German Language Blog

The Curiosity of the German Word “Spannend” Posted by on Nov 2, 2018 in Culture, Language

noAn interesting lecture that you would like to attend – let’s hope it is spannend! A movie that you watched on Halloween – spannend! This German word has two different meanings: exciting, thrilling; and interesting. However, what baffles me is how it is used – for basically anything and everything! Let’s look at this word today.

Click here for previous entries in the series on curious words in German

Spannend as a word

A Achterbahn (roller coaster) – hochspannend! (Image by Priscilla Du Preez at

The word spannend does not only refer to “exciting” things. It is also the adjective form of things on tension. For example, barely fitting pants can be eine spannende Hose (though it could also be that you somehow find it mysteriously exciting, of course). You also use the verb spannen to put tension on something.

How is it used?

A Lesung (lecture) – spannend?! (Image by NeONBRAND at

Spannend  was originally used to describe exciting, scary or thrilling things. Movies, books, sports events… you get it. However, it is nowadays used to describe close to anything. A mundane Lesung (lecture)? Spannend. Your Reise (trip) to South Germany? Spannend. Some would go as far as calling Gemüse (vegetables) spannend.

So what is it about this word that makes it so ubiquitous?


Google Trends that show a decline in the use of interessant (red) and an increase of spannend (blue), starting at about the same time around 2011, 2012 (Screenshot from Google Trends)

Spannend is a great word to make something sound interesting and exciting at the same time. So you could say interessant – but why not use spannend, implying an enthralling story? That is where the word’s journey started and became popular. Where it is now almost identical to the word interessant – yet it is no longer used to describe experiences as much as spannend.

There have been critical voices on the increasing use of the word, such as this, here and here. And they all have a common criticism: By using the adjective spannend instead of other adjectives, any value that could have been conferred gets lost. Spannend, ironically, does not come with any emotion, such as a sad event.

What do you think of using this word? Let me know what you think in the comments below!


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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.