What is the difference between erfassen and verstehen? Both mean to comprehend, but in what context is erfassen used?
- Ich verstehe den Satz sehr gut.
- Ich erfasse den Satz sehr gut.
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Verstehen is the most general to understand and you basically do that with facts and rules.
Erfassen is shifted toward a grasping something in its complete scope. You could maybe think of it as to fathom. So I think you can erfassen something without really understanding it.
Du willst also nackt zum Nordpol laufen? - Du hast es erfasst.
So you want to walk naked to the North Pole? - You got it.
No understanding implied.
Verstehen is the more general term, as illustrated by the following example:
You can fail to understand a spoken sentence because you did not hear it correctly, or because you failed to grasp its meaning; verstehen covers both cases, erfassen just the latter.
It's interesting that the images used in the German and English language are quite close to each other:
In the second case, the correspondence is not perfect, though: First, begreifen is probably even closer etymologically, but I'd translate that as to comprehend. Second, fassen can also mean to catch. Erfassen cannot be used in the sense of
I didn't catch that.
though, but rather
This catches its meaning nicely.
Ich erfasse den Satz sehr gut.
isn't really something a native speaker would say (at least I wouldn't).