Word of the Day – “aufhören”

Hello everyone,aufhören is NOT hören

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. Today we are going to take a look at the meaning of:

aufhören (pron.: ow-f-her-n) 

Aufhören is a very important word and it is one that you cannot guess just based on your knowledge of the basic verb hören. Hören means to hear and to listen. It is good if you know that but in an example like the following this can mislead you big time.

  • Morgen höre ich mit dem Rauchen auf.

People who are new to German often kind of ignore those little words at the end of the sentence whenever they can’t really make sense of them. Suppose you know hören (to hear) and rauchen (to smoke) you might say “Yeah it is like something like with to hear smoke or something… whatever that means…”. Unfortunately this time, you are totally wrong. The verb of the sentence is NOT hören, it is aufhören and aufhören means to stop and the sentence makes perfect sense with this information… I mean… it makes sense, all for your health and stuff and yet it is pretty hard to make it happen. Damn cigarettes. Anyway… always remember the 12th commandment of the Learn-German-God.

12. Thou shalt not ignore little words at the end of a phrase,
for jumping to conclusions will lead to confusion.

With that said, let’s talk about aufhören. Aufhören means to stop… now if you are  feeling like “What the hell, how do to hear and up merge to something entirely different… damn German. How am I supposed to memorize that?”, I can understand but I will tell you why this in fact does make some sort of sense in a little bit. But we need to nail the meaning of aufhören first. It is a certain kind of to stop. Precisely aufhören means to stop an action you yourself are doing. If you want to stop your car, a DVD or another moving object you would say anhalten.

  • Ich halte das Auto an.
  • I stop the car.
  • Der Bus hat angehalten.
  • The bus has stopped.

If you want to stop a person from doing something there are several possibilities depending on the exact context. The most natural one would be aufhalten I guess. Anyway, aufhören is to stop an action that you yourself have been doing up to that point…. and just to make sure… there is no other word for that so you will need aufhören.

  • Ich höre auf, zu rauchen.
  • I stop smoking.
  • Ich habe Deutsch geübt aber als meine Freundin angerufen hat, habe ich aufgehört.
  • I had been practicing German but then my girlfriend called and I stopped.

I want to stress again, you CAN’T aufhören things. You can only stop actions like smoke, be lazy, think of something and so on. And you can ONLY aufhören what you have been doing yourself.
Just like to stop, aufhören does not imply any completion so it does not mean to finish or end. If you would say “I stopped because I had finished.”, that would be kind of a weird phrasing and in German it is just the same.
Oh and I almost forgot: whenever IT stops, you know, the IT that rains, is a nice day, annoys you, and does all this other stuff… so what this IT does when it stops is aufhören.

  • Es hört auf, zu regnen.
  • It stops raining.

Now before we get to the grammar, let’s take a quick look if aufhören has any connection to hören after all. So imagine some cave-men sitting around their fireplace doing cave-men things and then all of a sudden there is a noise in the woods. Naturally they all would stop their activity and try to listen closely…. they stop doing their thing and … listen up… aufhören. Over time the listen part has disappeared and aufhören only kept the stop whatever you are doing part as its meaning. There is a very similar word by the way that describes the listening part: aufhorchen. In a boring parliamentary session all the senators might swoosh their fingers over their smart-phones or daze while the speaker keeps babbling about something no-one cares about. But then all of a sudden he slips in this really decisive announcement and the audience is all like “…. Hmmmm? What was that?”. They stop their smart phone activities – aufhören, and start to actively listen to what the person is saying – aufhorchen. So now that you won’t ever forget aufhören, as the example seemed so contrived  let’s go over the grammar and call it a day. The spoken past of aufhören is built with haben and the ge-form is aufgehört so it is entirely regular.

  • Ich habe aufgehört, mir Sorgen zu machen.
  • I stopped worrying.

The real past stem is hörte auf / aufhörte.

  • Es hörte auf zu regnen.
  • It stopped raining.

So I think between the lines of the post you could have gotten the impression, that aufhören only works for actions… ok actually I really tried to hammer that into your brain… anyway, when there are 2 actions done by the same subject you will have to deal with the question how to connect the verbs. Um… zu or …zu???? That is once more the big question :).
Stop doing something translates to a …zu-construction. Why? Because you cannot step into a room and just say “He stops.” without having everyone confused. These cases always work with …zu.

