Prefix Verbs Explained – “absehen”

absehen-meaningHello everyone,

and welcome to another episode of the absolute bestest series on German verbs and before you go like “Emanuel, ‘bestest’  is not proper English”  let me tell you that I did that on purpose. Because on purpose has a whole lot to do with the verb we’ll look at today

absehen

 

Absehen has two meanings that are both super useful. And they’re both based on the same notion of ab – the idea of separation.
The other notion ab can have is downward and we’ll see that, too, but more on that later.

So, we have to see combined with the idea of separation. With a little bit of mind bending that does make sense as to not look at something. That’s kind of the first meaning of absehen.  It’s not used in a literal sense though. Absehen or absehen von to be precise, is about not taking something into consideration anymore, not regarding something as an option anymore, and it sounds super uber formal and official.

  • Ich werde von einer Anzeige absehen.
  • I will refrain from complaining to the police.
  • Wenn Sie keine Lust auf Drama am Arbeitsplatz haben, sollten Sie  lieber davon absehen, etwas mit Kollegen anzufangen.
  • If you don’t want drama at your workplace you should abstain from starting something with a coworker.
  • Ich muss morgen arbeiten. Deshalb werde ich vom Trinken noch eines Bieres absehen.
  • I have to work tomorrow. Thus, I will refrain from drinking another beer.

The last example is a bit of a parody. Nobody talks like that in daily life and the verb is really only for official writing and thus pretty useless for learners.
But wait Emanuel, didn’t you say that the the two meanings are super useful?
Yeah, the verb as a verb is useless. But it’s a different story for the ge-form abgesehen. Because that is a super common tool to exclude an item from the whole picture. Wow, “exclude an item from a whole picture“…  that sounds waaaaaaaayyyy more complicated than it is. Examples to the rescue.

  • Abgesehen vom Hotel, war der Urlaub schön.
  • Hotel aside, the vacation was nice.
  • “Wieso kann ich denn deiner Meinung nach den Marathon nicht laufen?”
    “Naja, du bist überhaupt nicht trainiert… aber davon mal ganz abgesehen bist du an dem Tag eh nicht in Berlin. Schon vergessen?”
  • “And why in your opinion can I not run a marathon?”
    “Well, you’re not trained at all… and besides… you’re not gonna be in Berlin on that day anyway, remember?”
  • “Wie ist der neue Mitbewohner?”
    “Naja, der sauberste ist er nicht, aber davon abgesehen ganz cool.”
  • “How’s your new flatmate?”
    “Well, he’s not the cleanest person but apart from that he’s all right.”

There are other words and phrases to express similar ideas, namely ausser and bis auf. Those work best as except, in contexts like this one:

  • Alle außer Thomas trinken Bier.
  • Everybody except Thomas is drinking beer.
  • Bis auf Sonntag habe ich jeden Tag Zeit.
  • Except Sunday I’ll have time every day.

Abgesehen von and davon abgesehen used more somewhat longer things and they often have this element of not considering, disregarding.
Cool.

Now, this was already quite useful but nowhere near as useful as what’s coming up next-  the other absehen which at its core this is about foreseeing the future.

absehen and Absicht

Now you’re all like “Dude, what the hell does that have to do with the separation idea of ab?”
Well, get ready for some mind bending.
When you look in the far distance, everything kind of blurs, right? Like… when there’s a forest somewhere on the horizon it’ll just be a green belt and you can’t make out single trees and when there’s a flock of super models at a mile’s distance, it’s hard to make out which one of…. wait, I think this just made NO sense.
Anyway, what I’m going for is that, in a way, the idea of distinguishing details is about separation. You visually separate one item from the other. And that’s kind of what foreseeing is. You look ahead, into the future and you can clearly distinguish things to come.
Now, absehen is about seeing something in the future, but it’s actually not a good translation for to foresee. To foresee just sounds way too epic and cool. Absehen is for boring, dry, bureaucratic looking into the future. Like… you wouldn’t use to foresee in contexts of, say, not making a project deadline. That would be odd in the meeting…

“So, how’s the project coming along?”
” I foresee that we shall forgo the deadline in favor of a new, much later deadline. It is known.”
“Are you high?”

Boring things like this are what this absehen is used for… if it is used at all. Because common, it is not.

  • Sobald du absehen kannst, wie lange du arbeiten musst, ruf mich an.
  • As soon as you can roughly tell how long you’ll have to work – call me.
  • Es war nicht abzusehen, dass das Projekt SO viel Arbeit macht.
  • The fact that the project needs THAT much work couldn’t be foreseen.

