Prefix Verbs Explained – “abgehen”

Hello everyone,

back from vacation I am and  hell bent on explaining German down to its underwear – whatever that means :).
Welcome guys to a new episode of Prefix Verbs Explained. The series slooooooooooooooooooooowly draws to a close, but there are still a few really good ones to talk about. Today we’ll look at one that’ll turn your boring, stiff textbook German into super fly street German. Seriously. Everybody’s secretly gonna be like “Wow, is [insert your name here] a native speaker?”.
Get ready for a look at

abgehen

 

As most separable prefixes, ab has two ideas it can add to a verb – one is about location and the other is more or less or abstract. Usually more ;).
The locational aspect of ab is downward,  the other part is the idea of separation and parting. Just think of an apple tree. When apple and tree separate, then the apple moves downward. Well, except, if the apple has a jetpack, but apples nowadays rarely have jetpacks anymore. Not like back in the day, when fruits were still tasty and and apples had jetpa… oh boy, what am I even saying.
Anyway, so downward and separation – those are the two ideas that ab can add to a base verb.

Now, our base verb today is gehen and of course that’s the German version of to go. And in combination with ab it can also mean to come
Now you’re all like “What?!?! To go means to come now? This language needs to see a psychologist.”
Well, German actually has been seeing a shrink for a few years now, but they have more important things to talk about (I think they’re working on the trauma that caused the n-declension at the moment).
Gehen as to come isn’t really an issue think about it: going in, coming in – the difference is really just perspective. And so it’s not that crazy that abgehen means to come off.  English uses to come, German uses to go, but the idea is the same.

  • Der Aufkleber geht nicht ab.
  • The sticker won’t come off.
  • Mein Eintrittsbändchen ist schon wieder abgegangen, kann ich ein neues haben?
  • My festival wrist ribbon came off again. Can I get a new one?
  • Beim neuen iPhone Peel™ geht die Farbe ab.
  • The color comes off of the new iPhone Peel™.
    (not sure if that’s idiomatic, native speakers to the rescue :)

Now, this meaning of abgehen is already a nice little addition to your vocab. But  what makes abgehen a real must have is the second meaning
And for that,  it’s best to think of a rocket lifting off. That’s not the meaning, mind you, but the idea. It’s really hard to find one translation or even describe what it is, so let’s just look at some examples.

  • Der Gitarrist geht ab.
  • The guitar player is going crazy. (doing a solo, for example)
  • Ich hab am Wochenende meinen Wagen getunt… aaaalter wie der jetz abgeht, mann. Richtig krass. (little bit of dialect :)
  • I tuned my ride this weekend… dude, the acceleration is insane. Really crazy.
  • Seit der Nebenrolle in dem Film von Tarantino geht der Schauspieler richtig ab. (quite colloquial phrasing)
  • Since his supporting role in the Tarantino flick the actor’s career is exploding.
  • Der Song geht ab. (for uptempo stuff)
  • The song kicks butt.

Did you get an impression? There’s always an idea of a great or impressive performance of some kind. Like… abgehen is about being super cool or intense with a very active component. I know this is super vague but I don’t really know how else to describe it. I really think the image of the rocket is best way to think of it, but if you’re still uncertain let’s talk about it in the comments and flesh it out a little better.
Here’s a couple more examples.

  • Meine Katze ist ein echter Kaffeefan. Du glaubst nicht, wie sie abgeht, wenn sie die Kaffeemaschine hört.
  • My cat is a real coffee fan. You won’t believe how crazy she gets when she hears the coffee maker.
  • Hey Leute, ich brauch für meine Party-Playlist Lieder, wo alle abgehen. Habt ihr Ideen?
  • Hey guys, for my birthday party playlist I need songs that make everyone dance/go crazy. Any ideas?
  • Gestern war im Kaufhaus 80%-Discount-Tag… du glaubst nicht, was da abging. Wie die Tiere, ey.
  • Yesterday, there was 80% off day at the mall.. you won’t believe what  (crazy stuff) was going on there. Like animals, man.

In the last example,  abgehen is pretty much to be going on and that’s also the focus of a super common, very colloquial way to say hi.

  • Was geht ab? (Also often shortened to “Was geht?”; very slangy)
  • What up?

