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 butt 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.

  • Das Flugzeug hebt ab.
  • The plane lifts off.

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.

  • Nach dem Erfolg in der Casting-Show ist Maria’s Freundin ein bisschen abgehoben.
  • Ever since her success at the casting show, Maria’s friend has lost touch with reality a bit.
  • Wenn man so einen verdammt erfolgreichen Blog über deutsche Grammatik hat, wie schafft man es, nicht komplett abzuheben?
  • Having a so damn successful blog about German grammar, how do you manage keep your feet on the ground?

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 ;).

  • I have to get cash (from an ATM)
  • Ich muss noch Geld abheben.
  • Ich heb‘ mal 50 Euro ab. Das sollte für heute Abend reichen.
  • I think I’ll take out 55 Dollars. That should be enough for tonight.

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

  • Ich versuche, Maria anzurufen, aber sie hebt nicht ab. (you wouldn’t even add “phone” here)
  • I’m trying to call Maria but she doesn’t pick up [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 .

  • Langeweile ist, was den zweiten Teil vom ersten abhebt.
  • Boredom is what’s different about part 2 compared to part 1.
  • Der neue Manager versucht sich durch einen weniger autoritären Führungsstil von seinem Vorgänger abzuheben.
  • The new manager tries to distinguish himself from his predecessor by using a less authoritarian style of leadership.
  • Die Suppe hebt sich qualitativ deutlich vom Hauptgericht ab.
  • In terms of quality, the soup really stands out against the main dish.

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.

  • Der Prinz hebt die Prinzessin vom Pferd herab.
  • The prince lifts the princess down from her horse.
  • Ich hebe meine Katze vom Schreibtisch runter.
  • I lift my cat down from the deyuagjejgjjcgjazg…

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)


5 11 votes
Article Rating