to stress/emphasize

Hello! It seems German has quite a lot of words more or less related to stressing/emphasizing/accentuating/highliting things. I got a bit confused. I have already searched for that (there is a similar thread on Wordreference but it was not particularly helpful). How are the the words like betonen, hervorheben, herausstellen, unterstreichen etc related to each other? In what context is each of these words usually used? Are some of them more common or more formal/colloquial (I believe betonen is especially very common)? Are there any other important verbs or expressions used in a similar way I should know?

I'd greatly appreciate any example sentences. Vielen Dank im Voraus :)

July 30, 2016


They're all quite similar so I can see how you got confused. First of all, examine the word betonen, there's Ton (sound, tone) preceded by the prefix be- which implies to inflict tone upon, and that's exactly it's base meaning, to stress, emphasize:

  • das Wort wird auf der zweiten Silbe betont = the second syllable of the word is stressed

It's often used in a figurative sense, though, like in English:

  • das kann gar nicht genug betont werden = that cannot be stressed enough
  • ich möchte betonen, dass das Internet gewaltige Möglichkeiten bietet = I would like to emphasize that the internet offers tremendous opportunities
  • Welche Kleidung betont die Taille? = What clothing accentuates the waist?

Then there's unterstreichen whose base meaning is to underline as you might've guessed:

  • er unterstrich den Namen = he underlined the name

But it is also used figuratively and synonymously with betonen:

  • wir unterstreichen die Notwendigkeit, unsere Anstrengungen zu verdoppeln = we emphasize the need to double our efforts

As for hervorheben, that is used to mean to highlight:

  • den Text hervorheben = to highlight the text

But, unsurprisingly, is often used figuratively as well:

  • er hebt gerne seine gute Bildung hervor = he likes to emphasize/point out his good education
  • das Gebäude hebt sich durch seine Erhabenheit hervor = the building stands out through its grandeur

Herausstellen has a base meaning of to place outside, but also to send off a ballplayer:

  • die Stühle herausstellen = to place the chairs outside
  • nach dem zweiten Foul wurde er herausgestellt = after the second foul, he was sent off

It's of course also used to mean to emphasize, point out:

  • eines muss klar herausgestellt werden = one thing must be clearly emphasized

Most frequently it's used reflexively, and means to turn out:

  • es hat sich herausgestellt, dass sie recht hatte = it turns out she was right
July 30, 2016

Vielen Dank! Das war extrem hilfreich! Sprichst du wirklich Englisch als Muttersprache? Dein Deutsch muss sehr gut sein! :) Sprichst du es fließend?

July 30, 2016
Learn German in just 5 minutes a day. For free.