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German word of the day: Vorstellen

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

Whether you can picture something in your mind's eye or are meeting a new acquaintance for the first time, this German word has several useful meanings you'll want to know.

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Why do I need to know vorstellen?

Because once you know vorstellen, we can guarantee that this verb is bound to become an indispensable part of your German vocabulary, coming in handy anywhere from job applications to casual conversation. 

What does it mean?

Depending on some small changes to grammar in the sentence, vorstellen (pronounced like this) can have completely different meanings.

The first, which is used with the object of the sentence, means to present or to introduce yourself - and this is the version you may have already heard in German meetings or when starting a new German course. 

It's in this sense that the word is used in das Vorstellungsgespräch, which literally means introductory conversation and is the German word for job interview. In many ways, this a nice way to think about the process, especially if you're feeling nervous: you're not being grilled on your work history and qualifications, you're really just getting to know each other! 

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If you use the reflexive construction sich vorstellen and the dative (i.e. mir, dir, Ihnen), vorstellen means to imagine or envision something. 

This is often used by Germans to talk about something they do - or do not - find a realistic possibility, which also indicates whether they would - or would not - like to do something. 

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For example, "Ich kann mir gut vorstellen, mit dir ins Ausland zu reisen", would hint that the person speaking thinks travelling abroad with you might be quite a pleasant thing to do.  

Incidentally, there's also a far more literal meaning of vorstellen, which quite literally means to set (stellen) something forwards (vor). This is the meaning you'll need at least once a year at the start of summer when Europeans like to set their clocks forward by an hour. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day - Einbilden

Use it like this: 

Darf ich Herrn Stein kurz vorstellen? Er ist der neue Buchhalter. 

May I briefly introduce Mr Stein? He's our new accountant.

So habe ich mir das nicht vorgestellt. 

That's not how I imagined it. 

Jedes Jahr im März stellen wir die Uhr vor.

Every year in March, we set the clock forward. 

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Comments (1)

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David Vinas 2024/05/31 14:18
The article incorrectly states that the version which means "imagine" is reflexive. As verified in the examples given, there is no reflexive pronoun (e.g. sich or mich). The correct way to state the grammar usage is that vorstellen is used with an indirect object (i.e. dative pronoun).
  • Imogen Goodman 2024/05/31 15:00
    Thanks for your comment! Vorstellen is a reflexive verb that can either take an accusative pronoun in the sense of 'introduce' or a dative pronoun in the sense of 'imagine'. When using the dative, the 'sich' in 'sich vorstellen' becomes 'mir', 'dir', etc. I hope that clarifies things a bit. There's quite a good breakdown of the German grammar here if you're interested: https://deutsch-coach.com/das-verb-sich-vorstellen/

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