German word of the day: Bemühen

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
German word of the day: Bemühen

If you're putting in the time and effort it takes to learn German - even if it isn't perfect yet - this handy word will communicate just how hard you've tried.


Why do I need to know bemühen?

Because this elegant verb is perfect for describing a range of situations, from learning a new skill or working on a project to helping out a friend in need. Not only that, but it's also a great way to practice using reflexive verbs, which you'll come across a fair bit in German.

What does it mean?

Sich bemühen means to make an effort, strive or endeavour to do something. It can be used to talk about any occasion when you're putting in a lot of work on something or trying your best, like preparing for an exam or learning a new language. 

If, on the other hand, you think someone is inconveniencing themself on your behalf, you can use bemühen to gently tell them it's unnecessary. In these cases, "Bitte bemühen Sie sich nicht" means something along the lines of, "Please don't trouble yourself". 


It can also be used in a more formal context, like describing business goals or plans, or laying out your objectives to a client. For example, you might tell one of your customers, "Wir werden uns bemühen, die beste Lösung zu finden" (We'll endeavour to find the best solution) to reassure them that you're ready to put the work in to solve their issue. 

It's worth noting that bemühen is a reflexive verb, which essentially means the subject of the verb (the person doing the thing) is also the object (the person the thing is being done to).

One easy way to remember this is to think of the verb waschen (meaning "to wash"), which can be use as a reflexive verb if you're talking about having a wash, or washing yourself. 

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Where does it come from?

The verb bemühen comes from the German noun, Mühe, meaning trouble, effort or toil. Looked at like that, sich bemühen can be seen as subjecting yourself to a period of hard work in order to reach your goals. 

As an alternative to bemühen, you can also say "sich Mühe geben" which literally means to give effort, but can best be translated as making an effort.

You can also use the adjective mühsam to describe something that's arduous or laborious. 

Use it like this: 

Zur Zeit bemühe ich mich, mein Deutsch zu verbessern.

I'm striving to improve my German at present. 

Wir haben uns bemüht, das Projekt so schnell wie möglich fertig zu stellen.

We made every effort to complete the project as quickly as possible.


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