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urteilen, beurteilen, and verurteilen

When you read about legal issues in the German news, you may come across the noun das Urteil, which you may already know as "judgment," "verdict," or "ruling." But did you know that there are several verbs containing urteil- as their word stems that have broader meanings in everyday life? Let's take a look today at how these different words are used for a variety of meanings and contexts.

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The verb urteilen is used in the more formal sense of passing a judgment or, as in the last two examples, a way of showing the impression somebody has of something or someone:

 

Das Gericht hat geurteilt, dass seine Taten illegal seien. 
The court ruled that his actions were illegal.

 

Je weniger man weiß, umso schneller urteilt man.
The less you know, the faster you judge.

 

Dem Brief nach zu urteilen muss es dir sehr gut gehen.
Judging by the letter, you must be doing very well.

 

The verb beurteilen, however, is the less formal expression of an opinion of someone or something's qualities:

 

Ich habe das Gefühl, dass ich so das fast besser beurteilen kann, wenn ich näher dran bin.

I have the feeling that this way, I can almost judge better what's needed when I am closer to it.

Captions 42-43, Hell: Science-Fiction-Kinotipp

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Dann ist es immer so schwierig, und hinterher wird man nur nach dem Foto beurteilt.

then it is always so difficult, and afterwards you are only judged based on the photo.

Caption 25, Barbara Schöneberger: Das Roter-Teppich-Einmaleins

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The verb verurteilen is usually translated as "to sentence," although in other contexts you may see it translated as "to condemn," "to convict," or even "to doom." 

 

Ein französisches Gericht hat den TÜV Rheinland zu insgesamt 60 Millionen Euro Schadenersatz verurteilt.

A French court of law sentenced TÜV Rheinland to provide a total of 60 million euros compensation.

Captions 34-36, Tagesschau: Amtseinführung von Donald Trump

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Für seine Witze gegen das Regime wurde Zarganar zu 35 Jahren Gefängnis verurteilt.

For his jokes against the regime, Zarganar was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Captions 8-9, Michael Mittermeier: mit Witzen gegen das Regime

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Eigentlich von seinem Grafen bereits zum Tode verurteilt, gab dieser ihm noch eine letzte Chance.

Actually sentenced to death already by the count, he was given one last chance.

Captions 12-13, Bundesländer und ihre Rezepte: Bayern

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To summarize: verurteilen is in some ways the easiest to learn, as it is usually translated as "to sentence." Both urteilen and beurteilen may be translated as "to judge," but the main difference between the two is that urteilen is usually used in a more formal sense (such as the judgment of a court), or to express an impression you have of something or somebody. The verb beurteilen, however, is more often used to express an opinion about the the qualities of somebody or something. 

 

Further Learning
Write some sentences in English using the verb "to judge," and then translate them into German using either urteilen or beurteilen. Check your work online or have your teacher take a look at it with you. You can also try searching for urteilen, beurteilen, and verurteilen on Yabla German to see other ways the words are used in different contexts.

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