“ab” -Prefix, Preposition, Father, Nerd – INFJ

Written By: Emanuel Updated: May 2, 2023

Hello everyone,

and welcome to part two of our look at the meaning of the prefix and preposition

ab

Last time, we learned about the origin of ab and family of ab and got to see some of its surprising relatives.
Next, we got to know its two core themes, which are:

  1. separation, away
  2. downward

And then we started looking at ab- as a verb prefix and learned the idea of downward is kind of irrelevant there, because virtually all prefix verbs are based on the theme of separation, away.
And then we started looking at examples for ab-verbs and how the one core idea is used in practice. So far, we saw some obvious examples and some that had a little twist to them.
If you haven’t read part one yet, you can find it here:

German Prefixes Explained – “ab”

What’s missing still are the really abstract examples. The ones where it’s not clear at all how they relate to the core idea of away.
And by the way – guess what abstract is! It’s a combination of ab- and a Latin verb for dragging, and it literally means “pull away from”.
So yeah… that’s where we’ll pick up today, and once we’re done with that, we’ll talk how ab is used as a preposition and we’ll see if there are any fixed prefix verb combinations we need to be aware of.

And because the entire intro so far was incredibly dry, lets wrap it up with a little joke – ChatGPT, take it away:

A screenshot of an unfanny joke by chatgpt

Amazing!!
The future is has arriv… what?… Oh, not funny?
Oh, uhm… let me think … uh….  and this?

Still no?
Man, tough crowd.
I’m out of ideas.
But it’s time we jump in and learn some German anyway, so let’s go….

“ab-” as a prefix, abstract edition

And we’ll start with a group of verbs like abmessen, abwiegen, abstecken or ablaufen (one of its meanings), and these don’t seem to have much to do with what we’ve learned so far about ab-.
Here are some examples:

  • Ich messe die Zutaten genau ab.
  • I’m weighing out the ingredients precisely.
    (No real difference to “messen” except that it sounds maybe more “complete”)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Auf dem Meeting haben wir die Roadmap für das Projekt abgesteckt.
  • At the meeting, we staked out/planned the road map.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Vor dem Marathon bin ich die Strecke einmal komplett abgelaufen.
  • Before the marathon, I walked down the track completely once.
    (Implied is to get a feel for how it’ll be, and where it’s going)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Die Äpfel sind abgezählt, also jeder nur einen bitte.
  • The apples are “counted”, so everyone just take one please.
    (“counted” in a sense of “counted to fit the amount of people”)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Maybe you intuitively thought “Hmm, there’s something with measuring going on.”
And you’re on the right track, but I think the better way to frame is as “delimiting”. Like… all of them are in some way about “seeing and setting limits or boundaries”. In fact, that’s kind of the vibe ab adds to messen for instance, which is also about measuring on its own. The ab- makes it sound a little more like “finding boundaries” instead of just “evaluating size”

And does this theme of delimiting tie in with the idea of separation? I think yes, and just for fun, I asked ChatGPT about it…

Well, that’s pretty much what I thought. Separating can mean that you create some sort of boundary between A and B and that’s kind of what delimiting also does.
Let’s do a couple more examples:

  • Wir müssen sehr genau abwägen, ob das Sinn macht, oder nicht.
  • We have to weigh carefully whether that makes sense of not.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Ich kann noch nicht genau abschätzen, wie lange ich für das Projekt brauche.
  • I can’t yet estimate exactly, how long I’ll need for the project.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Actually, the second example would also work with absehen, in a sense of “seeing the limits ahead”.
And while that verb itself isn’t common at all, its noun die Absicht is an absolute must have, because it means intention.

  • “Du hast meinen Wein getrunken.”
    “Sorry, war keine Absicht.”
  • “You drank my wine.”
    “Sorry, wasn’t my intention.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Ich glaube Maria kommt absichtlich zu spät.
  • I think Maria is being intentionally late/late on purpose.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

It’s quite abstract, no doubt. But I hope you can still see this notion of “delimiting” in there. Your Absicht (intention) is what is in your figurative field of vision, your plan and it’s “separate” from all the unintentional stuff, the stuff you DON’T see before it happens.
Man, I really hope I’m still making sense :).
If not, just let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can clear things up.

All right.
Now, there’s one other theme that I want to mention and that is the theme of starting – or more specifically, starting some sort of journey.
We can see this in verbs like abfahren, ablegen or abfliegen which are all basically about departing – be it from a train station, a harbor or an airport.

