Mitmachen, mitteilen, anzeigen... (differences?)

I come across to so many verbs that apparently have the same meaning: to participate.

Is there any strong and easy difference to remember when to use them?

Is there a generic one that we can always use to just say: to participate?

Mitmachen, mitteilen, anzeigen, teilhaben, teilnehmen, beisteuern, beteiligen, beiwohnen, mitwirken!

Thank you.

Not all of these mean to participate (I don’t think)…

mitteilen - to inform; communicate; advise…
anzeigen - to display; advertise; indicate…
beisteuern - to contribute …I suppose this is similar to participate. But you could participate and not contribute anything so to me there is a difference.
beiwohnen - to attend; to witness. Somewhat similar, but to me participate feels more “active” whereas “attending or witnessing” seems fairly passive, at least once you are at the location.

I barely know what I’m talking about so I’ll defer to anyone else =). I wonder if some of the others, or even ones that I mentioned that are similar may be appropriate in different contexts.

As for the general one to use for “participate”…teilnehmen seems to come up the most in translators if I type that in, but again would defer to others that know better.


Yes, teilnehmen appears quite often but lately I often find teilhaben as well.

It’s true many others have also other meanings but I’ve found some of them with just the simple meaning of to participate and the rest where synonyms in the vocabulary. So I went crazy!

Maybe they don’t have a generic meaning of participating but always connected to their main meaning. For example to participate contributing, to participate witnessing and so on. But I have no idea.

A little disclaimer in the beginning: I didn’t look up those words in a dictionary, I just talk from my experience as a native speaker and what my feeling for the german language suggests to me. Not everything what I say may be exactly what you might find in a dictionary.

First of all, ericb100 is totally right, not all of those word really mean “to participate”. I will only talk about the words which ericb100 didn’t already explain, because he did a pretty good job.

The only change that I would suggest is that “mitteilen” is more neutral than “to advise”. The german translation of “to advise” is “raten” (careful, “raten” can also mean “to guess”). But ericb100s translation of “mitteilen” with “to inform” is spot on.

Mitmachen and mitwirken are used as synonyms, although mitwirken is less frequently used. Especially in spoken German the most common translation for “to participate” is probably mitmachen. Teilnehmen can also be used as a synonym for those words, although it is typically used when you participate in something official. For example if you participate in an exchange program you would translate it to: Ich nehme an dem Austauschprogramm teil. Mitmachen is a little bit more informal and therefore mostly used in spoken German.

Teilhaben is typically used to describe that you share something, espacially emotions or thoughts. For example: Danke, dass Sie mich an Ihren Gedanken teilhaben lassen. → Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.

Beteiligen: Mostly used if you contribute to something (often with money).

Conclusion: Especially with the words mitmachen and teilnehmen you probably can’t go wrong and you will be understood even if a native speaker might have selected another option.


Thank you very much for this explanation, it’s very useful.

You can imagine that in my dictionary (Langenscheidt), “raten” is only “to guess or to solve” and I have to scroll down to look at other alternatives to find “jemandem raten” to see “to advise”.

Btw, I’ve also found partizipieren :D. But this is easy!

I’m honestly surprised that Langenscheidt doesn’t give you “to advise” for “raten” right away as it is frequently used in this context.

Yeah true, partizipieren is also an option :smiley: But it is rather used in an academic context, basically nobody uses this word when talking to friends or in an informal context.

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Probably there are more translations in English, I’ll have to send them corrections for my language because they often need it!

When it’s German I like to think of it in terms of just cognates.

So the prefix mit- is used in many of the places that the latinate co- is used. Teil is related to the English word deal, which used to mean a part of something. And bei is related to the English by-. an- is related to on-. be- is used in English too.

In other words:

  • mitmachen - *co-making (where making doesn’t necessarily mean to produce something, put to take part in something)
  • mitteilen - *co-dealing (where the deal is a piece of information that was shared)
  • anzeigen - *on-teaching (where teach is used in the sense of passing on knowledge)
  • teilhaben - *deal-having (sharing a part of some experience)
  • teilnehmen - *deal-nimming (nim being an obsolete word meaning to take something, although it kind of more means ‘to participate’)
  • beisteuren - *by-steering (steering here meaning to contribute something)
  • beteiligen - *be-dealing (be here probably the sense of forming a noun, again has more of a meaning of ‘to participate’)
  • beiwohnen - *by-woning (won being another obsolete word in English meaning to live somewhere)
  • mitwerken - *co-working (again, where working doesn’t mean to produce something, put to help produce a result)

At least it makes sense to be introduced to these words (and those that use similar prefixes and suffixes) in this way to make them a bit easier to remember and to hopefully kind of extract some meaning from them before natural input, seeing them used in action, takes over naturally anyway. I mean some of those sound weird, like ‘deal-nimming’, but ‘take part’ reads exactly like a Romance calque of the same phrase, just also read in reverse.