  • He stops telling stories from his work.
  • Er hört auf, Geschichten von seiner Arbeit zu erzählen.

If you have a sentence with stop to do something it will be um … zu. Why. Because the English sentence can be rephrased using in order to and those are always um…zu.

  • I have been studying Italian, but I stopped to focus on German.
  • Ich habe Italienisch gelernt aber ich habe aufgehört, um mich auf Deutsch zu konzentrieren.

And thus we have reached the end. Remember aufhören is to stop whatever you have been doing, no more and no less. If you have questions or suggestions just leave me a comment…
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

53 responses to “Word of the Day – “aufhören”

  1. This is brilliant, thanks! I live in Germany now and really need to learn some proper language. I will remember this much better than a textbook format because it was entertaining and you bothered to explain some background behind the word and how it may have evolved. Thanks for blogging, please keep going, and I really dig your writing style :-)


    • Hey man thanks a lot for these encouraging words. I will definitely continue… only this week I have been awfully sick so that’s why there is not much going on. Anyway, thanks and viel Glück for you German Studies.



  2. This is good.. I have been wondering about this for quite some time.. Thank you. Keep it up!


  3. A wonderful article. Thank you very much for writing this.

    One question. You wrote:

    * Ich habe aufgehört, mir Sorgen zu machen.
    * I stopped to worry.

    Should the translation not be “I stopped worrying”?


    • Yep.. you are right of course… I stopped (my car) to worry (for a minute because I can’t concetrate on driving while worrying) would be “Ich höre auf, um mir Sorgen zu machen”
      If you catch a German making a mistake like that, you know that it is just “zu” in German :)… this to verb vs. verbing thing is still an issue for me sometimes… so thanks a lot


  4. This helped my a lot, thanks so much! Here are some other things that I am struggling with though:

    The difference between aufhoren and einstellen (or just the word einstellen in general).
    The difference between greifen, ergreifen, fassen, nehmen and holen (especially the word fassen!).
    The difference between nutzen, verbrauchen, einsetzen and verwenden (including difference between words like brauchbar vs nutzlich etc).
    The difference between Idee and Ahnung.
    And the German words for obviously, apparently and blatantly.


  5. You say that aufhoeren is only used ” to stop an action that you yourself have been doing up to that point” – but why do I always hear kids telling each other to “hoer auf!”


    • Hi Peter,

      “Hör auf!” is the imperative form. When Marc tells Thomas “Hör auf!” he wants Thomas to stop whatever Thomas is doing. If Thomas decides to be nice, he’ll stop the action he as doing… or in German he will “aufhören”

      I hope that helps.


  6. Hi,
    when i sow the article about aufhören I immediately thought on: gehören (to belong). It took me a while to memorize the translation because in my head it doesn’t make sens how a verb like hören can end up in something that shows the possession. Your explanation for aushören is brilliant and it helps a lot for remembering its meaning.
    Related to suggestions, i have difficulties for using the verb: to use :). It has multiple forms in german: gebrauchen, benutzen, verwenden, nutzen, anwenden. How should we know when to use a specific form of: to use?

    Thank you,


    • Wow… the whole use-subject :)… trust me, you’re not the only one who craves clarification… the problem is that some are synonyms and some are not and some differences are but small nuances and I haven’t really been able to order it in my mind … so… I’ll keep thinking and looking and hopefully at some point I’ll feel ready for it :)
      But what I can tell is the origin of gehören… it does come from hören. Hören as in to listen as in to obey… the ge- used to be a prefix expressing definiteness so gehören literally meant “to listen to someone/to obey someone for good”… first it was used for people but then it was generalized and shifted a bit and now it is like… the car “listens” to my commands …. so it “gehört mir”…. but i think the average German isn’t really aware of that connection. The brother of this is “gehorchen” which does mean “to obey”…. so… it certainly seems completely weird at first but at least to me it makes a lot of sense :)


      • I remember gehören by thinking of it as the English word “adhere”. It has the “hear” sound so it makes it easier to learn, and “adhere” means to be attached, stuck to something, so whatever thing you gehören, it belongs to you. I know it’s not in any way accurate etymology-wise, but it still helps.


        • That’s a really nice “Eselsbrücke” :). As for related… no they’re not. Adhere is based on a Latin word “haerere” which meant “to stick”. It’s also where “to hesitate” comes from. There might be a German relative too, but I couldn’t think of anything remotely similar.


