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Meer vs See?

Hey everyone. I don't understand what the difference is between Meer and See. Please explain.

February 2, 2018



Actually those are three words.

  • Der See: sweet water. E.g. der Bodensee.

  • Die See: salt water. E.g. die Nordsee.

  • Das Meer: salt water. E.g. das Mittelmeer.

Die See und das Meer are synonyms, although some phrases sound better with a specific one.

  • Er fährt zur See. (It is his job)

  • Er fährt aufs Meer. (One time event)

  • Er fährt ans Meer. (For vacation)


FYI (for your information), water in English without significant salt in it is called "fresh water". I think it's 'sweet' how Germans call it Süßwasser ;).


"If there was no salt in it, salt water would taste exactly the same as 'sweet water'!" - a German university professor on the marvel of sugar-free fresh water (he was serious)

  • 1621

az_p - Das ist suß!


Thankyou everyone this is a great help :D


"Die See" (feminine), oder "das Meer", is "the sea". "Der See" (masculine) is a lake. And obviously, "der Ozean" is "the ocean" :)


the sea (with an 'a')


Oh thanks! (Too much German, it happens more and more.) I edit.


Meer means sea in English; See means lake in English


and to add to the confusion, Mere is a word for lake in English


I can add to that: das Maar = the maar, a shallow volcanic crater usually filled with water. They can be found in the Eifel region (north of the Mosel river, east of Luxemburg).

And just mentioning that German "das Loch" = "the hole". A Scottish loch, however, is "der Loch".

  • 1621

Max - Ich glaube nicht, dass es so geschnitten und getrocknet ist. Does my sentence translate into German and mean the same thing as cut and dried does in English?

I couldn't find a German phrase that uses geschnitten und getrocknet - cut and dried in German which in English means it "is not that simple". So does Es ist nicht so einfach work?

How about Das ist nicht eindeutig?


Here the international Explanation :

Die exclusive Definition Salzwasser gilt für Meere aber nicht für Seen ( teils Salzwasser teils Süßwasser)

Meer--------------------------------------------------------------------------- Meere sind die miteinander verbundenen Stehgewässer der Erde, die die Landmassen umgeben. Hauptmeere (Ozeane) und Nebenmeere (von den Hauptmeeren mehr oder weniger abgetrennt: Randmeere, Mittelmeere, Binnenmeere).

See----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Seen sind Binnengewässer die vollkommen von Land umgeben sind und keinen direkten Austausch mit dem Meer haben.

Seen : Beispiele ----------------


Steinhuder Meer, Zwischenahner Meer, Bodensee, Chiemsee .............usw.



Kaspisches Meer (Salzhaltig)

Totes Meer (Salzhaltig ;sogar 10 mal so hoch wie der Meeresdurchschnittsgehalt)

und weitere Seen Süß- und/oder Salzwasser

Dazu kommt die sprachliche Definition durch den Sprachstamm:

Niederdeutsch / Niederländisch

Das Meer --- Die See/ De Zee

Der See --- Das Meer/ De Meer

zusätzlich ins Hochdeutsche übernommen worden. Dadurch kommte es zu lokalen Besonderheiten wie, z.B.: das Steinhuder Meer ist ein See; und somit auch : das Meer ist die See. Bedingt durch die germanische enge Sprachverwandtschaft zwischen Franken, Niederländern, Angeln Sachsen...... sind diese im Laufe der Sprachevolution teils differenten Bezeichnungen zu sehen.

Deutsch Das Meer ( Die See ) / Der See

Französisch La Mere / Le lac

Englisch The Sea / The Lake

Niederdeutsch/Holländisch De Zee / De Meer

Meere: Beispiele ------------------- Atlantik, Pazifik, Mittelmeer, Nordsee, Ostsee ................ daher auch die Nordsee (engl Northsea NDL. de noordzee...........) Niederdeutsche Ausdrucksweise.

Ganz so einfach ist es eben nicht.

Es gibt nämlich auch noch andere Besonderheiten.

Ich hoffe das reicht zur Definition.


Here the international Explanation:

The exclusive definition of salt water applies to oceans but not to lakes (partly salt water partly fresh water)

Sea------------------------------------------------- -------------------------- Seas are the interconnected standing waters of the earth that surround the landmasses. Main seas (oceans) and minor seas (more or less separated from the main seas: marginal seas, Mediterranean, inland seas).

Lake------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------- Lakes are inland waters that are completely surrounded by land and have no direct exchange with the sea.

Lakes: Examples ----------------


Steinhuder Meer, Zwischenahner Meer, Bodensee, Chiemsee ............. etc.



Caspian Sea (saline)

Dead Sea (saline, even 10 times the sea average)

and other lakes fresh and / or salt water

Added to this is the linguistic definition by the language stem:

Low German / Dutch

Das Meer --- Die See / De Zee

Der See --- Das Meer / De Meer

additionally adopted into High German. This gives rise to local peculiarities such as: the Steinhuder Meer is a lake; and thus also: the Meer is die See . Due to the Germanic close linguistic affinity between Franks, Dutch, Saxons ...... these are in the course of the language evolution partly different names to see.

German Das Meer ( Die See ) / Der See

French La Mere / Le lac

English The Sea / The Lake

Low German / Dutch De Zee / De Meer

Seas: Examples ------------------- Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, North Sea, Baltic See ................ therefore also the Nordsee (English Northsea in Dutch de Noordzee ...........) Low German expression.

It's not that easy.

There are also other special features.

I hope that's enough for the definition.

  • 1621

It seems to me that they can both be used for "sea" and "ocean". But I usually never see "Meer" translated as "lake", or vice versa. But that is not to say that I never see them both translated as such. I tend to think of Meer being bigger than a See. However, as you know, I am not a native German speaker.


das IJsselmeer, in the Netherlands, is a lake (originally a bay until they shut off the sea by a huge dike, now it's fresh water). The Germans just copied the Dutch word "het IJsselmeer"; in Dutch, meer = lake, zee = sea.

The IJsselmeer itself was called "Zuiderzee" when it still was part of the sea. Note how the Germans also copied the Dutch "IJ" (two capital letters), which is considered as one ligated letter in Dutch.

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