What makes this meaning of absehen super useful is the noun die Absicht.
Going by what we’ve learned about the verb, Absicht should be “something you can see in the future“. The real meaning has the element of planning added, so it’s not just about seeing, it’s about envisioning. Die Absicht means intention, plan.

  • Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten.
  • No one has the intention, to erect a wall.
    (famous quote of Walter Ulbrist, a former prime minister of the
    former East Germany, uttered in a press conference in  June 1961, a few weeks before they …. erected the
    wall. Duuuuh!… I tried to do it in his original Saxonian accent :)
  • Klimagipfel: viele gute Absichten, aber wenig echte Ergebnisse.
  • Climate summit: lots of good intentions, but few real results.

There’s also the verb beabsichtigen, which means something like to plan, to intend.

  • Thomas beabsichtigt, sich bei der Firmenfeier richtig übel zu betrinken.
  • Thomas intends to get shitfaced at the company party.

But what makes Absicht a MUST HAVE WORD is the fact that it’s the German word to express the idea of on purpose. The main phrasing is mit Absicht, but Absicht alone also works and there’s also the adjective absichtlich.
Note, that all of these often sound a tad bit negative. They’re not a neutral “on purpose” but more a reproachful “on purpose”.

  • Ich bin mit Absicht zu spät gekommen.
  • I came late on purpose/intentionally.
  • Thomas lässt manchmal absichtlich den Klodeckel oben, nur um Maria zu ärgern.
  • Sometimes Thomas leaves the toilet lid up on purpose, just to tease Maria.
  • Der kleine Junge hat absichtlich den Spinatteller runtergeschmissen.
  • The little boy intentionally dropped the plate with spinach.
  • “Aua, passen Sie doch auf. Sie sind nicht alleine in der Bahn.”
    “Entschuldigung, das war keine Absicht.
  • “Outch, pay attention. You’re not alone in this train.”
    “My apologies, it wasn’t on purpose/I didn’t mean to.”

And while we’re at it…  the number one word for the opposite idea, the idea of accidentally, is Versehen, the “wrong-seeing”.
So here are some examples for that, too.

  • Willst du mir sagen, dass du “aus Versehen” meine Mails gelesen hast?
  • Do you want to tell me that you read my mails “by accident”?
  • Ich hab’ versehentlich deinen Jogurt gegessen, sorry.
  • I accidentally ate your yogurt. Sorry!
  • Das war ein Versehen. Kommt nicht wieder vor.
  • That was an accident. Won’t happen again. (not for actual accidents)

So… mit Absicht and aus Versehen these two are really, really useful and you definitely need them in your active vocabulary.
Cool.
Now, this would be a great moment to wrap this up, but no look at a prefix verb is complete without a look at the r-version.
It’s really quick this time, I promise.

herabsehen

Ab doesn’t have an r-version. I don’t know why, but rab-something just doesn’t exist.  It’ll always be the full her-version so we have herabsehen. And this is where we see the other notion of ab in action, the notion of downward. Because herabsehen means to look down on something. Seems like this could be a quite useful word, but in reality it’s rather rare and sounds quite fancy. I guess it works in the figurative sense of arrogance.

  • Eine Kunst für sich – Flaschen sammeln und trotzdem auf andere herabsehen.
  • An art in itself – collecting bottles (for the deposit money) and still look down on people.

but for actual factual looking down, people would use runter combined with either gucken or schauen.

  • Die Autobahnbrücke war so hoch – ich konnte kaum runtergucken/runterschauen.
  • The high way bridge was so high, I could barely look down.

And that’s it…. this was our…  . *Ding Ding Ding Ding  what is this?! Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding…. OH. MY. GOD… caaaaaaan it beeeeeee?!?!
Yeah, the bell leaves no doubt.

German Bonus Round.

Yeah…. more German to learn. Aaaawwwweeeesoooomeee!!!!!!
Ugh.

abgucken, abschauen

So, German has sehen which is mainly to see but can also be to watch, and German has gucken and schauen. Which of the two that’s used depends mainly on the region and they both mean more to look, to watch rather than to see.  In combination with prefixes, they sometimes do overlap with the sehen version and sometimes absolutely not at all.
In case of ab, it’s the latter. Abgucken and abschauen do not mean anything of the stuff we talked about above.
Do they mean anything?
Yes, abgucken and abschauen are about the idea of gaining knowledge or skill by copying what they’re doing. You “watch something off of someone” . They’re usually used for small things, like how to make a really good pie or how to close your laces with one hand… or for answers in a test.