  7. I just found out about this blog a couple of days ago and I’ve been devouring every word ever since (whenever I have the time)
    You, Sir, are a better tutor over the internet than all the SprachlehrerInnen i’ve had until now!
    That being said, I have a small remark/suggestion to make:
    Regarding “aufhöhren”, wouldn’t “quit” sometimes be a more fitting english translation in most of the cases than “stop”?
    “Quit” or “giving (sth.) up” would actually make more sense to me in a couple of your examples, and still be quite passable in others…
    But anyway, keep up this amazing work and wish you all the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that’s true… for the examples where you break a habbit in a way it is definitely “to quit”. But “aufhören” also works for short term activities… for instance “to rain”. So it is probably best to think of aufhören as both. Anyway… thanks a lot for the nice and flattering feedback :D


      • You really do a wonderful job explaining a word and giving it context. Reading your writing makes me feel like I’m along side you in your head as you think about a word. I love your humor and light-hearted approach.

        I think I like the “to quit” translation to capture the idea in English that one is stopping what he is doing. It even works for rain, at least in the southern U.S. “It quit raining.” sounds completely natural, and it doesn’t mean that it has stopped raining forever. (Note: I’m not saying that the southern U.S. is a good benchmark for spoken English. In fact, I bet most would suggest quite the opposite. But that is where I live, so it is my point of reference for conversational English, other than in movies).

        “I quit smoking”, “I quit telling stories”, and “I quit worrying about it” all work fine.
        “The bus quit” wouldn’t quite mean that the bus stopped. It would mean something more like “The bus is broken” or “The bus is broken, so it decided to stop”.
        And “I quit the car” sounds wrong. Maybe it would mean something like “I gave up on the car and stopped using it”, but that’s still not the right way to say it.


        • Wow, that really does work extremely well and it’s a great way to put it. I definitely use that next time someone asks. … I guess I should add it to the post, too, but… I think I’ll leave it in the comments, as a nice little cherry :). Danke!!


  8. Hello again! I am really impressed by your articles.
    I have one question about the on of the first examples with Aufhören.
    “Ich höre auf, zu rauchen” = “Ich gewöhne mir rauchen ab”. In this context are these equal?? And could you describe the differences of using this words (maybe 1 is more official and second is better for “umgangsprache”) I will be very thankful for your response!


    • I’d say they are pretty much equal. “Ich höre auf.” is more sudden than “Ich gewöhne mir ab.”. The latter implies that it is a slow process of changing habits while “aufhören” is just “Okay, I’ll stop… now!”
      I’d say in context with “rauchen”, the version with “aufhören” is more common. Abgewöhnen is maybe more for “beim Essen schmatzen” or other things that are a little less conscious. Anyway… they do work both and there is now difference in “quality” so both are standard “high” German.


  9. Love your blog! Keep it coming! :-)


  10. something I’ve missed, why is the following sentence grammatically written like this: •”Es hörte auf zu regnen”,
    when I feel like most weak linked verbs would have the sentence like this: •”Es hörte zu regnen auf”,
    Perhaps it’s not a weak linked verb after all????? arrrggghhhh!
    Sooooooooo confused! But I just found this site today and you are my shining light in the tunnel of extreme darkness! A thousand thank you’s for all of this, and keeping it fun(ny) and dumbed down a shade for us strugglers…..


    • So… usually the rule is that the leftover of the verb goes at the end of a sentence. aufhören is separable so the left over is “auf”.
      However, at the end of the sentence means at the end of the “clause”. So it goes to the end of all the material the verb “rules”. If there is a second verb, we have a second “clause”. and those can come after the first clause is done.
      “Regnen” is a new verb… and that’s why I can put the rain part after “auf”. But both sentence are correct and idiomatic. This changes though as soon as the part of the second verb gets longer…

      – Maria hört mit dem Hund Frisbee zu spielen auf.
      – Maria hört auf, mit dem Hund Frisbee zu spielen.

      Here, only the second version is fine. The first one is hard to understand and sounds bad.
      So… rest of the verb at the end menas at the end of the clause… a part with a new verb in it usually comes after that.

      – Ich rufe meinen Chef, weil ich ihn was fragen muss, an. … not wrong but not the best choice

      – Ich rufe meinen Chef an, weil ich ihn was fragen muss…. much better

      Hope that helped a bit :)


      • that’s awesome! Thanks so much for clarifying that up for me……. I’m over pleased to have stumbled across your site. Your style is truly unique, entertaining and easy to follow. Keep up the amazing work. Tausend danken :D


  11. I’ve been learning German for a while now in school but couldn’t really get a hold on it until I accidentally stumbled across your blog. I can say my life or better still my German hasn’t been the same, people in my class has started to notice and say I am well above their level but I tell them that I’ve got something they cant lay their hands on and that is your website.
    Keep it going mate, you are doing one hell of a job.
    Thanks a Mill.


  12. You explained it very well, thank you


  13. Another masterpiece, bravo, Emanuel! Though I did a little research on ab/auf/ge/ver/über/zu/her/anhören, and while it’s much easier to differentiate words with completely different meaning (like gehören and aufhören), I just couldn’t wrap my head around the nuances between hören, mithören, zuhören, anhören and herhören. Even after looking these words up in dictionaries. Would be kind enough to explain it to me? Viele Dank.


  14. Thanks very much for your work explaining all of this. I have another question about aufhören. I was recently told that it is also used to mean something like “listen up” or “pay attention”, similar to “aufhorchen”, especially when talking about music. For example: “dieses Riff lässt einen aufhören.” I can’t find that meaning online, but I don’t have a hard copy of Duden… Do you have any examples of this usage? Is that usage really possible? Thanks!!


    • Hmmm… I would understand it in this particular example, but I think it’s mainly because I’d take it as a variation over “aufhorchen”. I doubt that you can really use it in first person though

      – Ich horche auf.
      – Ich höre auf.

      The second sounds so much like stopping that even with the clearest of contexts it would be hard to mask that meaning.


  15. danke für diese (blog), ich bin noch ein sehr neues deutschelerner, (as) vom meine schlecten deutsch kennen Sie. Aber ich finden sich deinen (blog)(most helpful).
    Hopefully your blog will help make my German less tangled and opaque. I found my way here a few days ago and it’s quickly moved into my short list of valuable resources.
    I have trouble still believing my brain will be able to follow a sentence where words are split in half so, but I’m trying not to let my zweifel turn to verzweifeln :)

    A question and a correction:

    Question: how picky are native speakers about proper capitalization in situations such as texting, where it can be difficult to capitalize letters? Do lowercase nouns look wrong but accceptable, or annoyingly lazy like texting “I m l8 4 wrk sry R U mad?”, or actually unintelligible because you can’t tell sie from Sie or nouns from adjectives?

    correction: you wrote ” But we need to nail the meaning first as aufhören it is a certain kind of to stop.”

    Better would be “…the meaning of aufhören first, as it is…” We English speakers don’t have the short term memory of German speakers. we need our “as it is” type statements unbroken by intruding information or the sentence becomes difficult for us to parse!


    • Vielen Dank für das liebe Feedback und auch danke für die Korrektur. Ich hoffe, dass dir der Blog helfen wird.

      As for capitalization… it’s the same everywhere.People are just lazy. So yeah… I think there are more text messages without proper capitalization than there are with everything as it should be. It’s definitely understandable and doesn’t look wrong either. There’s even a sort of trend in the advertisement and design sector to just not capitalize anything. not even the beginning of a sentence. I don’t know why, but some people think it’s fresh.
      Me, personally, I do like our system very much because it just makes a text more readable. This is also why I always think every learner should be most grateful that it’s done that way because you can tell what is what.
      So in mails, with the upper case just one push of a button away, I’ll write everything the way I should, even if it’s super informal. And I think “lazy” if the other person doesn’t do it.
      But when it comes to SMS… well, it’s just too much of a hassle so screw it.
      What I find a bit unnerving is that people capitalize the wrong stuff. I keep seeing examples on the web where the noun is in lower case and the verb in upper case just because they think SOMETHING should be in upper case.
      Oh and another thing about texting… I’m above 30 so I don’t know what teens write in their whatsapp-chat but I don’t think we’ve reached as cryptic a degree yet… that example you gave… man, how sorry are you that you can’t even spell it out :). That’s what I would be thinking. But I’m old school, I guess

      Liked by 1 person

      • The question came up because I do exercises on my phone and capitalizing there is a pain, so I don’t, and then I get muttered at by the program. Good to know uncapitalized speech would be intelliible, if potentially mocked.
        Interesting, that there’s a move away from capitalization – I too, like it very much, and find it helps to parse sentences more quickly, having capital letters like landmarks on the terrain.

