My Special Problem: „Betrachten“ Or „Beobachten“ – But My Eyes Still See

Pali A - Fotolia.com
Pali A – Fotolia.com

Languages often have several verbs for a particular activity. The meanings of these verbs are similar, but not the same. The context in which a certain verb can occur is clearly limited. These slight differences in meaning cause problems for learners, and sometimes even for native speakers.

The word field sehen has some verbs with similar, but slightly different meanings. Learners often confuse the verbs beobachten and betrachten.

Imagine the following situation: A woman is standing at the open window. Below, people are walking around.

Die Frau sieht die Menschen. (She perceives them.)

Sie sieht einen Mann auf der anderen Straßenseite. (She perceives him.)

Sie betrachtet ihn. Er hat grüne Haare und trägt einen weißen Mantel mit roten Punkten.

Sie beobachtet ihn. Der Mann nimmt einen Farbtopf und malt auf jede Wand ein gelbes Herz.

Betrachten – Watch Something Or Somebody Closely

When we use the verb betrachten we look closely at something or somebody. We pay attention to details.

Sie betrachtet ihn. Er hat grüne Haare und trägt einen weißen Mantel mit roten Punkten.

The woman looks closely at the man, recognizing details of his appearance (hair color, clothing). The aid question ist: What is he like?

What do we watch closely? Faces, pictures, landscapes, clothing, flowers, sleeping babies, photos, the mess on the floor, the untidy desktop. None of these things move. If there is movement, such as animals in the landscape, we ignore that, because we don’t care for the movement.

Beobachten – Observe What Is Going On At A Given Moment

When we use beobachten we observe and ask ourselves: What is going on? We are interested in the individual actions that follow each other.

Sie beobachtet ihn. Der Mann nimmt einen Farbtopf und malt auf jede Wand ein gelbes Herz.

The woman sees a lot when she is observing the man on the other side of the street:

  • The man bends down.
  • He grabs the bucket with paint.
  • He straightens up.
  • He dips the brush into the paint.
  • He turns to the wall
  • He paints a heart.
  • The heart is yellow.
  • He dips the brush into the bucket with paint.
  • He makes a few steps.
  • He takes the brush out of the paint.

The verb beobachten is often followed by a subordinate clause with an indirect question. The subordinate clause explains what we observe.

Die Frau beobachtet, wie der Mann den Pinsel in den Farbtopf taucht.

Actions are about what we observe. We can observe everything that moves: birds, cars, accidents, terrorist attacks, football players, dancers.

Exceptions

Speaking German you neither watch (betrachten) TV and nor do you watch (beobachten) a film. You can look at (betrachten) the TV because it is an old-fashioned device. The verb for watching TV is fernsehen.

Die Frau betrachtet den alten Fernseher. So ein altes Fernsehgerät hat sie noch nie gesehen.

Die Frau beobachtet, wie der Müllmann den Fernseher wegträgt.

Die Frau sieht fern.

The verb fernsehen is similar to a separable verb (fern/sehen). For more information about separable verbs you may want to read My Special Problem: Verbs With A Zip (Separable Prefixes).

 

 

 

Kommentar verfassen