A few years ago a student was talking in German about items on a table. He said:”Ich putze das Buch auf den Tisch und ich putze den Kuli…” I was puzzled by the word ‘putzen’ as it means to dust or clean. Was he saying that he dusted the items? So I asked him and he was surprised because he thought ‘putzen’ was the German translation of ‘to put’.
If only it was that easy!
Although more and more English verbs do get Germanised, ‘to put’ (so far) isn’t one of them. To make it worse, there isn’t one German word for the translation. No, you need to decide between three!
My student at the time wasn’t the only one struggling with this. Over the years I’ve had lots of students struggling with this and I see the question pop up in online forums, too.
So here’s my explanation about when to use setzen, stellen or legen – enjoy!