German word of the day: Grenze

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
German word of the day: Grenze
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

From national borders to personal limitations, this German word is a great one to add to your active vocabulary.


Why do I need to know Grenze?

Because Grenze is one of those nifty words that has multiple uses beyond its most literal meaning, and which can also be used in verb form.

As with many German nouns, it also functions well as a compound noun (i.e. paired with other nouns to create a new word) so learning this word could add several new words to your vocabulary at once. 

What does it mean? 

Die Grenze (pronounced like this) can be best translated as border in English, but can also mean limit or boundary, depending on the context.

When you hear the word in a geographical sense, it's usually used to discuss national borders, such as Germany's borders with nine other countries.

Of course, borders don't have to be national: a Stadtgrenze would refer to the city limits, while Bundeslandgrenzen are the borders between Germany's federal states. Want to know where the border crossing is? In that case, you'll need to locate the Grenzübergang (also a feminine noun). 

An Abgrenzung, meanwhile, is any kind of demarcation. 

In the list of useful compound nouns that can be made using Grenze, one particularly interesting one is Phantomgrenze. This word is used to describe borders that don't physically exist but that take the form of cultural, political or economic divides - a prime example being the East/West divide that still exists in Germany more than three decades after reunification.

READ ALSO: How does Germany's 'phantom border' still divide the country?

Less literally, you can use Grenzen to discuss physical or emotional limitations, or to talk about being pushed to the limit (an die Grenzen gestoßen sein). In a similar sense, there may be political boundaries (politische Grenzen), or scientific ones (wissenschaftliche Grenzen) that haven't yet been crossed. 


You may have recently learned to set boundaries in your personal life, which can be described in German as "Grenzen setzen". In that case, you may also want people to respect those boundaries (Grenzen respektieren). 

In fact, almost any well-known English phrase that refers to limits, borders or boundaries can usually be translated using Grenzen. For example, "Meine Leidenschaft kennt keine Grenzen" means "My passion knows no bounds." 

Of course, this being German, there are countless other ways you can adapt Grenze not just into compound nouns but also into verbs or adjectives. 


Grenzen, of course, means "to border" while angrenzen means "to border on" and begrenzen means "to limit". Speaking of which, if you're hoping to snap up a discounted deal, you may well be warned: "Das Angebot ist stark begrenzt." That tells you that the offer is limited, so you'd better hurry while stocks last!

Where does it come from?

Interestingly enough, the word Grenze has Slavic roots and stems from the Polish word granica, which also means border.

Geography buffs may well observe that Germany shares a fairly long border with Poland (along with eight other countries), so the etymology of the German word seems incredibly fitting. 

READ ALSO: Five German words that come from Polish

Use it like this: 

Es ist wichtig, die Grenzen anderer Menschen zu respektieren.

It's important to respect other people's boundaries. 

Wie viele Länder grenzen an Deutschland? 

How many countries border Germany?


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