These are both Heideggerian terms.

Present-at-hand translates vorhanden and Vorhandenheit. It roughly denotes theoretical knowledge.

Ready-to-hand translates griffbereit, zuhanden and Zuhandenheit. Which denotes roughly practical knowledge.

I find it easy to mix up the two meanings: What is 'present' is also 'ready' to use. Are there alternative translations that make the differences clear. Or is the actual ambiguity intended by Heidegger?


The German is not at all ambiguous. But part of the problem is that they involve a play-on-words and work from the most basic parts of the German language.

I wouldn't get too caught up on holding on to the terms specifically. After all, those are just what one translator decided to go with. As long as you grasp the concept, you can reword this in other ways. For instance, you can call ready-to-hand hammer-ready without losing the Heideggerian reference. And you could present-to-hand something like obnoxiously present -- in reference to the way the object is now before us as something precisely because it is broken or not working.

  • Ok. However, just to set my conscience more at ease - which play-on-words and which basic parts of the german language? Feb 11 '14 at 23:51
  • 4
    In the passage, Heidegger talks about the object as being "vor Hand" = "at hand" so he coins the adjective "vorhanden" and the noun "vorhandenheit" which in German is nothing more than saying it's right there. In the sentence with the hammer, it's a play on words insofar as the hammer is "vor hand" and we don't notice it as sein. Similarly "zu hand" (to hand) happens when the object does something to our hand (or to our expectation of what use it can be made of). The English uses the cognate terms but we don't have German's capacity to staple words together.
    – virmaior
    Feb 12 '14 at 0:22

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