German word of the day: Schweigen

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
German word of the day: Schweigen
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Shhh! Don't tell anyone. This German word is all about being able to keep a secret.


Why do I need to know Schweigen?

Because it’s important both as a noun and a verb in German, especially if someone asks you to keep a secret. 

What does it mean?

As a noun das Schweigen means “silence” and as a verb, schweigen means "to be silent" or "to keep quiet". It sounds like this.

Native English speakers might find it a little hard at first to get their heads around the verb schweigen, as English doesn't have an equivalent verb. Instead, English usually uses the verb “to be” and an adjective i.e. “to be silent” or “to be quiet”, whereas in German you can just conjugate schweigen to say things like er schweigt - "he's keeping quiet". 

Schweigen is often used in German in the context of keeping a secret or keeping quiet about something and die Schweigepflicht - a compound noun made up of Schweigen and die Pflicht (duty) - is the word for a duty of confidentiality, similar to a code of silence in English. You'll sometimes see Schweigen in German newspaper reports when the government or officials are keeping something quiet, or failing to publicly respond to an issue.


A recent example relates to the dispute over keeping Germany's nuclear power stations online, which prompted one newspaper to ask:

Und wie reagieren die Grünen? Mit vielsagendem Schweigen! 

And how do the Greens react? With a meaningful silence! 

Use it like this:

Wer schweigt, stimmt zu!

Whoever is silent agrees!

Wieso schweigst du?

Why aren't you saying anything?

Wir brechen das Schweigen!

We're breaking the silence!


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