Wow, thanks. This is an awesome comparison as well from an English language point of view.

It’s very interesting to see this thinking process although it’s not so automatic to me but I’ll definitely keep it in mind now.

@ericb100: I agree with your explanations (my mother tongue is German)

Hi, quinks / Davide!

That´s an interesting approach! However, I´d advise against relying on it because it perpetuates the misconception of (lists of) single words that can be freely combined.
Sometimes a free combination of words is possible, but often it is not, because our L2 consists of highly conventionalized word groups (collocations) that restrict the free combination of words semantically.

So, in this case, it´s better to think of this field of verbs/cognates as an open network of collocations. For example:

  • Mitmachen (ähnlich zu “teilnehmen”):
  • Darf ich bei Eurem Spiel mitmachen?
  • Ich will nicht bei so etwas (z.B. einer Verschwörung, etc.) mitmachen.
  • mitteilen (im Sinne von “berichten”)
  • Hast Du uns etwas mitzuteilen?
  • Regierungssprecher: “Wir haben der Bevölkerung nichts Neues mitzuteilen!”
  • anzeigen (hat nichts zu tun mit “teilnehmen / mitmachen”):
  • Zeigt das Thermometer etwas an?
  • Ich möchte ein Verbrechen bei der Polizei anzeigen.
  • teilnehmen (analog zu “mitmachen”):
  • An einer Demonstration teilnehmen = bei einer Demonstration mitmachen
  • an einer Diskussion teilnehmen
  • beisteuern:
  • Ich kann zur Diskussion nichts Relevantes beisteuern.

etc. etc.

How can we learn such open networks of (tens of thousands of) collocations in our L2s (beyond German) that have a lot of subtle semantic differences?

  • The obvious approach is reading / listening “a lot” (usually it gets much easier after reading 3-5 million words and listening 500-1000 hours following a Mass Immersion approach).
  • Focusing on word groups (phrases / collocations / whole sentences) and almost never on individual words when LingQing.
  • Using SRS to study the most frequent collocations selectively (see, for example, in the case of English: : English collocations in use)
  • Using collocation dictionaries / search engines. For example, for German: Wörterbuch der Kollokationen im Deutschen
  • Distinguishing between the oral / written use of specific collocations depending on the context (formal - neutral - informal).

In short: Collocations rule our languages because (from a communicative point of view), they limit the complex free play of individual words in communication processes.
Or to put it differently: Collocations are an important strategy to reduce the overall complexity in the communicative processing of languages.
And that´s why relying on individual words, word lists or word equations is a really “bad” idea in language learning: it leads directly to “semantic weirdness” :slight_smile:

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Thanks for this insight Peter.

I definitely take everything in consideration, the more inputs the better.

And yes, by reading and listening a lot our brain understands it by itself without much overthinking. I leave my brain to naturally pay attention here and there but giving different inputs like these ones when I can.

Funny thing, I encounter a lot “teilnehmen” but very rarely “mitmachen”. Something is telling me that mitmachen is more on a day to day basis and If I read things just written by people in informal texts I could find it more often.

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You´re welcome, Davide!

In this context, there are at least three “spectra” to consider:

  1. the spectrum of weak / strong co-occurence:
  1. the spectrum of orality - scripturality (this means it´s a “dimension” and not a binary distinction à la “oral vs. written”)
    For example, there are texts that are orally conceived but written, such as email messages, chats, etc.

On the other hand, there are texts that are produced orally but presented in a more written (monologue) style, such as a sermon in a church.

And there are all kinds of oral / written text forms in between!

  1. the spectrum (i.e. degree) of varying informality / formality

All those spectra interact with each other in language processing. If we then add literal or rhetorical language use, the nonverbal dimension, irony, etc. to the mix, our language games get really complex very fast.

This means for your example:
“Something is telling me that mitmachen is more on a day to day basis and If I read things just written by people in informal texts I could find it more often.”
Yes, if we use the spectra 2 and 3 reg. “mitmachen - teilnehmen - partizipieren”, then

  • “mitmachen” is used esp. in oral and informal contexts
  • “teilnehmen” is used more in written and more neutral / formal contexts
  • “partizipieren” is used primarily in written and formal contexts.

But, of course, someone could also use “partizipieren” in an oral and informal context to create some distance between speaker and listener(s) / as a distinction marker or to make fun of someone else.

The best strategy for absorbing all those nuances is probably to have a “varied language diet” and not rely exclusively on one media format such as “news only,” “fantasy only,” etc.

But you know all this general language stuff already so I´m preaching to the choir here :slight_smile:

Have a nice Sunday

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Thanks for the different examples, they were very useful to enrich the complexity of the language.

And yes, giving variety is definitely important to learn those nuances. Step by step our brain does it by itself but we need to keep being consistent as much as we can.

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