  • Den Trick hab’ ich mir von meinem Bruder abgeguckt/abgeschaut.
  • This trick I stole from/learned by watching my brother.
  • Die jungen Bären gucken sich bei ihrer Mutter ab, wie man Lachse fängt.
  • By watching their mom, the young bear cubs learn how to catch salmon.
  • “Wie war der Test?”
    “Weiß nicht. Ich habe das meiste bei meinem Nachbarn abgeguckt.
  • “How was the test?”
  • “No idea. I cribbed most from my neighbor.”
  • Wer abguckt, kriegt automatisch eine 6.
  • If you peek at your neighbor’s you’ll automatically get an F.

Note that they’re not used in sense of peeking on your own cheat sheet. It’s really only for looking at someone else’s stuff.

Cool. And that’s really it.
This was our look at the prefix verb absehen and the two main takeaways are the phrasing abgesehen von, davon abgesehen which mean something like that aside, apart from and the noun die Absicht, which is used for the German translation of on purpose.
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.

 

** vocab ** 

von [etwas] absehen – refrain from something (usually legal action)
abgesehen von X – apart from X, X aside, except X
davon abgesehen – apart from that, that aside

etwas absehen können – be able to make a statement about the future
absehbar – forseeable (dry sounding)
die Absicht(en) – the intention, the intent 
beabsichtigen – to intend (sounds formal)

mit Absicht –  on purpose
absichtlich – intentionally (reproachful sounding)

das Versehen – the small accident (small misdeed) 
aus Versehen -by accident, accidentally
versehentlich – accidentally

abgucken von – crib, peek, “learn by watching someone”

 

 

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david_l
david_l
25 days ago

Thomas lässt manchmal absichtlich den Klodeckel oben, nur um Maria zu ärgern.

Now you’ve made me curious, did you write Klodeckel instead of Klositz by mistake? or is this something germans actually do? I’ve never heard of anyone leaving the toilet lid closed and it confuses me as to why anyone would find that favourable. In fact, leaving the lid closed seems to me like a perfect subtle way to drive someone insane. Imagine going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and inadvertently sitting down on that cold dirty lid haha

david_l
david_l
22 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Interesting but not too surprising. I know Germans are much more obsessive about cleanliness in general, but especially when it comes to the toilet.
It was a huge culture shock for me to learn that you guys use a toilet brush to scrub down the toilet bowl after every single time you take a shit. I kinda do understand it though, since German toilets are all eco-friendly and have basically no water in them to cushion the fall and prevent stains.
But man… the gross/inconvenient things you guys do every day to protect the environment. And then to ultimately still do monumentally more environmental harm than Canadians by phasing out nuclear power in favour of coal xD Your politics confuse really me

david_l
david_l
20 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I meant compared to American toilets which use a different design. Our toilets average around 10 litres of water per flush, though older models used up to 30. German toilets only use something like 3 litres i believe

phoenix
phoenix
1 year ago

Another great entry! I’d love to see one for ansehen, too – seems super popular (+ das Ansehen, die Ansicht, etc)…

phoenix
phoenix
1 year ago
Reply to  phoenix

Never mind (#blushing bitmoji), found it!

https://yourdailygerman.com/meaning-ansehen/

PeterB
PeterB
2 years ago

Ich glaube, dass die Bedeutung von “abgucken, abschauen” auch mit “absehen” funktioniert:

Sie sehen es den Anderen ab. They learn it by watching others do it.

Ist das richtig?

PeterB
PeterB
2 years ago

In diesem Beispiel:

• Ich werde von einer Anzeige absehen.
• I will refrain from complaining to the police.

Ist “eine Anzeige” so spezifisch wie “complaining to the police”?

Marc
Marc
4 years ago

Great post! I was wondering if you could explain the difference between “von etwas absehen” and “etwas unterlassen” in terms of refrain from?

Roshanak
Roshanak
5 years ago

Wann benutzen wir “sich abguken/ abschauen” statt “abgucken/ abschauen”? Hängt das von der Bedeutung ab?

Richard Rosen
Richard Rosen
5 years ago

Ich versuche Deutsch zu sprechen, aber es ist schwer hier in Sud Florida. Ich bin neu als ein student — Ich wird Deutschland besuchen, hoffe ich — so vielen dank fur dieser ‘site’. Richard Rosen

Teslin
Teslin
5 years ago

So very many thanks for the kind souls that paid extra so I have a chance to learn through this site! I really couldn’t afford membership, and now that I’ve just moved to Germany I need to learn as fast as I can. It’s excellent and you are all excellent. :)

alanmarsee
alanmarsee
5 years ago

Ist verabsehen und ohne Absicht gleich?

alanmarsee
alanmarsee
5 years ago

Absehen davon, dass der Raum super war. Ist das korrekt?

alanmarsee
alanmarsee
5 years ago

Herabsiehst du mir! Ist das korrect oder falsch ?

