The German word for ‘to stay’ is bleiben, right?
One of the questions that comes up in our German courses the most is how to say that you’re staying somewhere in German. Unlike English where you can safely use ‘to stay’ no matter who you’re with or where you end up being, you have a couple of choices in German.
Most learners have heard of the word bleiben, but it’s not your best option and I will show you when to use bleiben and what to say to stay on the safe side of life.
German has a few words to say ‘to stay’
When you want to tell your German friends about all the cool places you have been to, you probably will be saying something similar to this:
“I stayed with a friend in Spain, but I stayed at a Hotel in France.”
But how does one say the sentence in German? You have a couple of choices.
The German word for “to stay” is either
wohnen / übernachten
bleiben / sein.
I’ve already grouped them up for you, so it’s easier to grasp the meaning and use.
Wohnen and übernachten also mean ‘to stay’
Let’s start with wohnen/übernachten. Before I bore you with talking about the use, let’s have a look at some example sentences.
- “I am staying with a friend.”:
Ich werde bei einem Freund wohnen.
Ich übernachte bei einem Freund.
- “I am staying at a hotel.”:
Ich werde in einem Hotel wohnen.
Ich übernachte in einem Hotel.
When being on a holiday and staying overnight at a hotel or an apartment or with your friends, you can safely use wohnen and übernachten alternatively. They are are interchangeable.
The difference between wohnen and übernachten
The German language wouldn’t be the German language, if there wasn’t a tiny difference between the two.
First of all wohnen translates to ‘to live’ and übernachten translates to ‘to stay over’, but don’t be fooled by this translation as either can be used to express you’re staying somewhere.
Wohnen implies that you stayed longer than only a couple of days, whereas übernachten focusses on the fact that you just stayed at a certain place, maybe you just ticked off the tourist attractions of a city.
You could use the two in the following sentences:
Wir übernachten erst zwei Tage in Barcelona. Dann übernachten wir vier Tage in München und dann nochmal drei Tage in Prag.
First, we are staying in Barcelona for 2 days. Then, we are staying in Munich 4 days and afterwards in Prague 3 days.
You can also use wohnen.
Wir werden erst zwei Tage in Barcelona wohnen. Dann werden wir vier Tage in München und dann nochmal drei Tage in Prag wohnen.
First, we are staying in Barcelona for 2 days. Then, we are staying in Munich 4 days and afterwards in Prague for 3 days.
When to use wohnen, when to use übernachten?
If you tell me “Ich übernachte dort (=there)”, I will have the feeling that you are going to do a lot of sightseeing. What first will come to mind is you and your travel partner hopping on and off some tourist buses. In my head, you two will have your cameras ready hanging around your neck and a map in your back pocket ready to be used.
If you tell me “Ich werde dort wohnen”, I will think you might have friends there or, at least, you’re trying to get the real feel for the city. Pictures will pop up in my head of you having tapas at beautiful pub with your Spanish friends, or a Weißwurst and Brezn at a sunny Biergarten in Munich, sitting right next to your bikes and your German friends.
Usually they are used alternatively
Having just described the differences between wohnen and übernachten, be aware that the differences are very subtle. Usually people use wohnen and übernachten alternatively.
Only if you want to accentuate a certain meaning, use either the one or the other depending on what you want to put across. I recommend to add some context to make sure people will understand what you want to say.
“In Berlin wohnten wir für zwei Wochen bei einem Freund.” (In Berlin, we stayed with a friend for 2 weeks.)
“In München übernachteten wir zwei Tage in einem schönen Hotel.” (In Munich, we stayed at a beautiful hotel for 2 days.)
Germans stick to the present tense
You might have noticed another difference. In the first examples right at the start, I used the future tense for wohnen (Ich werde wohnen/I will live) and the present tense for übernachten (Ich übernachte/Lit: I stay).
This is possible because Germans quite often use the present tense when talking about the future. Only if it’s not clear that the event is going to happen in the future, even after adding “tomorrow”, you will have to use the future form.
This is why it is correct to say the following.
Ich wohne im Hotel. (Literally: I live at a hotel)
Ich werde im Hotel wohnen. (Literally: I will live at a hotel)
But here is the thing, Ich wohne im Hotel can have the connotation of someone living in a hotel instead living in a house or in an apartment, if no context is being provided.
