1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: German
  4. >
  5. Eine peinliche Frage!


Eine peinliche Frage!

Hallo Leute,

I have a little question regarding embarrassing situations. Specifically, I'm wondering how to express the difference between "he is embarrassed" and "he is embarrassing". Intuitively, I would expect "he is embarrassed" to translate as (something like) "Er pein sich" (using the same formulations as "Er freut sich" and "Er sorgt sich", for example). Google translate doesn't seem to think this is idiomatic however, and suggests "Er ist peinlich" as an alternative. It gives exactly the same translation, however, for the phrase "he is embarrassing". Given that these two sentences have very different connotations, I was hoping that some of you might be able to help me out by providing some clarification.


November 17, 2017



He is embarrassed = ihm ist etw. peinlich (literally: "something is embarrassing to him" or "he is embarrassed by something")
He is embarrassing = er ist peinlich

Notice, that you need to say what causes someone to be embarrassed in the german translation "ihm ist etwas peinlich", or in other words, you need an object. So you could say for example:

"Das ist mir peinlich" = "I'm embarrassed"
"Ihm ist peinlich, dass seine Mutter ihn abholt" = "He is embarrassed, because his mother is picking him up"


Danke, das ist sehr hilfreich!


Ah, and the matching verb to "peinlich" would be "sich schämen".
So you could also say "Er schämt sich" for "He is embarrassed".


Yes, but there is a slight difference between sich schämen and etwas peinlich finden/sein. schämen is more like be ashamed. "Er schämt sich für die Lügen, die er erzählt hat" vs. "der Fleck auf seinem Hemd ist ihm peinlich". Sich schämen is a bit "deeper" or serious, while peinlich sein can also just have a kind of funny meaning (for the others, not for the guy who's embarrassed)....


Yeah... but they still have a common intersection ;) By the way, there's actually another verb with that meaning: "sich genieren" (with the "g" pronounced like the "g" in "Gelee" or the french "j") So the example would be: "Er geniert sich". Quite old-fashioned, though :)


I also wanted to add that there exists the phrase:

"Er ist peinlich berührt." for "He is embarrassed".
("berührt" translating to "touched" in the sense like you are touched by kind words f.i. obviously)

not very common though, but maybe nice to know ;)

Learn German in just 5 minutes a day. For free.