also used reflexive)

    Frau Müller hält 20 Schafe und 15 Ziegen.
    Ms. Müller breeds 20 sheep and 15 goats.

    Herr Gruber hält sich einen Pudel.
    Mr. Gruber has a poodle.

  • (reflexiv) to prevent something from rotting

    Käse hält sich länger, wenn man ihn im Kühlschrank aufbewahrt.
    Cheese lasts longer when stored in the refrigerator.

  • to make a speculation (with »für etwas«)

    Ich halte solche Aussagen für gefährlich.
    I think such statements are dangerous.

  • to stop (train, bus)

    Der Bus hält hier nicht.
    The Bus doesn't stop here.

It's original meaning was: To breed cattle or other farm animals, to hold them together and to let them eat gras. (»Vieh halten«)


This can be an adjective or a verb, it is derived from »halten«.


When used as a verb, it has this meanings:

  • to hold back, to suppress (in modern German only used as participle)

    Der Chef hat auf unseren Vorschlag sehr verhalten reagiert.
    The boss reacted very guarded on our proposal.

  • (reflexive) to behave

    Wenn man es abkühlt, verhält sich Wasser anders als andere Substanzen.
    When cooling down, water behaves different than other substances.

    Walter verhält sich immer so.
    Walter always behaves this way.


  • inconspicuous, quiet, reserved

    Lisa zeigte ein verhaltenes Lächeln.
    Lisa showed a reserved smile.

This verb »verhalten« obviously derives from »halten«, but in a way you might not expect. The Old High German word »firhaltan« came into German vocabulary as a translation of the latin »prōstituere« which literally means »to put into the front« but was used in the meaning of »to reveal someones body for public fornication«. But this meaning turned, and when it was used some centuries later, in Middle High German as »verhalten«, it meant »to keep closed, to keep hidden, to keep as a secret«. To understand, how this later turned into »to behave« you better read the section about the noun »Verhalten« below.

there are two nouns derived from the verb »verhalten«:

das Verhalten

This noun is the nominalized infinitiv of the verb »verhalten«. First it was used only to describe an inconspicuous, quiet and reserved way to behave (like the synonyms »Benehmen, Betragen« are still used in German), but later it was used as a noun meaning »behavior« in any means.

So, today »Verhalten« means:

  • what someone does (or not does), and the way how he/she does it.

    Das Verhalten von Dr. Stein, als er Frau Fink sah, war unerwartet.
    The behavior of Dr. Stein, when he saw Ms. Fink, was unexpected.

das Verhältnis

This noun describes the Verhalten of a person or thing regarding someone or something else. So it originally means the kind of behaviour that one shows with respect to something else.

In modern German »das Verhältnis« has this meanings:

  • a ratio (i.e. measurable relationship) between two things

    Das Verhältnis der Längen der beiden Diagonalen eines Quadrats ist genau 1.
    The ratio of the lengths of the both diagonals of a square is exactly 1.

  • a relationship between persons

    Das Verhältnis zwischen Ernst und Helga war angespannt.
    The relationship between Ernst and Helga was tense.

  • an intimate relationship

    Lisa und Markus haben ein Verhältnis.
    Lisa and Markus have an affair.

  • general circumstances (only in plural)

    Die politischen Verhältnisse in diesem Land ermöglichen keinen Wohlstand.
    The political situation in this country does not allow for prosperity.


Verhältnisse (the plural) also be translated as "circumstances" or "conditions." From Der Dreigroschenoper, Über die Unsicherheit menschlicher Verhältnisse:

"Wir wären gut - anstatt so roh, Doch die Verhältnise, sie sind nicht so."

  • 1
    This doesn’t really answer the question on what Verhältnis in relation to halten and how it evolved from that word.
    – Jan
    Dec 26, 2016 at 18:19
  • @Jan: To be fair: Neither does the other answer.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Dec 26, 2016 at 22:24
  • @Wrzlprmft True. Maybe I should flag it as NAA, too ;)
    – Jan
    Dec 27, 2016 at 0:17

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