Difference of ‘hilfreich’ and ‘hilfsbereit’

(Use and differentiation of ‘hilfsbereit, hilfreich, behilflich’)

Table of contents – hilfreich/hilfsbereit

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Difference of ‘hilfsbereit’ and ‘hilfreich’
  2. Use of ‘behilflich’
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What is the difference between ‘hilfsbereit’ and ‘hilfreich’?

The two adjectives hilfsbereit and hilfreich often confuse learners of German as a foreign language, as both sound very similar but have different meanings. An essential feature for distinguishing the two adjectives is that the characteristic ‘hilfsbereit’ can only be attributed to persons and ‘hilfreich’ usually only to things.

In detail, the two have the following differences:

  • The adjective ‘hilfsbereit’ is suitable when someone (i.e., a person) likes helping:
    • „Meine Nachbarin, Frau Maier, ist eine sehr hilfsbereite Dame. Sie nimmt immer meine Pakete an, wenn ich nicht zuhause bin.“ (My neighbour, Mrs Maier, is a very helpful lady. She always accepts my parcels when I am not at home.)
      • Mrs Maier supports the speaker willingly.
    • „Ich wollte mir gestern einen neuen Computer kaufen, aber die Verkäufer waren alle nicht sonderlich hilfsbereit. Dann ging ich wieder nach Hause.“ (I was going to buy a new computer yesterday, but the shop assistants were all not especially ready to help. Then I went back home.)
      • In this example, the shop assistants were somewhat unwilling to help.
  • The adjective ‘hilfreich’ refers to a thing in most cases:
    • „Danke für deinen Tipp. Er war sehr hilfreich. Dadurch konnte ich meine Arbeit viel schneller erledigen.“ (Thanks for your tip. It was very helpful. It helped me to get my work done much faster.)
      • In this case, the tip (i.e., a thing) helped the speaker a lot.
    • „Ein Wörterbuch kann beim Sprachenlernen sehr hilfreich sein.“ (A dictionary can be very helpful when learning a language.)
      • Here, ‘hilfreich’ again refers to a thing (in this case, a concrete one – the dictionary) that can help.
  • As mentioned above, ‘hilfreich’ is normally not used with reference to people. Accordingly, the following sounds unnatural:
    • „Frau Maier ist eine hilfreiche Dame.“
    • In rare cases, however, this is possible:
      • „Frank war am Samstag sehr hilfreich.“ (Frank was very helpful on Saturday.)
        • However, this does not refer directly to the person ‘Frank’ but to the information or the things he gave or did on Saturday. These were very helpful then.

When is ‘behilflich’ used?

Another term joins the word family around ‘Hilfe’ (help): behilflich. It is also an adjective and, exactly like ‘hilfsbereit’, it refers only to people – only a person can be ‘behilflich’ to another. This word is a very polite expression, which is why it is frequently used in shops or other public locations, for example. It is appropriate where assistance is offered, but people do not know each other.

  • Typical use of ‘behilflich’:
    • „Kann ich Ihnen behilflich sein?“ (Can I be of assistance?)
      • This utterance is a common question asked by salespeople in stores to offer help.
  • You could also utter the following sentence without any difference in meaning; it would just be a little more direct:
    • „Kann ich Ihnen helfen?“ (Can I help you?)
  • What cannot be done, however, is to use it with reference to things:
    • „Dein Tipp war sehr behilflich.“

Further explanations related to the ‘Difference of ‘hilfreich’ and ‘hilfsbereit’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Use and differentiation of ‘hilfreich, hilfsbereit,’ and ‘behilflich’’ and may therefore be helpful too: