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

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 now the sentence makes sense. So 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.