When you look up the verb ‘to stay’ in a dictionary, you get lots of translations, including wohnen, leben and bleiben.
What are the differences? Wohnen and leben can mean to live, but also to stay. But then, bleiben also means to stay.
Let’s have a look at each verb!
First of all, how do you conjugate it?
Ich habe gewohnt/ ich wohnte (perfect/ imperfect tense)
Ich habe gelebt/ ich lebte (perfect/ imperfect tense)
Ich bin geblieben/ ich blieb (perfect/ imperfect tense)
So, what’s the difference between wohnen and leben?
If you check a dictionary for the translation of wohnen, you’ll find to live, reside, dwell, lodge, stay.
If you check a dictionary for the translation of leben, you’ll find to live, exist, be alive.
When you want to talk about where you live, you can say ‘Ich wohne in England’ or ‘Ich lebe in England’.
You could also say ‘Ich lebe in London und wohne in einem Einfamilienhaus.’
If you’re talking about a stay in a hotel, which is clearly temporarily, you wouldn’t use ‘leben’, you’d say ‘Ich wohne im Hotel Astoria’.
A few years ago IKEA Germany had this wonderful slogan “Wohnst du noch, oder lebst du schon?” (Are you just living, or are you alive?). In their eyes ‘just living’ means having a roof over your head and some basic or even rubbish furniture. ‘Being alive’ of course meant having wonderful furniture from IKEA.
Have a look at these two adverts:
So, talking about where you live you can use either verb, but if your goldfish looks dead and then starts swimming again, you don’t say ‘Hurra, er wohnt noch’, no, here you can only use leben: ‘Hurra, er lebt noch’!
Although bleiben also can mean to stay, it doesn’t mean to live in a place. But it could be temporarily.
Wir bleiben noch ein bisschen! – the utmost horror sentence when you want your guests to leave but they still want to stay a little longer.
Brexit bedeutet, dass das Vereinigte Königreich nicht in der EU bleiben kann. This cannot be translated as ‘Brexit means, the UK cannot live in the EU’, it has to be translated as ‘remain’. Although in the following sentence we can use ‘to live’: Brexit bedeutet, dass einige Briten nicht in EU Ländern leben können.
And, even more topical: Im Lockdown mussten wir zuhause bleiben. During lockdown we had to stay at home.
But lets finish with something positive and think of man’s best friend, the dog. If it could speak German, it might be something like this:
“Ich lebe! Ich wohne in deinem Haus. Ich bleibe immer bei dir!”
(I’m alive! I live in your house. I will always stay with you!)
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