        I’m also above 30 and I don’t know about the kids on their vibramatics, but I did my best to make my example as appalling as I could, so it’s probably 100% accurate.


        • I think one of the very few word where it is an issue is “Weg, weg” because they’re pronounced differently.

          – Ich mach mich auf den weg.

          It’s clear that it’s the noun but I would definitely be irritated because for a split second it would manifest as “away”.


  16. I wonder which one is correct in order to translate “stop stealing my milk, and other stuff”, if any?
    (1) beenden Diebstahl meiner Milch und andere Sachen
    (2) stoppen Diebstahl meiner Milch und andere Sachen
    (3) aufhören zu stehlen meiner Milch und andere Sachen


  17. Thank you it was very useful for me


  18. Pingback: What’s your study space like? | The Compassionate Language Learner

  19. First of all, I find your blog super helpful as I am learning Geman and many time my doubts are easily answered here… The point of my post is that I have a question… I got the meaning of aufhören and anhalten, but what about “stopp”? How shall I use it?

    by the way I am not a native English speaker, so excuse my mistakes :p


    • Oh don’t worry about mistakes. I make my fair share in each post :). So… You wouldn’t really use “stoppen” instead of “aufhören” because it simply lacks this “I stop what I am doing”-aspect that is unique to “aufhören”.

      – Ich stoppe das Rauchen… nope,not idiomatic

      So the question is when to use “stoppen” and when to use “anhalten”. There is some overlap but they definitely have their differences. “Anhalten” is definitely the right word if you’re talking about stopping a movement. Like a car or a bike or something. “Stoppen” works too for those but to me it would sound a bit Denglish then.
      “Stoppen” is more for processes and more abstract forms of movement.

      – Das Gesetz ist vorerst gestoppt.
      – The law has been stopped for now.

      You would not use “anhalten” here because that would sound like the law was driving a car somewhere.

      – Die Verschwendung von Lebensmitteln muss gestoppt werden.
      – The wastage of food must be stopped.

      Here, once again “anhalten” wouldn’t work, partially because it sounds like it’s just a temporary stop. “Stoppen” is very definite sounding. And very sudden. “Anhalten” can be this smooth breaking. “Stoppen” is just “full stop”.
      If you are watching someone who is about to tow your car you’d probably yell “STOP!” because it’s the shortest.
      So… “anhalten” for real world movements, “stoppen” as a sudden stop for abstract ongoing processes of some kind.
      I hope that helps a bit :)


  20. Why is – Ich höre auf, zu rauchen. not Ich hore zu rauchen auf? When does the auf not go at the end?


  21. Hi thank you for the brilliant explanation :)
    I have a question regarding how do you construct the “um…zu” construction.

    The example above goes:
    “Ich habe Italienisch gelernt aber ich habe aufgehört, um mich auf Deutsch zu konzentrieren.”
    Nice. But konzentrieren is a reflexiv verb, and always followed by a sich mich thing… so I put the sich mich after the um.
    What if the verb after zu is not reflexiv, say…
    # It’s a vi like smoke or smile. I stop to smoke. I’m doing something but I suddenly see you, so I stop to smile (at you).
    # It’s a verb that requires dativ or genitiv object (can’t think up any example…my poor German…but is it possible?)

    So how do you construct the sentence with “um…zu” in different situations like these? And more specifically, what to put after the um?


    • I’m not sure I understand the question but I think you’re touching on two topics here… “um zu” and mainly “word order”. Lots of things can come right after the “um”.. subjects, objects (dative and accusative), adverb. That totally depends on the specific sentence and the elements therein. There’s NO rule for that.
      I think you should check out my mini series on word. It’ll be a bit frustrating at first because you won’t get any rules but that’s just how it is



  22. I really appreciate the ‘listen up’ association, which helps me to keep it in mind. If it weren’t for your obscenity early on in the piece, I would share it, but as it is, it is a valuable addition to my knowledge, so thank you.


    • Oh, another hidden f-bomb. The article is actually quite old and back when I started I wasn’t aware as to how offensive this word sounds; I have been scolded for it time and again since and I stopped using it. But there are a few scattered out somewhere. Now it’s one less. Thanks!


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