The difference between “nennen” & “heißen”

When studying German, many students stumble over “heißen” and “nennen”. Since both verbs are very similar in their meaning, they often confuse students. This article explains everything you need to know to use these two German verbs properly.   

“heißen” vs. “nennen”

Usually, students get to know the verb “heißen” mostly in their first German classes, and later on, they also study “nennen.” This is when the confusion starts ;). But let’s take a closer look at both verbs.   ________________________

Recommended study materials on the topic:

    1. A-Grammar: Practice German grammar German (incl. answers)
    2. German self-study book for A1-B1  (incl. answers)

The meaning of “heißen” in German

The verb “heißen” has several meanings. 
    1. “heißen” as “to be called”
    2. “heißen” as “to mean”
For example:
    1. Er heißt Jan. = He is called Jan. 
    2. Der Zug hat Verspätung und das heißt, dass wir nicht pünktlich ankommen. = The train is late and that means we won’t arrive on time.
Alternatives for “heißen”:
Instead of saying “ich heiße + Name,” you can also say:
    1. “mein Name ist + Name” (my name is)
    2. “ich bin + Name” (I am…)

The meaning of “nennen” in German

Also, the verb “nennen” has several meanings, and in the following, you will get to know the most important ones. 
    1. “nennen” as “to name”
    2. “nennen” as “to call sb. sth.”
    3. “nennen” as “to mention”

For example: 

    1. Die Familie hat den Hund “Bello” genannt. = The family named the dog “Bello”.
    2. Den dritten Monat im Jahr nennt man März. = The third month of the year is called March.
    3. In der Besprechung nenne ich seinen Namen. = I mention his name in the meeting.

The confusion of “heißen” and “nennen”

Many students mix these two words because they confuse “nennen” and assume it has the same complete meaning as “heißen” in the sense of “being called + name.” However, if you are unsure about which one to use, you can ask yourself the following questions: 
  1. Do you speak about a person that already has a name? Is this person the subject of your sentence (Er heißt …) ? = choose “heißen”
  2. Do you want to express that somebody calls a person a specific name? Is the person with the name the object (Wir nennen ihn … )? = choose “nennen”

Mastering German verbs

I hope that after reading this article, you now know when to use one of these verbs. You might also want to read about the difference between “denken” und “nachdenken”. Bis bald! Steffie  

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