German Prefix Verbs Explained – “ablaufen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of Prefix Verbs Explained, the series that is like that mayonnaise jar in the door compartment of our fridge. It has expired a loooong time ago, but it just stays there, watching comestibles come and go.
And that is not only an incredibly clever analogy, it also brings us right over to our “verb du jour” because today we’ll look at the meanings of



And to start you out, here are some examples for things that ablaufen: goat cheese, time, a conference, my bathtub.
Well, okay, actually my bathtub DOESN’T ablaufen properly.
So let’s jump right in.
I mean… the article. Not my bathtub.

Laufen means to walk, to run and the prefix ab can add two ideas to a verb: a notion of downward and a very very vague notion of separation, going away.
Those of you who are trained in mind yoga might already be able to sort of see a connection but the first use makes it pretty clear: ablaufen is the word for water running out of some sort of sink. It goes “away”, it separates from the sink by running downward into the drain. It’s also used in the context of water retreating from flooded areas, but it’s more common for sinks. In Germany, anyway.

As we can see in the second example, the word for the drain itself is Abfluss but Ablauf would be understood as well.
Oh and while we’re at it, another word for drain cleaner is Rohrreiniger. Would make a great Rammstein song title and it’s definitely a great word to practice your r with.

Anyway, the second big context for ablaufen is time running out, for all sorts of countdowns and periods.

And with that in mind, it makes perfect sense that ablaufen is also used in context of expiring food.

And in that context, the noun is actually not Ablauf, though that would make sense. The real word for “best before date” is  Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum. A word so long, your milk might expire in your hand while you read it.
Now, the uses we had so far were focused on stuff going away (water, time), but the last one we need to mention has the focus more on the journey. Ablaufen is used in a sense of events in a (planned) sequence. Or in simpler words… to go down.

The corresponding noun der Ablauf is pretty common in a business context and since some of you have asked me for more business German, I’ll give you an example for that, too.

I’m not an expert on business German/English. But I think that’s roughly how it works.
Anyway, so those were the different uses of ablaufen. And if you’re familiar with the Ablauf of this show, you know what’s up next… exactly. The r-version.


For very very very reasonable reasons that no-one knows verbs with ab- as a prefix don’t have a “real” r-version. So there is no rablaufen. But there is herablaufen and just like r-versions its meaning is the literal, location-focused take on the verb-prefix combo. So the meaning of herablaufen is to walk/run down. Theoretically, it works for people running down stairs as well as for paint walking down walls. But in reali… what? … oh paint doesn’t walk down walls? Well, FYI, this one does because it is Spider-Paint. It can also run, of course. If it’s in a hurry.
Anyway, in reality, people use runterlaufen for these contexts. Herablaufen sounds a bit too fancy, high register and I can only imagine it in a book.

And that’s it for today :). This was our look at the various uses of ablaufen and I hope you could see that even though they’re all very different, they share a common theme.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions about the meaning of ablaufen, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Oh by the way…

I have an assistant now. Yeay. That’s great because we can now do stuff I never had the time for.
And we’re planning to include a little quiz at the end of the articles, so you can check if you got the most important points. We’re still looking for a system but we thought to give you a little preview, so let me know how you like it, and if this is helpful :) !

Test yourself:


1) Which two ideas can the prefix ab add to a verb? 


a) downward-ness (yes, I know it’s not really a word)
b) upward-ness
c)  separation/going away
d) toward-ness
e) Gui-ness


2) Which is the best word for the drain of a sink


a) der Ablauf
b) der Rohreiniger
c) der Abfluss
d) der Abgang
e) der Po


3) Which of the following is NOT a translation of “ablaufen”?


a) to run out (for time)
b) to expire (for food)
c) to finish (for tasks)
d) to end (for contracts)


4.) What’s the right word for “Best Before Date”


a) der Ablauftermin
b) Beste-Vor-Datum
c) das Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum
d) Mindestkühlschrankauffenthaltsdauer
e) Issmalvordatum


5.) “Herablaufen” sounds fancy.
Which of the following is the colloquial sounding choice for “to walk/run down”?


a) herabgehen
b) runterlaufen
c) rablaufen
d) untenlaufen
e) verdammt herablaufen




1) ac 2) c 3) c 4) c 5) b



** vocab **

ablaufen – expire (contracts, food), run out (time), proceed, go down (events in sequence)
X ist abgelaufen – X is expired (context of food)
der Ablauf – the course of events (various possible translations but the idea is always the same)

for members :)

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Helloooooo again,
Here are today’s typo corrections:
And to start you out, here some examples for things that ablaufen: goat cheese (“here are some…”; “goat’s cheese”)
…used in teh context of water… (“the”)
I’ll help with the hurricane: the water retreats slowly (same as going away, really)
Hope you don’t get mad at me for these corrections, just trying to help as usual!!

Now for the compliments, to balance things out:
Hella lit, Emanuel, I’m impressed by your very savvy use of slang!
After reading the text on your app about the prefix “ab” and using the flashcard I made from it, I TOTALLY got the meaning of everything you explained here. The section in italic at the very end of the article makes for a very useful summary :)
Bis bald!


Hi. Looking for another word about water disappearing after a hurricane. I would just say it drains away.


Yup! Better for everyday speech! My version sounds a bit more like something you’d hear on the news!

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak

I agree

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak

I would too. Drains away for a flood, recede for a tidal inundation.