  • Der Zug fährt in einer Stunde ab.
  • The train departs in an hour.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Der Abflug verspätet sich um 30 Minuten.
  • The (plane’s ) departure will be delayed by thirty minutes.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And it also lives in abgehen in its colloquial sense of going on or going wild, which both have a sense of “action starting”.

  • Bei dem Song gehe ich immer ab.
  • I always go wild to that song.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Now you might be like
“Wait a minute… wouldn’t departing be the better description for the theme of these verbs, instead of starting? That would also fit in quite nicely with the core sense of separation, away. It’s not even that abstract.”
And you’re totally right with that. A train departing is about “going away” from the station, so yes, departing does fit the theme better.
The reason why I called it starting is that I wanted to put that idea into our discussion.
And the reason I wanted to do that is because that’s pretty much the key for the preposition ;).

Before we get to that, one quick last remark about the prefix verb though… it’s not like a given prefix verb only has one of the themes above. Many of the common ab-verbs have more than one meaning. abfahren for example has like five:

  • to drive off the highway
  • to ride down a mountain
  • to drive along a track
  • to wear down tires
  • to dig (colloquial, abfahren auf)

I only picked a few examples here and there for this post, but it would be too much to really cover ALL the meanings of ALL the verbs I mentioned.
I’d refer you to my dictionary for that, if you want to dig around.
And of course, you’re also more than welcome to ask in the comments here.

And if this list of the meanings of abfahren just made your heart sink in despair please don’t! You do absolutely NOT need to learn all the meaning of every prefix verb you come across. No matter what your brain says. Your brain doesn’t know what it’s talking about. You need to chill and be comfortable with not knowing everything, which essentially is “not being in control”. Yes, there’s meanings out there you don’t know, but it’s okay, because when you see them, you’ll handle it.
What matters is that you can understand these various meanings when you see them in context and you have an idea WHY they have that meaning. And that’ll then make it easier for things to stick.

Cool.
So that’s it for the ab the prefix, now let’s finally get to ab as a preposition.

“ab” as a preposition

And now you’ll understand why I brought up the notion of starting a little earlier.
Because that is pretty much EXACTLY what ab means as a preposition.

  • Ab Montag wird es warm.
  • It’ll get warm from Monday onward/starting Monday.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Mein Einhorn ist ab dem 3.6. im Urlaub.
  • My unicorn will be on vacation starting the 3rd of June.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Wer zuerst lacht hat verloren, ab jetzt.
  • Who laughs first loses, starting (from) now.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Ab da wusste ich, das etwas nicht stimmt.
  • From then onward, I knew that something was wrong.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

ab connects a point at which something starts.
And actually, maybe you remember that in the first part I said one of the families is after. Well… that kind of ties in here, right :)? After day XYZ I’ll be on vacation. Not exactly the same, but there is a common theme here.

Now, one thing that’s really important about using ab is this:

It’s PRIMARILY used for the present and the future.

Like… take a look at the examples again. They all refer to now and the future. Not to the past.
It CAN work in the past sometimes…

  • Die erste Hälfte des Jahres war ich super busy. Ab Juni hatte ich dann mehr Zeit.
  • From June onward, I had more time.

… but this is a narration of a “completed story”. Like… maybe you’re talking about three years ago.
If we’re in November and you want to say that since June you have more time, the word is seit.

  • Seit Juni habe ich mehr Zeit.
  • Since June, I have more time.

If you were to use ab here, it would sound like you mean NEXT June, because  by default ab sounds like it’s about the future… ab morgen, ab nächste(r) Woche,  ab Dezember... these are the types of phrasings you’ll see and need.

Now, is ab limited to time?
No!
It can also be used for location as a starting point or even some other points of reference.

  • Dieser Platz ist ab Berlin reserviert.
  • The seat is reserved from Berlin onward.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Dieser Film ist ab 16.
  • This movie is rated R.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Kartenzahlung erst ab 10 Euro möglich.
  • Card payments possible only from 10 Euro or higher.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Nach einer Stunde kommt ihr zum Wasserfall aber ab da gibt es keine ordentliche Straße mehr.
  • After an hour, you’ll reach the waterfall but from there/starting there, there isn’t a proper road anymore.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

But these uses are not as common and particularly in the context of location, you need some feeling to know when to use it because von and aus are the more common option for the general sense “origin”.
I think it’s best to focus on the time domain first, and pick the rest up over time.
And don’t forget… it’s mainly used to talk about the FUTURE. So it’s NOT a translation for since :)

