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The complete A-Z guide to German prefixes and what they mean

Rachel Stern
Rachel Stern - [email protected]
The complete A-Z guide to German prefixes and what they mean
Three cats sit under a car. Photo: Dim Hou/Unsplash

From 'an' to 'zer', learning what those pesky prefixes mean can be a big help for German language learners in Austria.


Despite German’s reputation for being a complicated language with a monstrous mass of rules (which it largely is), it’s also extremely logical.

One key example of this is the prefix, or the first part of a verb, like the ver- in verloren (lost), which you might feel at times when trying to get to grips with the German language in Austria.

But fear not: here’s a breakdown of the most common prefixes auf Deutsch, the idea or concept that they connote, and example sentences of where you will hear them used.


This short word implies that something is being taken away - from knowledge to the extra kilos you put on during the pandemic. 

Some examples are abfahren (to depart), abholen (to pick up), abreisen (to set off on a journey or leave), ablesen (to construe knowledge from reading something) and abnehmen (to decrease, to lose weight)

A woman stands on a set of scales. Photo: yunmai/Unsplash

Use it like this:

Ich hole das Paket von der Post ab.

I’m picking up the package from the post office.


This implies that you’re getting closer to a target, or generally moving in the direction of an action, whether putting on clothes or attempting to grow a tomato plant on your balcony.

Just anschauen (take a look, or look in this direction) at these other examples such as angreifen (to seize, to attack), anbieten (to provide or offer), anziehen (to attract, to pull, to get dressed), anbauen (to grow, cultivate, add on something in a house)


Use it like this:

Sie hat ein neues Beet angelegt.

She created a new garden patch.

Das musst du dir unbedingt anschauen.

You really have to take a look at that.



With this prefix, you’re opening something (aufmachen), or generally moving upwards, as can be seen in words such as aufstehen (get up), aufkommen (arise) or aufbauen (to construct, build, or establish).

Use it like this:

Das Geschäft macht um 08:00 Uhr auf.

The store opens at 8am.

Ich muss leider früh aufstehen.

Unfortunately I have to wake up early.

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You are either literally removing something - whether paper, as in the example of ausdrucken (or printing out) or clothes (ausziehen) - or figuratively as in ausnehmen (exclude). 

Use it like this:

Schalt doch bitte das Licht aus!

Please turn off the light!

An industrial printer prints a newspaper. Photo: Bank Phrom/Unsplash


This emphasises an action, such as beliebt (beloved) or the result of an action such as besuchen (visit).

Use it like this:

Möchtest du mich zur Veranstaltung begleiten?

Would you like to accompany me to the event?


This means to add on something, such as beitragen (contribute) or figuratively, ie. beibringen (teach). You can also beistehen (support, or literally stand by) or beisteuern (contribute). 

Use it like this: 

Rachel steuert €10 zum Geschenk bei.

Rachel contributed €10 for the gift.


Something is being taken away, as implied by words like entführen (kidnapped), entkommen (escaped) or entfernen (remove). But it’s not always negative. Even in a philosophical sense, entdecken (discover) means that something is no longer covered (decken) and entspannen (relax) implies an ‘entfernen’ of Spannung (tension).

Use it like this:

Sie haben den Spreewald zum ersten Mal entdeckt.

They discovered the Spreewald for the first time.



Essentially, you are integrating something or looking inwards with ein-. This can be seen in words like einladen (an invite to something), einbrechen (breaking in), or einkaufen (shopping, generally implying you are buying in something for yourself).

Use it like this:

Ich würde dich gerne zum Abendessen einladen.

I would like to invite you/treat you to dinner.


This shows the successful end result of an action such as erreichen (reach), erraten (guess) erhellen (to light), erfahren (discover). It can also signify either the beginning or end of something, such as erstarren (to freeze).

Use it like this:

Sam hat die richtige Antwort erraten.

Sam guessed the right answer.


This implies moving from the inside to the outside, such as herkommen (coming here) or something being produced or manufactured (herstellen).

Use it like this: 

Komm her, ich muss dir etwas zeigen!

Come here, I have to show you something!


This implies a transition of something from the outside to the inside, as expressed in words such as hineinfahren, hineinsehen and hineingehen

Use it like this:

Möchtest du hineingehen oder lieber draußen sitzen?

Would you like to go inside or sit outside?


This implies either the beginning of something such as losgehen (to start) or losfahren (to set off), usually said when driving or heading off to something initially. 

Use it like this:

Wir werden um 18 Uhr losgehen, kommst du mit?

We’re going to get going at 6 pm, did you want to come?

Jetzt geht’s los!

Here we go!

An athlete gets ready before the start of a race. Photo: Braden Collum/Unsplash


This is an easy prefix to remember as it always has one meaning: doing something together, whether mitfahren (driving together), mitmachen (doing together), mitsingen (singing along) or mitbringen (bringing something along).

Use it like this:

Willst du zum Party mitkommen?

Do you want to come with me to the party?


This expresses that a person or thing is changing, or that something is being taken away, either in a positive or negative sense. You can fall in love (verlieben) or fall into doubt (verzweifeln).


Use it like this:

Es tut mir Leid, dass wir uns verpasst haben.

I’m sorry we missed each other.

READ ALSO: 8 TV shows you should watch to learn about Austrian culture


This implies doing something in advance, such as vorgreifen (anticipate), or showing people something, as seen through verbs such as vorstellen (introduce or imagine, depending on the context).

Use it like this:

Ich stelle mich mal vor: Mein Name ist Rachel.

I will introduce myself: my name is Rachel.


Like other prefixes on this list, it means tossing or moving something away, as seen through wegwerfen or wegschmeißen (throw away). A person can also go away (weggehen).

Use it like this:

Igitt, diese Dosensuppe ist 17 Jahre alt. Wirf sie weg!

Yuck, this canned soup is 17 years old. Throw it away!


This one is easy enough to remember: it means either closing something or moving to a goal. Germans will often colloquially say that something is ‘zu’ to imply it’s closed.

Use it like this:

“Habt ihr schon zu?”

Have you guys closed already?

Sie schaute mit Begeisterung zu.

She watched with enthusiasm.



This is usually a negative word, meaning that something is broken. Take the examples of zerstören (destroy), zerschlagen (shattered), zerreißen (tear). Without this prefix, these would be strong words anyways, but that ‘zer’ gives them an extra punch. 

Use it like this:

Der Hund hat ihre Schuhe zerbissen.

The dog bit her shoes in two.


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