Es zieht.

What does, exactly? Get used to this expression around Germans. They, painting with a very broad cultural brush here, are sensitive to moving air, for whatever reason:

  1. They are convinced a current of moving air causes temperature differentials and affects circulation, resulting in (unwanted) stiffness.
  2. They regret having teased that ugly girl who grew up to be a witch and is now likely to shoot them in the back with magic. No, really: there's a German Wikipedia entry about how mysterious, sudden backpain was blamed on black magic.
  3. They think that moving air -- too much or not enough of it -- is the root of all not immediately explainable ailments, particularly the upper-respiratory kind.

If you ask a modern German "What's up with your culturally pervasive notions about moving air?" they tend to respond along the lines of #1 or #3. But, if they are honest with themselves, it's #2 above causing the most concern.

Whatever your stance on moving air <a href="#kidding" id="1"</a>, ziehen has a rich variety of usages to enchant the non-native speaker of German, particularly when combined with prefixes (some separable, some not, often combined!) to achieve the maximum ratio of meaning-to-root.

"BNSF 5350 20040808 Prairie du Chien WI" by User Slambo on en.wikipedia (same as Slambo here) - Photo by Sean Lamb (Slambo). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


On the face of it, it's just "to pull." It's an irregular verb, and unpredictable in several ways:

  • it looks pretty respectably regular in the present tense conjugational pattern: ich ziehe, du ziehst, er/sie/es zieht. But its stem-changing past tense pattern involves a whole 'nother consonant: ziehen -- zog -- gezogen Where did that 'g' come from?</p>
  • sometimes it takes haben and sometimes sein for perfect past formation -- just depends on whether it's transitive or not and whether any motion is toward a goal. 2

Related Forms

Bear in mind that nothing here is meant to represent an exhaustive list of usages. Additional related forms, aspects, and especially pitfalls are entirely welcome -- please post them as comments.


Deutsch English Examples/Notes
Abzug reduction, subtraction especially accounting, but could also be focused ventilation
Anzug suit situational clothing, like Badeanzug, Schlafanzug
Atemzug breath
Aufzug elevator
Auszug extract, citation bank statement
Beziehung relationship Not to be confused with Verhältnis, which can also mean relationship, or affair. 3
Bezug relation, regard In Bezug auf = "with regard to"; also bezüglich is a convenient adverb. Also, a slipcover for furniture.
Entzug withdrawal Not the accounting kind: physiological or emotional.
Erstbezug first occupancy According to 4
Erziehung education, rearing, raising Not to be confused with Ausbildung or Fortbildung.
Verzug arrears, delinquency Again with the accounting!
Vollzug execution, completion, carrying out See also Strafvollzug
Vorzug preference That which you would pull first -- see also bevorzugen.
Umzug move change of residence
Zug train, movement, draft A literal or figurative manipulation of a pawn is a Schachzug.

See an ancient cousin to our English "tug" lurking in there?

Verbs [Präfix] + ziehen

Mensch. There are tons of these. Here are some of unserer bevorzugten:

Deutsch English Examples/Notes
ausziehen to pull out See Auszug above.
sich ausziehen to take off, to undress If one removes specific articles of clothing, then they are the direct object and one is the indirect object. One must refer to oneself with the dative reflexive pronoun (mir, dir, sich, uns, euch, sich). If you're going full birthday suit 5, the reflexive pronoun is the accusative type (mich, dich, sich, uns, euch, sich).
sich beziehen + auf to refer to In the abstract sense, similar to "to apply to"; not the act of checking reference materials for guidance.
durch die Häuser ziehen to do a pub crawl There may be a connection to the concept of a Zug being a parade, too (think Fasching oder Karneval here).
durchziehen to pull through, to follow through (with, on) Germans lead the way ("to pull through"), but English-speakers are pushing from behind ("to follow through")
einbeziehen to include, imply, implicate Like beziehen, but conveying more direct motion (yet still abstractly so!) via the prefix ein-
einziehen intransitively: to move in
transitively: to pull in
Taking over a new place of residence? Move in.
You're a turtle avoiding a predator? Pull your head in.
entziehen to withdraw not in the accounting sense, like to withdraw an offer
erziehen to raise, to rear applies to people, but the word for raising livestock, züchten, must be related.
glatt ziehen to smooth/straighten out? My boss says this often in place of durchziehen; he means there are many individual instances of something which need standardization.
großziehen to raise, nurture (a child) What is the relationship to Großzügigkeit here?
nachvollziehen to comprehend, to be able to relate to something Achtung! Neither of those prefixes are separable!
umziehen to move as in a change of residence
sich umziehen to change one's clothes
vorbeiziehen to pass someone by Used with an; compare to aneinander vorbei reden to get the sense of the vorbei part.
vorziehen to prefer AFAIC this means the same as bevorzugen. Bevorzugen, however is a non-separable and attractively regular verb, so wir bevorzugen bevorzugen. 6
wegziehen to move away We hear weg- pronounced like "veck," not like "vague" ... is prepositional weg always pronounced that way, versus the substantive Weg?
weiterziehen to press on in your journey
zurückziehen to pull back
zusammenziehen to move in together
zuziehen to tighten up (like a loose screw), or to call in an external party Ever notice that a screwdriver puts the screws in, but a Schraubenzieher pulls them out?

Adjectives and Adverbs

Deutsch English Examples/Notes
großzügig generous "big movely?" Perhaps "in great strides"?
bezüglich regarding abbreviated bzgl.
zuzüglich not including abbreviated zzgl. — it means you're going to have to pay extra.
zügig quickly

There are a lot of expressions involving ziehen, or forms of it. If they have bewildered you in their Vielfältigkeit or their subtlety, well... das kann ich vollkommen nachvollziehen.

1. Who're we kidding? Sorcery.
2. Of course, that's another post entirely.
3. The naughty kind.
4. Is that really its own word in English?
5. I really want *Geburtstagsanzug to exist, but it stubbornly refuses to.
6. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Huh?