Cool… so that’s ab as a preposition and now all that’s left for us to d… oh, hold on, we have a call here, Dorothea from Greece, welcome to the show.
“Hey Emanuel, thanks for taking my call. I have a quick question about ab.”
Sure go ahead.
“So I was wondering what case to use with it. In one of the examples you had
ab dem, but I feel like I have heard things like ab nächsten Montag as well, so is it one of those prepositions that can go two ways?”
Wow, great question!! I totally forgot about the whole case issue.
So, officially, ab is a pure Dative preposition, and people do get it right when there’s a direct article around. Like in my example where I said ab dem 3.6. No German would say ab den  there.
However, if there is NO article, which is something that happens very often with ab, then people actually tend to use Accusative.
Not because they go like “I think I will use Accusative here.” but rather, it just happens, out of habit.

  • Ab nächstem Dienstag…

… this is what it should be. But it feels super super weird to me and it’s hard to pronounce for some reason.
What most people really say here is this:

  • Ab nächsten Montag…

It’s a bit better for feminine things…

  • Ab nächster Woche… officially correct
  • Ab nächste Woche… wrong, but common

Here, both feel okay to me.
But yeah, bottom line is… officially it should be Dative, but in practice, it is more based on custom.
“Oh wow.”
Actually, I think it makes sense to think of these phrasings like nächsten Montag or nächste Woche specifically as kind of fixed, because they don’t really fit in with normal case logic. And the same goes for letzte.
“Cool, that’s really helpful. Thank you very much.”
No problem, and thank you for bringing that up. I’m sure that was something many people were wondering about.

Cool.
Now, we’re almost done with our little tour of ab, but to round it off (abrunden), let’s go over a just some nice expressions and phrasings.

“ab” – some cool phrasings

And here, we actually get to see some of that downward-idea in action. You know… that second core theme of ab that barely played a role.

  • Ich laufe lieber bergauf als bergab.
  • I’d rather walk uphill than downhill.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Seit Endgame geht es mit der Qualität der Marvel-Filme bergab.
  • Since Endgame, the quality of Marvel movies is going downhill.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Wir mieten uns ein Kanu und fahren flussabwärts.
  • We’ll rent a canoe and go downstream.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

This is also a good moment to mention herab and also hinab. or r-versions, as I like to call them.
Those are basically prefixes that express a VERY literal sense of location.

  • Das Kind pflückt sich ein paar Kirschen von einem herabhängenden Ast.
  • The child picks a few cherries from a branch that is hanging down.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Langsam steigt das Eichhörnchen in den dunklen Schacht der Mine hinab.
  • Slowly, the squirrel descends down into the dark hoist way of the mine.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

But hinab sounds VERY bookish and herab isn’t all that common either. At least not in daily life, because people usually use runter- . Like you can herabgehen a staircase, but that sounds a bit pompous. What normal people do is runtergehen a staircase.
I know, I know… some of your brains are now starting to hyperventilate like “OMG, what’s the difference between hinab and herab… I MUST KNOW.”
Well… the short version is: there is no clearly fleshed out difference. hinab leans more toward “down there” while “herab” sounds more like “down to here”, but the distinction is REALLY blurry and the usage depends a great deal on region.
We’ll talk about it some other time, for don’t worry about it too much. You won’t really need neither herab nor hinab in daily life.

What you will need though – and this is the last one for today – is ab und zu. And its variation ab und an.
Because those two are a REALLY common casual way to say every now and then.

  • “Wie oft machst du Yoga?”
    “Ach, nur ab und zu.”
  • “How often do you do Yoga?”
    “Meh, just every now and then.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Thomas, das Team fragt, ob es okay für dich wäre, dich ab und an zu duschen.”
    “Nein, der Körper macht das selbst!”
  • “Thomas, the team is asking if it’s okay for you to shower every now and then.”
    “No, the body does it by itself!”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And that’s pretty much it for today :).
This was our look at the meaning and use of ab and I really really hope you have a better “feel” for the word now, especially for the prefix verbs.
As I said, you don’t have to remember every single verb I mentioned in these two articles. What matters is that you understand the underlying ideas and how they get shaped in practice.
If you want to check how much you take away from this,  you can take the little quiz I have prepared for my sponso… uh… I mean, for you.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions about ab and the verbs with ab, just leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to clear things up.
I’ll see you down in the comments, and if not, then I hope you had a good time with these two articles, have a great week and till next time.

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