My vote: floodwaters recede. Along with my hairline. (American FWIW)


Ich stimme zu


Agreed on “recede” for the water from a hurricane. Andrew’s suggestions “ebb” or “drain off” below are fine by me too, although “ebb” is more typically used for tides when it’s meant literally.


Hi, again,
Just want to let to know I find your new quiz feature great!!!!!
It’s a great idea, as sometimes you think you know things and you don’t! The quiz will let you know just how well you’ve learned (or not) and give you the chance to go back and reread whathever you didn’t get right the first time! I don’t know if this happens to other people, but when I get the wrong answer in a question, that’s normally what I end up knowing best once I’ve gone over it again…
But this time I got all questions right :)
Please keep adding this section!


Tut mir leid, wenn jemand schon–und wahrscheinlich besser–darauf geantwortet habe, aber ich möchte die folgende ungen suggerieren

After the hurricane, the water slowly ebbed. Or drained off?

something along those lines? er hat einen besseren Übersetzer gefragt……


Als ich in Deutschland war, habe ich einen Artikel gelesen, den den Titel “Die Zeit läuft uns ab” trug. Thema? Umwelt und Wasserquellen…..


Nah, only the tide or the moon ebbs. :)


Does the moon ebb? Thought the moon waxed and waned. AE or BE?

Anna Elfenbein
Anna Elfenbein

Ciao–Diese kleine Pruefung am Ende des Artikels war toll! Sie macht viel Spass. Jetzt werde ich aehnliche Pruefungen fuer meine eigenen Klassen machen. (Ich werde Kahoot zum ersten Mal benutzen.) Vielen Dank, Emanuel und seine neue Assistentin.

Marina Haftel
Marina Haftel

The water from a hurricane recedes….says a woman who has been through a few. You are welcome.

Marian Haftel
Marian Haftel

By the way, life has been so hectic. Plus Google stuck you in promotions in a while which is now corrected. So I had not been reading posts so often and I have missed them. I enjoyed this one quite a bit and hope to get back on track. Generally, I feel I will remember the words you write about at least in context.


In English I don’t think the police would reconstruct how a break in went down. They’d just reconstruct how it happened.

Went down can be literal – he went down the street or colloquial the party went down well – meaning it was well received.
A break in to my house would not go down well!


Where are you from? For me (American), “went down” sounds fine, just kind of slangy, sort of like what you’d expect TV cops to say. Sometimes you see police/military go the other way and use excessively formal/technical-sounding language, so they might be talking about reconstructing how it “transpired,” or maybe reconstructing “the sequence of events.”

Philip St. John
Philip St. John

After the hurricane the water recedes.

Alan Evangelista
Alan Evangelista

Großartiger Artikel wie immer, Emmanuel! Ich mag auch das Quiz am Ende.

Eine kleine Korrectur: Rohrreiniger


Maybe since the time of hourglasses* we have seen time run down.
* two glass globes connected where the sand trickles down at a set rate to mark time passing


Ich glaube, ich habe schon ablaufen in diesem Kontext gehört : In den Ferien gab es so viele leckere Dinge zu essen, dass ich heute 4 Kilo mehr wiege, als vor Weihnachten. Aber ich werde sie ablaufen. (walk them off ) Ist es möglich, es so zu sagen oder habe ich falsch verstanden?
Ich hätte auch „recede” für das Wasser nach dem Hurricane gesagt.
Vielen Dank für den Quiz! Macht mir Spaß!
Wie heißt „a receding hairline” auf Deutsch?


Die kleine Prüfung war sehr instrukiv. Gute Idee.

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak

Useful and entertaining as always, including the questions at the end. One thing I didn’t get though was in your intro
Ja, es sind immer noch welche da…
I know the words and I checked with the translation but could just not configure the meaning. Anyone else struggle ? Any help gratefully received.


An interesting one I learned recently is “jdm den Rang ablaufen”, which sort of means to surpass or outperform sb, as I understand it. Vorsicht! The past is conjugated with haben, e.g., ich habe ihm den Rang abgelaufen.

How would you describe the difference between ablaufen and sich abspielen, in the context of a sequence of events?

Jo Alex SG
Jo Alex SG

Crystal clear explanations! I was able to grasp all the subtle concepts, thank you so much for that.
By the way, I loved the quiz and the fact that the key was also given so we could check our answers; this is essential, in my opinion as it gives us more self-confidence in the progress being made and also the chance to learn from any possible mistakes.


Luuurve the quiz!

Add the Abs! Raus mit Aus? Whose cheese please?
Add the Abs! Raus mit Aus? Whose cheese please?

Der Käse des Goaßes
oft stinker – dufter
Gern geschlungen
bei Kreuzberg-Hipster-hufter!
Meck! Meck! Meck!

Frage an den Chef: oder die Souschefin. Bitte sehr-

Wann soll man unbedingt ablaufen statt auslaufen verwenden? Oder umgekehrt?

Das Boot darf heute nicht auslaufen weil gestern der Schlepper Termin abgelaufen war.
?? Das Boot darf heute nicht ablaufen weil gestern der Termin ausgelaufen war.??? Klingt mir falsch-komisch???


Hey, there. Just a random (not for long) reader here. I’m still laughing at the Rammstein nod.
Anyway, I’m a beginner at German (and a non-English native while we’re at it), and I found this really enlightening. So thanks! Oh, and those were some really good examples and amazing translations (hella lit!!).


Ich habe Deutsch in der Schule in Dänemark gelernt. Ich habe nicht abgelaufen bentuzten, aber jetzt kenne ich das Wort :) Vielen Dank