BharadwajK
BharadwajK
5 years ago

Can you use absehen like those villains in movies?:

“I really wouldn’t do that if I were you?”
“Davon würde ich absehen” (?)

BharadwajK
BharadwajK
5 years ago
Reply to  BharadwajK

*”I really wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
(Ignore random question mark)

person243
person243
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

“Davon würde ich dir abraten, muhahaha.”

camilo
camilo
5 years ago

wand (n.)
c. 1200, from Old Norse vondr “rod, switch” (cognate with Gothic wandus “rod,” Middle Swedish vander), from Proto-Germanic *wend- “to turn,” see wind (v.1)). The notion is of a bending, flexible stick. Compare cognate Old Norse veggr, Old English wag “wall,” Old Saxon, Dutch wand, Old High German want, German Wand “wall,” originally “wickerwork for making walls,” or “wall made of wattle-work” (an insight into early Germanic domestic architecture). Magic wand is attested from c. 1400 and shows the etymological sense of “suppleness” already had been lost.

camilo
camilo
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

It was a mistake..i’ll post it on wenden dude thanks

camilo
camilo
5 years ago
Reply to  camilo

Sorry, i thought u got angry as it maybe confused thé others as to thé idea you were trying to convey….germains are sehr sensitive about thé copyright man;). Thank u for clarifying…

person243
person243
5 years ago

Oh, the bear, haha, oh, man, I cannot explain it but that was very funny, I did not laugh so much the whole day.

The last two verbs you introduced reminded me of another meaning they sometimes evoke. That happens when a shy person is forced to lay down their clothes in front of somebody else. In that case the other one will say: “Keine Angst, ich schaue Ihnen schon nichts ab.” or more casual: “Genier dich nicht, ich gucke dir schon nichts ab.” Which is somehow in line with “I won’t bite.” meaning that it won’t hurt if the person is nude. And more literally: “jemandem etwas abgucken/abschauen” = “to take away sth. by looking at somebody”. Well it is a proverb, it does not have to make much sense.

As you mention “Absicht” and “beabsichtigen” it should probably not left out that “absehen” also can have this “planning” idea. Mostly use in present perfect: “Ich habe es darauf abgesehen, ….” = “I have set my sights on …” or also with an object: “Sie hat es auf die rote Tasche abgesehen.” = “She has set her sights on the red bag.”

So really good article this week as always, and really, oh man, this bear, ich schmeiß’ mich weg.

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

Americans no longer say this correctly very often, but we ought to say: “by accident” and “on purpose”. Prepositions–sind schwer!!! :)

Vielen dank, Emanuel!! :)
Camille

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

“on accident” isn’t even street talk or baby talk it’s just wrong, sorry. Think of an accident as “the means by which” a fuck up of some kind occurs, hence always “by accident”.

matthewgrad
matthewgrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

“On accident” ist immer falsch – nur “by” accident.

Félix LeChien
Félix LeChien
5 years ago

Good article, as always! Thanks!

A funny thing happened today. Well, not that funny… Just a few minutes after having read and heard your quote of Walter Ulbrist, I accidentally stumbled upon this article in today’s Zeit: “Großbritannien will Mauer gegen Flüchtlinge errichten”. History definitely tends to repeat itself, sadly! Hast du es mit Absicht gemacht? ;-)

Jake
Jake
5 years ago

Ok, aber wieso “_von_ meinem Bruder” aber “_bei_ ihrer Mutter”?

Danke! Jetzt verstehe ich “es auf jemanden abgesehen haben”!

aoind
aoind
5 years ago

In your four examples of abschauen/abgucken, the first two contain reflexive self references in dative case and the last two contain none. The first two seem to mean “learn by observation” while the second two, with no reflexive element seem to mean simply “copy/crib”. Have I got this right?

aoind
aoind
5 years ago

Hi Emanuel. I think I would use “refrain from” as a consistent translation of absehen von rather than “desist from” or “abstain from”. Desist means to “stop doing something” (rather to “not start in the first place”) and abstain means something similar to refrain but conventional usage is more inclined towards acts of self denial in connection with intoxicating substances and to acts of consciously not exercising ones right to a democratic vote.

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  aoind

“Abstain” is also heavily invoked as the #1 approved method of contraception and STD control by the Roman Catholic Church.

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks for this new bit of vocab. As it happens I am on the wagon for a wee while and thanks to you I managed to convey this to my German class last night. Well the teacher understood anyway.