German Prefix Verbs Explained – “abheben”

abheben-prefix-verbHello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of German Prefix Verb Explained. Which used to be Prefix Verb Shorts but now it’s Prefix Verbs Explained. Because … they’re not all that short but they are very explained…. wait, does that even make sense? Meh anyways, today we’ll look at the meaning of



and abheben kicks ass because not only will it make your German take off, it’ll also get you freaking cash! Isn’t that amazing? No,  it is UH-FREAKING-MAY-ZINGS!! I can’t even believe how awesome this verb is. I’m super hyper excited right now. Wait… I think that was actually the coffee talking. But abheben is really cool let’s get right to it, shall we?

The verb heben is related to to heave but while heaving sounds like heavy (yes, it is)  weight, heben is a rather neutral word for  to lift (we’ve talked about that in more detail in the post on aufheben... I’ll add a link below). 
Ab has two main notions. One is off-ness in a very broad sense of separation and the other is downward-ness. And when you think about it the ideas of lifting and downward-ness don’t really go together that well, so it’s kind of natural that we’re only dealing with off-ness this time. The most literal translation for abheben is to lift off. And for once the literal translation is also the real translation.

The more interesting uses are of course the abstract ones, one in particular. Lifting off is about loosing contact with the ground. And this is what often happens to people who get famous, or just a little too much praise. They lose touch with reality, they abheben.

That question in the second example… I got asked example recently in the interview for the People magazine.
Meh… maybe it was more like “How do you plan on paying your bills as a ‘famous blogger’ if you’re out of cash by the 15th?” Oh, and maybe it wasn’t People magazine but my girlfriend when I had to borrow money because I couldn’t withdraw any. Yeah… I’m babbling nonsense, I know. But hey speaking of withdrawing money… that’s actually the next important use of abheben. Tadah. If you ever need a cheap transition let me know, I’ll hook you up.
So… Geld abheben means to withdraw money and this use is super important because it’s the ONLY verb for this context. Germans apparently think of their bank account as a pile of cash, and withdrawing some is basically lifting it off the top. And yes, it’s still abheben if there’s more of a pit than a pile ;).

This is maybe the most important use of abheben Another quite common use of abheben is to answer the phone.

This is obviously from back in the day when answering the phone meant “lifting off” the receiver. Today rangehen is more and more popular but I think abheben will be around for a while still.
There are other things you can abheben, too, for example a lid from a pot or cards from deck but uses like this are pretty rare. Other verbs are simply more idiomatic in many contexts.
All right. Now, there’s one more common use to talk about and that one distinguishes itself from the others by having a self reference. We could also say it abheben itself … because that’s exactly what it is. Sich abheben (von) means to stand out, to distinguish oneself .

Literally, the second example reads “The soup lifts itself off… ” which I think isn’t all that far from the actual meaning.
And that’s pretty much it. Well, there’s one more thing…

The r-version of abheben

The verb rabheben means… nothing, because it doesn’t exist. In fact,verbs with ab never have one. “Rabverben” just isn’t idiomatic, is all. Only the long version herab- works, or depending on perspective AND region hinab.
Technically, herabheben and hinabheben do exist and both mean to lift something down from something, but they’re really super rare, partly because heben and downward are kind of opposite ideas and also, or least to me, herabheben sounds a bit fancy. In daily life I much prefer runterheben.

Shoo, shoo… get off of here, I gotta finish the piuaziagsdf… no… get d….OOOOUTCH! Be damned beast! Scratch the hand that feeds you and feed you it shall no more.
“Emanuel, could you really let ME starve?! Me, the cutest thing ever.”
What? Who… oh my god, my cat can talk! And it’s stuck up, too!! And I don’t even have a cat!!! Man, I think I REALLY had too much coffee at this point. Time to stop. So, this our look at the verb abheben. Literally, it means to lift off, and the one use you REALLY have to remember is taking out cash.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to try out some examples, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Further reading:    Word of the Day – “aufheben

** abheben – fact sheet **

abheben – to lift off, to lose touch with reality, to take out (money),
to answer the phone

sich abheben – to distinguish oneself, to stand out

spoken past:
form of “haben” + abgehoben; also works with “sein” for planes… I think both are correct there

written past:
hob ab, abhob

related words:
abgehoben – out of touch with the real world (in a negative, stuck up sense)

die Abhebung – the withdrawal of money (rare)


Test yourself on abheben!

1 / 4

What kind of notions does the prefix particle ab add to the main verb?

(multiple answers)

2 / 4

What does abheben NOT mean?

3 / 4

Which is the most common verb for: “to lift something down from something”

4 / 4

Abheben means to pick up the phone.

Which verb expresses the same thing and is also really common?

Your score is


for members :)

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Soll es eine Übersetzung von “Langeweile ist, was den zweiten Teil vom dritten abhebt” geben? :)

Man muss auch auf Englisch nicht unbedingt das Telefon als Objekt von “pick up” nennen:

– I’m trying to call Maria, but she’s not picking up.

Diese Reihe von Posts finde ich super hilfreich. Es dauert ja ewig, die ganzen (besonders übertragenen) Bedeutungen von Verben mit Präfixen zu lernen. Vielen Dank!


“Maria’s Freundin”?


Hahah you make my Deutschlernen much easier and funnier :) Thanks
To remember this takes no nerves when its this way presented.


Thanks for another fantastic post…
BTW, when is the book coming?


When I saw the illustration I thought one of the meanings would be “abandoning/leaving behind a habit”.
Great post, as always


Reading your blog is fun and helpful. I am italian though I find this way of explaining fast and great!


Die Fleugzeug? I think you are just trying to keep us on our toes with that typo! ;-)

grace ann
grace ann

Ich mag Ihr Blog. Ich bin hier in Deutschland und werde zu Schule nächste Monat gehen. Meine Deutsch ist noch kaput wegen dies Blog, glaub ich,ich kann verbessern. . Vielen Dank Sir!! :-) :-) :-)


Die Flugzeug?


Just because I know you like to refer to old English/Latin/French words…your use of ‘freaking’ in the opening statement is probably American? but not English.
We use ‘frikkin’, which is the toned down version of ‘frigging’,
and originally comes from 1425-75; to move about restlessly, rub; late Middle English friggen to quiver (masturbate), and Frigan to love. I think it was also known in French as just ‘Frig’. We used to use it, to tell our kid’s to stop fidgeting around “stop frigging around”, and to say we were overtired “I’m frigged” …but they have died out.


oops *frickin’ not frikkin


“I’m super hyper excited right now. Wait… I think that was actually the coffee talking”. Nah…not coffee. ;))


Ha! I’ll let you look that one up ;P

Andrew Ridley
Andrew Ridley

Cannot understand the picture on the Right hand side at top

Andrew Ridley
Andrew Ridley

Yes thank you very much. My mistake was to imagine him tapping a cigar rather than a cigarette hence I thought he was rich and therefore would be able to withdraw money.
I like the left hand picture because I think of the extra drag that a seaplane has to deal with to lift off.