This one does sound  a bit schoolyard-y. Like… it’s one of those phrases that kids would NOT want their parents to use. Unless their parents are renowned hip hop artists. But that limitation is really only for the greeting. All the other examples are something also 40 year olds would say and if you want to spice up your German with some authentic slang… this abgehen is definitely a good pick.
Cool.
So, so far we had to come off and this “rocket”-abgehen. Is that all? Well, no, there’s one more meaning that we could mention and it’s actually the most literal one. Abgehen can mean to leave the stage or the scene. This one is absolutely limited to the context of theater though. It is NOT a valid option of you’re leaving the meeting to go to the bathroom.

  • Der Schauspieler geht ab.
  • The actor leaves the stage.

This idea of leaving the scene is also the core of the noun  der Abgang and this one is not as limited as the verb.

  • Nach ihrem Abgang aus der Politik, gehen viele Politiker in die Wirtschaft.
  • After their departure from politics, many politicians get a job in the private sector/economy.
  • Ich mach einen Abgang.
  • I’ll leave. (slangy)
  • Das Bier ist am Anfang sehr mild, im Abgang aber etwas bitter.
  • Mild in the beginning, but it’s slightly bitter in the finish.

The last example is probably the most literal interpretation of the combo of gehen and ab we’ve seen so far.
But if you’ve read some episodes of this series you already know that for the REALLY literal meaning, we need a version.

herabgehen

Verbs with ab- do not have a proper  r-versions . It doesn’t make all that much sense that rangehen exists while rabgehen doesn’t. For some reason (I suspect THIS ONE)  the “parents of r-versions”, the her-versions, just never had kids for the ab-verbs. Herabgehen exists though and it’s pretty literal and  literary.  Literal because it is about actually walking down somewhere, so like r-versions usually do, it takes the combination of verb and prefix literally and literary because it sounds super high brow. Herabgehen is for princesses, what normal people do is runtergehen.

  • Während ich die Treppe herabgehe, zitiere ich Goethe.
  • As I walk down the stair, I recite Goethe.
  • Während ich die Treppe runtergehe, kratze ich mir am Arsch.
  • While I walk down the stairs, I scratch my arse.

And that’s it for today. This was our look at the verb abgehen and if you’re a stage director at a theater or musical, then this is one you’ll definitely need this one.
Oh and if you want to speak authentic modern colloquial German, then you’ll need it too. Abgehen geht ab :).
As usual, if you have any questions or if you want to try out some examples, just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

5 16 votes
Article Rating

Newsletter for free?!

Sign up to my epic newsletter and get notified whenever I post something new :)
(roughly once per week)

No Spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Your Thoughts and Questions

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
50 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SirElfmo
SirElfmo
13 days ago

As suggested by other comments, a closer idiomatic translation of the non-literal abgehen would probably be “take off”, like a rocket, which is definitely related to going upwards.
Possibly also “to start up” has a similar root? Both have more of a focus on the early part, you wouldn’t use them to describe a prolonged period of wild fun. Would abgehen describe an entire evening of wild entertainment?

“Come off” in English as an idiom would mean to be done successfully/to work well. Possibly a similar origin? But it is definitely less energetic than take off or abgehen.

Davbo
Davbo
5 months ago

Hello!
I’d like to add there’s a more direct connection in English between “going down” and “going crazy”.
If someone says something’s about to go down in the right context they could mean a fight is about to happen, some conflict is about to come to head. I.e. it’s about to get crazy.
Reference:
https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=shits+going+down&amp=true

Also if someone was going to dance you could tell them to “get down” – as in go dance really well. Go get down/go party/go dance crazy good.

Just some thoughts about how English can also have a connection between “down” and “crazy” that might make it easier to remember when german “ab” also connects to “crazy” :)

Ebaa
Ebaa
6 months ago

Hey Leute, ich brauch für meine Party-Playlist Lieder, wo alle abgehen. Habt ihr Ideen?

Could you please tell me why we used ( wo ) here.
Thank you

Ebaa
Ebaa
6 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thank you very much. It’s clear now

TheBestLanguageEver
TheBestLanguageEver
8 months ago

Ich geh völlig ab, wenn ich deine Posts lese! , Lieber Lehrer ( i hope it makes sense :)) )

phoenix
phoenix
1 year ago

Caught myself thinking about abgehen this morning, standing in a crazy long line at my regular Dunkin Donuts. Usually it’s either there’s no one there or maybe one person. This morning, they had something like 8 people crammed in there (it’s a pretty small space). So, while I was standing in line I started thinking about how I’d describe this to Emanuel, if he were to ask me how my coffee run went:

“Es ging beim Dunk total ab”

Would that work? Because I don’t mean to say that it was enjoyable, more like, it was too crowded (I would use “wild” in English, and I probably would say something like “it was a total zoo”). And is it correct to use the written past here? Or should it be “Es hat beim Dunk total abgegangen”

