German word of the day: Spannung

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
German word of the day: Spannung

Excited, tense, electrified? Then use this word.


Why do I need to know this word?

Because it’s a versatile word used in a wide range of contexts from the scientific, to the physiological, political and social.


What does it mean?

Die Spannung has several meanings in German, all of which relate to the theme of tension.

In physics, the word Spannung means voltage - the pressure from an energy source in a circuit that pushes current through a conductive loop.

In everyday usage, however, Spannung is used mostly to mean “tension” or “excitement”.

Spannung comes from the verb spannen - meaning to keep something taught or tense. Historically, the verb spannen was mainly used to describe the tensing of a bowstring. But this sense of the word is still used today: tightly pulled ropes are gespannte ropes, strings on musical instruments are gespannt and, like overstretched bows, they too break when the Spannung (tension) is too great. 

Over time, the use of the verb spannen and also the noun Spannung became increasingly free, giving rise to a more figurative use of the word. Now, Spannung is frequently used to describe interpersonal tensions, or tense and exciting situations.

Spannung is also an important word in context of muscles. With the addition of a prefix, spannen can be used to describe a variety of muscular movements, such as anspannen (“to flex” or “to contract”), entspannen (“to relax”),  and verspannen (“to tense up”).

Use it like this:

Die Spannung während des Spiels war unglaublich

The tension during the game was unbelievable

Der Techniker maß die Spannung der Batterie

The technician measured the voltage in the battery

Meditation kann helfen, Spannung abzubauen

Meditiation can help to relieve stress


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