Bedeuten, meinen, vorhaben: what do these German verbs mean?

Do you know that feeling? You need to write something in German but you need to look up a word … and then don’t know which one to use!

‘To mean’ is one of those words. It can mean (☺) meinen, bedeuten and beabsichtigen/ vorhaben.

Let me show you:

Meinen

Ich meine, du meinst, er/ sie/ es meint, wir meinen, ihr meint, sie/Sie meinen

Ich meine, es ist heuter kühler als gestern. I mean (think) is’t cooler today than yesterday.
Ich meine, dass er sehr nett ist. I mean he’s very nice.
Ich meine deine Kinder. Sie sind immer so laut. I mean your children. They are always so noisy.
Diese Sätze zeigen, was ich meine. These sentences show what I mean.

Bedeuten

Ich bedeute, du bedeutest, er/ sie/ es bedeutet, wir bedeuten, ihr bedeutet, sie/ Sie bedeuten

Es regnet. Das bedeutet, ich brauche einen Regenschirm. It’s raining. That means I need an umbrella.
Du bedeutest mir viel. You mean a lot to me.
Was bedeutet dieses Zeichen? What does this sign mean?

Vorhaben

Ich habe vor, du hast vor, er/ sie /es hat vor, wir haben vor, ihr habt vor, sie/ Sie haben vor

When you look up ‘vorhaben’ you usually see it translated as ‘to plan, to intend’ but it can also be translated as ‘to mean’. And, as you’ve noticed in my conjugation, it’s a separable verb.

Ich habe vor, mehr Deutsch zu üben. I mean to practise more German.
Ich hatte vor, mehr Deutsch zu üben, aber leider kam mir das Leben dazwischen. I meant to practise more German, but sadly life got in the way.

So, meinen is to mean as ‘having an opinion’ and bedeuten is to mean as in ‘to have a meaning’.

Two nouns show you even better:

Die Meinung is the opinion, but die Bedeutung is the meaning of something.

This leaves me with one question for you. At the top of this post I wrote “To mean’ is one of those words. It can mean meinen, bedeuten and beabsichtigen/ vorhaben.” How would you translate ‘It can mean …’?

Before I give you the answer, here is an old song (from 1837 – no, not the recording!) of the Heinrich Heine poem ‘Die Lorelei’ (which he wrote in 1824) ‘Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten, dass ich so traurig bin’. And you can translate that sentence too. ☺

Answers:
It can mean … = Es kann bedeuten…
Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten, dass ich so traurig bin. = I don’t know what it means that I am so sad.

Well done if you got it!

Now challenge yourself and use those verbs somehow in your German learning this week. Tell us your sentences in the comments.

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