During my work as a German online teacher, I realized that it is a common mistake students do, is to use “arbeiten” the wrong way because they want to express that something works out. After reading this article, you will know when to use which alternative verb instead.

The verb “to work” in German

When studying a new language, many students tend to translate one to one if they wish to express something. Mostly, this happens because they lack confidence in finding the right vocabulary.

In German, there are many verbs to express that something is working, and we will discover them in more depth in the following.


The verb “arbeiten”

In German, we use the verb “arbeiten” if we want to express that one works at a job, on a project, or at home. Also, we say “arbeiten” if a machine is turned on and performs work. For example: “Der Drucker arbeitet die ganze Nacht.” (The printer works the whole night.)

BUT we never use it to express that something works out in German. Therefore you should erase sentences like “Der Plan arbeitet” because it is simply wrong. Instead, I am offering you alternative verb solutions as follows.


Using “funktionieren”

Germans use the verb “funktionieren” (to function) for almost everything. It means that something works out or is not broken.

For instance:

  • “Der Fernseher funktioniert.” (The TV works.)
  • “Der Plan der Kinder funktioniert.” (The children’s plan works.)
  • “Mein Gehirn funktioniert nur mit genug Schlaf.” (My brain only works with enough sleep.)

The all-rounder “gehen”

The verb “gehen” actually means to go. Unlike English, we widely use it to also express that something works. This is also the reason why Germans come out as Germans when they speak English as they love to say thinks like “it goes” instead of it works.

Now, gehen in the sense of “to work” means that something works, is not broken or that it is turned on (mostly this is used in everyday language and the proper way to express that something is turned on is to say “an sein”).

For instance:

  • “Der Fernseher geht.” (The TV is not broken or it is turned on)


“Laufen” in the sense of “to work”

“Laufen” is very similar to “gehen”. In my opinion, “laufen” is a very funny verb as it means “to run”, “to walk” and “to go” in only one verb! In the case of expressing that something wors in German, it means that it is turned on.

  • “Der Fernseher läuft.”

In a slang way, it also means that something works out as “Es läuft!” which means that everything works out great.


The verb “klappen” as “to work” in German

“Klappen” has two meanings. The first one is to fold, and the second meaning is “to work / to work out / to go smoothly”. You can use this verb for plans, meetings, or a deal.

  • “Das Meeting klappt.” (The meeting works out.)
  • “Die Überweisung klappt.” (The wire transfer works.)

However, it does not work for anything that is machine-like as “das Auto” or “der Computer”.


The construction with “intakt sein”

“Intakt sein” is another way to express that something works in German. If you decide to use this construction that consists of the verb sein and an adjetive, you will show yourself in a very sophisticated way. Therefore you should choose wisely when and in which surroundings to use it. This means that something is not broken and that we can use it the way it is supposed to. This is why it can refer to machines:

  • “Das Auto ist intakt.” (The car is intact.)

You can also use it to describe human connections :

  • “Die Beziehung ist intakt”. (The relationship is intact.)


Anyhow, please pay attention to the fact that a meeting can never be “intakt” in the sense of working out.


The slang version with “funzen”

“Funzen” has its roots in the technological world. Therefore, it might not surprise you that in German, we mostly use this verb to describe that a technological device is working. For instance: “der Computer funzt” or “das Kabel funzt”. However, you can also use it to describe that a plan or a transfer is working. For instance:

  • “Das Treffen funzt.”
  • “Die Überweisung funzt”.

Still, you should be aware that this verb is a slang word, and therefore, you should take care of when you use it.


Choosing the right alternative in German

Finally, your hard work pays off, and you got to know so many possibilities besides “arbeiten” that you can use to express that something works in German. Now, you will avoid common mistakes and know how to express yourself in each situation.


Bis bald!



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