Thanks! :)

sherri0831
sherri0831
1 year ago

I am a new member and I am always in a good mood when I am reading your post. Ich danke dir sehr!

perfectexpression
perfectexpression
2 years ago

hey Emanuel! thanks for the enlightening article :) quick question about the example “Der Song geht ab”: can you also use this as a general statement about the song (rather than just a comment on what’s happening right now in the song) ?

sam
sam
2 years ago

just wondering: is “freikommen” an alternative to “abgehen”? For example: Der Aufkleber kommt nicht frei”

dgluttrell
dgluttrell
4 years ago

At least in Australian English we say “The party is really going off!” Seems like your meaning of going well/going crazy. In a good youthful way. But very much slang.

jaredh23
jaredh23
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

In AE it would be understood but not commonly used.

Robyn El-Bardai
Robyn El-Bardai
2 years ago
Reply to  dgluttrell

As an older Australian, I would use “going off” for food that is going bad/sour/rotten. Also if you “go off on me” you are yelling at me.

schwanzschwanz
schwanzschwanz
6 months ago

In AE you can “go off on” someone too, but I have no idea if young people say it. To my ears it doesn’t sound dated, but I’m too old for that to be any indication anymore.

crittermonster
4 years ago

Oh, and I thought of another one. Why else but this would a race start with “aand they’re OFF!”, or people who are leaving say “well, I’ll be off”? Off WHAT, exactly? They don’t know, because the only reason they’re saying this stuff is because some Olde Englisch ancestor inherited it from Opa Deutch-Sprache.

crittermonster
4 years ago

Got some (American) English cognates for you:
Rockets, careers, and souped-up cars at the starting line, do “Take off”–which seems to me to ge the best translation…even though it’s pretty literal.
I’m sure if you asked a random English speaker off the street where that expression came from they would scratch their head, think about it for a second and then say it came from an airplane taking off. But where did THAT come from, huh?

Also, this explains “what’s up” quite neatly, and also why we tell horses to “giddy up”. Sure, sure, some people think it came from an old English phrase, “get thee up”. But a) that sounds contrived and b) but where did THEY get it from? ….Huh.

This German undercurrent we have going on never ceases to amaze me.

AhmedA
AhmedA
5 years ago

thank you! awesome as always!!

Eggy
Eggy
5 years ago

Ich gehe davon ab, dass du einen guten Urlaub hattest, denn du bist zurück mit einem guten Prefix-Verb Artikel!

aoind
aoind
5 years ago

It’s a bit unusual to say the “colour comes off” something unless you are don’t know how to describe the coloured substance that is coming off (paint, coating, coloured layer or what have you). You would however say “colour” if you were saying that it fades.

Thanks Emanuel. Now I’ve read this post I have a far greater appreciation of what this song is banging on about:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLWP84ktoN4

tarfon
tarfon
5 years ago

To me, “go off” also means for food to go bad, but I suggest that “take off” (as in an airplane really getting going) is a better metaphor. Love your work

Benjamin Geer
5 years ago

“The locational aspect of ab is downward…” This is confusing because when I pick up my kid from kindergarten, “pick up” is “abholen”. And “ab” sounds distractingly like “up”.

Benjamin Geer
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks, now I get it. :)

Benjamin Geer
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I just noticed a case where of “ab” could also seem to mean “up”: “abheben” = “to raise”, also “der Flugzeug hebt ab” means “the plane takes off”. But perhaps here again, the idea is that the plane goes *away* from the ground.

NN
NN
5 years ago

Toller Post wie immer.
Danke dir

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

We usually say if something bothers him, “he goes crazy”.

RuthE
RuthE
5 years ago

hast

RuthE
RuthE
5 years ago

Ich hoffe, dass du eine tolle Zeit auf deinen Urlaub hatten.

“You won’t believe how crazy she is going when she hears the coffee maker.” Hier, “is going” sollte “gets” sein. => “You won’t believe how crazy she gets when she hears the coffee maker.” Mehr “becoming” als “going”.

Danke dir nochmal!

5 years ago
Reply to  RuthE

I think “how crazy she goes” would also work here. I think the issue, which is super hard for non-native English speakers, is figuring out when to use the present participle and when not to.

RuthE
RuthE
5 years ago
Reply to 

I agree, either “goes” or “gets” would work here.

I so appreciate Emanuel’s discussions, because that really helps my Sprachgefühl, much more than trying to memorize this sort of distinction, which, at least for me, is not very successful.