German word of the day: Beharren

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected] • 9 Jun, 2022 Updated Thu 9 Jun 2022 17:23 CEST
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Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

If learning German feels too tough and you just want to give up, this helpful little verb should help you stay on track.

Why do I need to know beharren

This elegant verb is bound to come in useful when you're describing something you've been working hard at or are struggling with, and you can also use it to give your German friends an inspiring little pep talk. 

When you're describing the traits of friends, family, colleagues or even yourself, you may also want to include its noun form: (die) Beharrlichkeit. 

What does it mean?

Beharren (be·ha·ren) essentially means 'to persevere'. In other words, to stick at something even when the going gets tough. It's the quality we all need when trying to learn a new skill or speak a new language: when you're struggling through a difficult patch and feel like you'll never succeed, perseverance - or Beharrlichkeit - is key.

Though persevering generally has positive connotations, it can also depend slightly on the context. In fact, beharren can also be used to describe someone stubbornly sticking to an idea or project, even when it no longer makes sense. In this context, you could translate beharren as 'to persist' - or even 'to insist' - and anyone who's ever been locked in conversation with someone who won't back down may feel slightly less positive about this character trait.

You may admire the Beharrlichkeit of a colleague who managed to train for a marathon after recovering from a serious illness, or the student who gets brilliant grades in their degree while suffering from a learning difficulty. But when your two-year-old is learning the true meaning of beharren and refuses to go to bed before watching more cartoons, the virtue of persistence may start to seem like a curse. 

Is there any history behind it? 

Absolutely. The word beharren is believed to have originated in the word harren - an old-fashioned verb that means 'to wait patiently or longingly'. Harren became more widespread in the medieval period and was often used by the theologian Martin Luther in his writings.

Nowadays, you'll generally only hear the word as part of other verbs with prefixes, including ausharren, which means 'to endure', and beharren

Use it like this: 

Er hat auf seinem Standpunkt beharrtet.

He insisted on his point of view.

Es ist mir sehr wichtig, in meiner Bildung zu beharren. 

It's very important to me to persevere in my education.

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Imogen Goodman 2022/06/09 17:23

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