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German "treten" and "kicken" difference discussion

I think it's useful we discuss these since I'm not having any luck with research

June 25, 2018


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I am only familiar with the verb "kicken" as a colloquial term in connection with football/soccer: den Ball kicken; lasst uns mal (den Ball) ein bisschen herumkicken. I associate its derivative form "kickern" with playing foosball (the table soccer game): Lasst uns mal ein bisschen kickern - let's play a game of foosball.

It is a relatively new import from English into the German language. I am not into fighting games of any sort, but I guess you might encounter it there as well in connection with kickboxing or similar moves. One usage seems to be in forum speak: jemandem aus dem Forum kicken (ban a forum user). Most of the other hits for "kicken" outside the realm of sports are either slang or pretty vulgar. So IMO definitely not fully interchangeable, but maybe I'm just showing my age...

In connection with football/soccer, I would generally use "den Ball schießen" rather than "treten" with some exceptions, maybe: Er tritt den Ball über die Seitenlinie (e.g. when a player wants to create a break in the game so that an injured player can be attended to).

Overall, I did not find a large number of hits online that would support a high usage of "kicken" outside of football/soccer. A large number of instances I found with "kicken" were typos for "klicken"! :D


Well. I think they are interchangeably in most contexts and the differences are very minor. Both mean 'to kick with a foot'.

If I had to point out differences, then only that they transfer a slightly different picture to my mind. If I hear 'kicken' I'm more likely to think about sport or martial arts. When I hear 'treten' I have a more basic picture of an action where you're using a foot to kick against something.

The 'basiclyness' of 'treten' is because it's used in derived verbs like 'wegtreten' (to step away (in a military context) or to pass out), 'eintreten' (to enter (a building) or to open a door/window/wall with a kick) or 'auftreten' (to occur or to act (in a film/theatre) or to kick something open or to... put down your body weight while stepping (?, it's hard to describe)).
So I would use 'kicken' only if you want to imply that the purpose of the kick was to send something flying or to deal damage/hurt someone.


You can use kicken not only with soccer but with any kind of ball or ball-like thing (which is moved fast by means of someones foot):

  • Er kickt den Ball.
  • Er kickt die Dose über den Hof.
  • Er kickt ein Buch durch den Raum.

Treten is also always with the foot, but the the other thing does not need to be moved by that:

  • Er tritt ihr auf die Hand
  • Er tritt aus Wut gegen die Wand
  • Er trat aus Versehen auf das Papier, das auf dem Boden lag.
  • Sie treten den am Boden liegenden Jungen in den Bauch.
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