Running in German — The exception to the rule

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Running in German — The exception to the rule

Last week I gave you a weekly planner to get fit in German. Today I’m talking about another kind of fitness that was spurred on by yesterday’s run with AnneMarie. It was almost Forrest Gump style running, we didn’t just go out on our regular loop. We set off from Zurich and kept going in the direction of Zug (the canton and city, not the object). In the words of Forrest Gump “we just kept on running”. When all was said and done we funnily completed 41.41 km. A nice Sunday run. This had me thinking about the German word for “to run“.

Now I’m always going on about how precise the German language is and how specific words are used to mean very exact things. This theory seems to fall apart with the notion of running though. And though I’ve never lived in a country with so many running events as Switzerland has, German speakers, who do not run, cannot seem to agree on a word that means to run. I mean run in the action of quick human or animal locomotion by the means of the legs and not the mechanical use of to function. That said let’s look at some of the options and their dictionary meanings:

1. rennen


schnell, in großem Tempo, meist mit ausholenden Schritten laufen

Lola rennt (Run Lola Run)


  • Er ist auf die Strasse gerannt. (He ran onto the street.)
  • Er rannte, so schnell er konnte. (He ran as quickly as he could.)
  • Er ist die ganze Strecke von der Ostküste bis zur Westküste gerannt. (He ran the entire distance from the east coast to the west coast.)

Rennen relates to racing that is the “meist mit ausholenden Schritten” portion (a passing pace) it is usually only used for running in a race. Or in expressions like: “to run to the doctor for every little thing” (wegen jeder Kleinigkeit zum Arzt rennen) and “to run a knife into someone’s ribs” (jemandem ein Messer in/zwischen die Rippen rennen)

2.  laufen


sich in aufrechter Haltung auf den Füssen in schnellerem Tempo so fortbewegen, dass sich jeweils schrittweise für einen kurzen Augenblick beide Sohlen vom Boden lösen

Lauf Forrest lauf! (Run Forrest run!)


  • Er musste laufen, um den Bus noch zu bekommen. (He had to run to catch up to the bus.)
  • Ulrike soll schneller laufen. (Ulrike should run faster)
  • Die Kinder liefen auf die Straße. (The children ran onto the street.)
  • Die Frau lief aus dem Haus. (The woman ran out of the house.)
  • Die Gefangenen sind ins Freie gelaufen. (The prisoners ran into the open.)
  • Der Hund läuft über das Feld. (The dog is running through the field.)
  • Er lief wie der Blitz. (He ran as quick as lightening.)
  • Sie lief davon weg wie ein Wiesel. (She ran away like a weasel.)

Laufen is the best verb to use to describe the action of running to mean just a quick form of human locomotion using the feet. According to the Duden, where I got these definitions, laufen requires that both feet are for a second off the ground. So technically, if this is not happening one is not running. That said many people, especially in Switzerland use laufen to simply mean walking. Which makes it difficult to explain that you were actually going quickly. Laufen can also be used to mean something is running as in functioning.


  • Sie können den Motor laufen lassen. (You can leave the motor running.)
  • Ruhe, Kamera läuft! (Quiet on the set, the camera is rolling!)

For anyone in business there is also often the question: “Wie läuft’s?” (How’s business?)

 3. joggen


Jogging betreiben.


  • Sie joggt durch den Park. (She’s jogging through the park.)
  • Sie joggen jeden Morgen füng Kilometer. (They jog five kilometers every morning.)

This is a funny one. Most of you know that “J” [j?t] is almost always pronounced like a y in English. But here it makes an English j sound. The word comes from English and means the same thing. So if you differentiate between running and jogging and consider yourself a jogger, say joggen.

4. gehen


sich in aufrechter Haltung auf den Füßen schrittweise fortbewegen


  • Er geht schnell. (He walks quickly.)
  • Die Müllers gehen barfuß. (The Müllers are going barefoot.)
  • Gehen Sie geradeaus. (Go straight ahead.)
  • Hannes geht um die Ecke. (Hannes is going around the corner.)
  • Willst du mitfahren oder lieber [zu Fuss] gehen? (Do you want a ride or would you rather walk?)

Wendungen, Redensarten, Sprichwörter:

  • wo jemand geht und steht
    • Bedeutung: immerzu; überall:
    • z.B. Er trägt die Sonnenbrille, wo er geht und steht. (He wears sunglasses no matter where he is or what time it is.)
  • wie jemand geht und steht
    • Bedeutung: so, wie jemand gerade [angezogen] ist; sofort:
    • z.B. Als er die Nachricht hörte, rannte er los, wie er ging und stand. (When he heard the news he left right without changing his clothes or anything.)

Gehen does not actually mean to run, but it does mean to walk and to go. The reason I introduced this one is because some Swiss dialects use gah for laufen meaning to walk, though laufen really means to run. Nonetheless it’s a great introduction to the Swiss variations of to run.

5. seckle / seklä –> rennen

This is one of the words that I grew up with. When a Swiss person says this, they really mean running like we mean it in English. It cannot be confused with a slower form of locomotion.

6. springe –> rennen

This word is like seckle/seklä, but can lead to confusion because it looks and sounds like the High German verb springen, which means to jump.

And there you have it, six different ways to express the idea of forward locomotion in German. When all is said and done tough the order of correctness of use and default usage for the equivalent of the English to run are: laufen, rennen, seckle/seklä (CH), springe (CH), joggen

Now that you have the vocabulary, what’s stopping you from going out there and running? Enjoy the beautiful spring weather. If you’re interested in learning German during an early morning run, we do that too.

Running/jogging and learning a language is a great combination and one of the central ideas we started Marathon Sprachen with. Increased blood flow means that you think faster and retain more of what you’re learning. Your speaking is also more fluent and you can combine language training and sport. Win—Win—Win.

Did you notice I gave you the most important verb conjugations? If you don’t have them memorized yet, here are your three verbs for this week.

  1. JulianJulian04-05-2012


    I’m currently living in Bonn, Germany and am also trying to learn the language! I can hold a basic conversation w/ the locals and add in some Redewendungen like “Naschkatze” and “Jacke wie Hose”, but my vocab is seriously lacking! I’m really glad to have found your blog/website! It is awesome!!!

    I am also a runner. I found this by just Googling “german running words” or something to that nature b/c I wanted to have the right vocab to talk to someone about Laufschuhe or something. This is awesome and I look forward to reading all your entries! If only I had time to update my blog with running stories …

    Mfg aus Bonn,

  2. MarcosMarcos07-22-2012

    There’s no exact word in German meaning to walk, caminare, marcher, caminhar.
    “langsam auf den Füssen gehen”? Very complicated.

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