To get away from this meaning (to live), I chose to use the future tense although the present tense would have been grammatically correct. If you want to learn more about the German word for ‘to live’, check out my post on it here.
When to use bleiben?*
Apart from wohnen/übernachten, there are other verbs that can be used to tell your friends about your trip:
bleiben or sein.
Use bleiben/sein without “hotel” or “friend”
As bleiben (to stay) and sein (to be) is more specific, please use them without saying who you stayed with:
- Ich bleibe (für) drei Wochen. (=I am staying for 3 weeks.)
- Ich war dort für drei Wochen. (=I was there for 3 weeks.)
- Ich blieb (für) fünf Tage in Berlin. (=I stayed in Berlin for 5 days.)
- Ich war (für) fünf Tage in Berlin. (=I was in Berlin for 5 days.)
The differences between bleiben/sein and wohnen/übernachten
Contrary to popular believe, wohnen/übernachten is your best bet when talking about where you stayed on your holiday. Bleiben/sein will also be a good choice, but you will have to keep something else in mind that I’m going to tell you in a second.
First, please notice that that in German you should mention the time or duration before you talk about the place. In English it’s the opposite, we will say ‘I’m going to the movies (location) next week (time)’ while Germans literally say ‘I’m going next week (time) to the movies (location)’.
Here’s a simple formula that it pays to remember:
wohnen / übernachten + duration + location + person (with)
bleiben / sein + duration + location
Here are some more example:
- Ich wohne/übernachte für drei Wochen bei bei meinem besten Freund in Berlin. (=I am staying with my friend in Berlin for 3 weeks.)
- Ich wohne/übernachte für drei Wochen im Hotel “Bayerischer Hof” in München. (=I am staying at the “Bayerischer Hof” in Munich for 3 weeks.)
- Wir sind 3 Wochen in Mannheim geblieben. (We stayed in Mannheim for 3 weeks).
- Dann waren wir 2 Tage in Frankfurt. (Then, we were in Frankfurt for 3 days.)
Bleiben and sein are for staying with family and very close friends
The reason it’s best to use bleiben and sein without mentioning WHO you’re with, is that both sound more like this person is going to take care of you (or the other way around).
It’s not just your travel mate you’re with, there’s a very close connection, very likely your family or a very close friend of yours. For example, you could say
Ich bleibe/bin bei meinen Großeltern für drei Wochen.
(=I will be with my grandparents for 3 weeks.)
This sentence will make me think you you will be doing things families do, hanging out and talking about also having this family band wrapped around your stay.
The same sentence with übernachten makes it sound more like travelling or at least more neutral:
Ich übernachte bei meinen Großeltern für drei Wochen. (=I am staying at my grandparents’ house for 3 weeks.)
And here we have a couple of more example sentences on bleiben and sein to show you the difference:
Meine Tochter bleibt/ist am Wochenende bei ihrem Vater.
(=My daughter stayed / was with her dad over the weekend.)
The father is taking care of his daughter. She is staying with him, absolutely, but the stress is more on “the daughter was taken care of”. Don’t forget to have a look at the comment section, you will find some more examples (and maybe leave your own).
To summarise it, bleiben and sein are more specific than übernachten and wohnen. Let’s integrate this into our formula from before:
wohnen / übernachten + duration (for) + location (at/in) + person (with)
bleiben / sein + duration (for) + location (at/in)
+ person (with)
bleiben / sein + duration (for) + location (at/in) + with family/close friends (with)
To sum it all up, try to bear those final thoughts in mind.
- Wohnen and übernachten are interchangeable and your best bet, but
- Wohnen accentuate the fact of staying longer and maybe feeling at home too, whereas
- Übernachten can be used when stressing you are just staying somewhere for a couple of nights, e.g. at a hotel.
- Avoid using bleiben or sein together with “at a hotel” or “with friends” when giving a travel report.
- Use bleiben or sein when staying with family and very close friends.
- Mention the duration/time before any location (opposite in English).
Where do you like to stay when going travelling? Do you like to stay with your friends and sleep on their couch or do you rather stay at a hotel? Let us know in the comments.