German 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 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.

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.

  • “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?”

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:

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

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.

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.

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

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”.

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.

So… mit Absicht and aus Versehen these two are really, really useful and you definitely need them in your active vocabulary.
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.


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.

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

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!!!!!!

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.

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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0 votes, 0 avg

Test yourself on absehen!

1 / 5

Which two notions can add the prefix particle “ab” to a verb?

2 / 5

Which statement about the verb absehen is FALSE?

3 / 5

Abgesehen von and davon abgesehen are a super common ways to “exclude an item from the whole picture”.

Which words express similar ideas?

4 / 5

Herabsehen means to look down on something. Which words express the same idea?

5 / 5

What does abgucken/ abschauen mean?

Your score is


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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.


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


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?


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

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

Félix LeChien
Félix LeChien

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? ;-)


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

Vielen dank, Emanuel!! :)


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.


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.


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…


Can you use absehen like those villains in movies?:

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


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


Herabsiehst du mir! Ist das korrect oder falsch ?


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


Ist verabsehen und ohne Absicht gleich?


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. :)

Richard Rosen
Richard Rosen

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


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


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