“Anerkennen” or is seeing really believing?

4 Feb


The other day I received a request on Twitter to explain the difference between the German verbs “erkennen” and “anerkennen”. At first I thought: that’s easy. “Erkennen” means to recognize and “anerkennen” means to recog…wait a second! Look at that. I never noticed that there is only one word in English for two entirely different things.

Okay, so to break it down, “erkennen” means ‘to make something out’. Me for examle, I am near sighted. Last summer I lost my glasses while partying too wild at a wedding and I had to wait two weeks to get new ones. In those two weeks I had trouble to read signs or recognize people on the street. Recognize as in “erkennen”.
Anerkennen is to recognize as in ‘to accept’. As a teenager I spent some time wishing my brother would accept that I know stuff, too. I wished he would recognize my knowledge and opinions. Recognize as in „anerkennen“.

Maybe the somewhat wobbly ‚donkey-bridge’ (ahem, mnemonic device, obviously) to help you remember the difference could be to think of the phrase ‘seeing is believing’. I can see the face of my teacher (erkennen) but I can’t believe he is supposed to be smarter than me (seine Intelligenz anerkennen). The tricky thing in spotting the verb in a sentence is the German habit of splitting up verbs. So the sentence might look like this: “Ich erkenne Ihre Autorität nicht an.” Look to the very end of the sentence, if you find an “an” there, it is “anerkennen” and not “erkennen”.

Oh and one more thing. The problem of having only one word for two things is not exclusive to the English language. In German for example we don’t distinguish between heaven and sky. Strange, right?

4 Responses to ““Anerkennen” or is seeing really believing?”

  1. Dan February 5, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    Hmm, da muss man aber mal kleinlich anmerken, daß “erkennen” mitunter beides ausdrücken kann. Ich meine in bibelnahen Texten (oder dem Schmöcker selbst) eine Formulierung gelesen zu haben, die lautete: “und sie erkannten ihn als ihren Heiland” … und da war dann ausdrücklich “erkennen” sowie “anerkennen” gemeint. Allerdings ist dies auch das einzige Beispiel, welches mir einfällt, wo beide Bedeutungen “verschwimmen”.

  2. Elle Aura February 7, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Hm.. Das überzeugt mich jetzt noch nicht. Denn es könnte genauso gut gemeint sein, dass sie in dem Moment realisierten, dass er ihr Heiland war. Und das würde wiederum das Wort “Erkennen” fordern. Da bräuchte es jetzt schon ein genaues Zitat.

  3. Cosmia Nebula in Iceland January 27, 2017 at 1:07 am #

    A good quote from Cantor:
    “Das Absolute kann nur anerkannt, aber nie erkannt, auch nicht annähernd erkannt werden.”

  4. Nick February 6, 2018 at 9:23 am #

    recognize (erkennen) vs. acknowledge (anerkennen)?

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