German Prepositions Explained – “auf”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to a brand new episode of our  “German Prepositions Explained“. In this series, we’re looking those little suckers one at a time and explore what they mean as a stand alone, as a prefix and most importantly as part of those infamous FVPCTGOENs. Erm… that’s short for Fixed Verb Prefix Combos that Go on Everyone’s Nerves.
If you don’t know what that is, well, you’ll find out soon enough ;).
Today, we’ll take a detailed look at



and I’d say let’s jump right in… I mean on.

As usual, we’ll start with a look at the preposition itself.

“Auf” as a preposition

Most if not all German learners have a pretty precise idea of what it is that prepositions do:
they suck!
They damn sure do. But they also have a quite important function in a language: they express relations between action and entities of a sentence. Take this example:

  • I put beer fridge.

Sure, context suggests that the beer is put IN the fridge but hey, we could also put it next to the fridge. Or under it.

“Hey man, when you’re in the kitchen, could you put me another beer under the fridge? I like it flat.”

Just like my jokes.
Anyway, so each preposition carries a more or less “spatial” idea and the core idea of auf is the idea of on top. That can be super literal but auf is also used in more abstract contexts, like for instance stuff on a paper.

  • Die Tasse ist auf dem Tisch.
  • The cup is on the table.
  • Auf den Preis kommt noch die Steuer.
  • The tax goes on top of the price.
  • Auf dem Foto ist ein Einhorn.
  • In the photo, there’s a unicorn.

It’s pretty straight forward, I think and the only real difficulty are – the colors. Dun dunn dunnnn.
Well, not the colors but what they stand for. The colors are there to bring our attention to the fact that there are different cases in the example.  Der Tisch and der Preis are both masculine but in the first example we used Dative (dem) while in the second one we used Accusative (den). So auf must be one of what is commonly called two-way preposition. In a nutshell it’s like this:

Two-way prepositions can be followed by Dative OR Accusative. The case depends on what YOU want to express. Dative “marks” something as answer to “Where something is (happening)”, Accusative marks something as a destination.

That is a very crucial concept in German and we’ve talked about in detail in a separate article. So if you feel shaky about it you should really check that out (you can find it here).
Anyway, so yeah… auf is a two-way-preposition. The Dative expresses that something is on top of something and Accusative tells us that on top of something is the destination of the action.

  • Die Katze sitzt auf dem Tisch. 
  • The cat is sitting on the table.(stationary)


  • Die Katze springt auf die Tastatur.
  • The cat jumps onto the keybagiusgdiaszdgfiasgdfiuasgib

God damn it, Meowzilla. I’m trying to explain something here. Go fix me a beer if you have nothing to do, stupid …
“Meow, meow, meow!”
Ugh…  my cat is bored and wants to move on to the prefix-auf.  But there isn’t all that much to say about the preposition so I guess, let’s do that.

“Auf” as a verb prefix

If you’ve read a few articles of my series on Separable Prefix Verbs, you’ll know that many prefixes can add two notions to a verb. One is based on “locational” idea of the preposition, the other one is a random idea German has pulled out of  “Meanings for Prefixes”-hat, just for the lulz. Well… at least it seems that way.
Auf is no exception, so it has two notions. And there are many many really useful auf-verbs built with more or less crazy interpretations of the idea of on top or upward.
Some are pretty obvious… .

  • Ich setze mir meine Mütze auf.
  • I put my hat on. (“on top of my head”)

  • Thomas legt bei meiner Party auf.
  • Thomas djs at my party (“puts records on top of the player”)

  • Die Sonne geht auf.
  • The sun is rising. (“goes upward“)

For others, you need a bit of mind bending…

  • Ich schreibe mir das Wort auf.
  • I write down the word. (“onto a paper”)
  • Ich stelle ein Schild auf.
  • I put up a sign. (onto a place, upright position)
  • Ich stehe um 9 auf.
  • I get up at 9.

And for some, the idea is quite obscured…

  • Das ist eine einfache Aufgabe.
  • That is an easy task. (“something put upon you”)

  • Ich gebe nicht auf.
  • I won’t give up. (think of a knight on his knees yielding their weapon upward)

And then, there’s this one…

  • Thomas ist froh, weil Maria endlich aufhört zu meckern.
  • Thomas is happy, because Maria finally stops complaining.

Now you’re like “Wait, this is the second notion, right? The weird one.” But no, aufhören is actually still based on this upward idea. It’s all one. You’ll understand if you take Ayahuasca like Eso-Hipsters do. Or you can read my article about it. Much easier and no risk of vomiting.

Anyways, the second idea of auf, the weird one, is open-ness.
In fact, auf  is THE everyday word for open in context of stores and it’s more common than offen and there are many useful prefix verbs with it.

  • Hey, dein Hosenstall ist auf.
  • Hey, your fly is open.
  • Bis wann habt ihr heute auf?
  • Till what time are you open today?
  • Hast du das Fenster aufgemacht?
  • Did you open the window?
  • Ich habe das Fenster aufgelassen.
  • I left the window open.
  • Mein Scheißschuh geht immer auf.
  • My goddamn shoe always opens (by itself).

Now, the open-idea is pretty clear and easy to spot, I think. But I think most of you are wondering is what on earth the idea of on top has to do with an open door. Like… is there even a connection?
Well, check out these two examples.

  • Ich drehe die Heizung auf.
  • I turn up the heater.
  • Ich drehe den Wasserhahn auf.
  • I open the tap.

One English speakers would associate with upward, the other clearly with open and it’s the same verb in German. So looks like it’s not just random. There is a connection. And .. ahem… a deeply rooted one. Like… literally.
Because all these words, auf, up, open, offen and also über and over come from the same dramatically ancient Indo-European root for upward.
People very early on connected the idea of upward with the idea of open. In fact, take the English verb to open up (vs. to close down) boom, both ideas combined.
I think the missing link is a notion of coming into the open. Just think of a tree growing out of the soil. Or a the chieftain standing on top of a rock.
Of course an open door doesn’t have much to do with idea of on top of. But it does have something to do with being accessible, visible.  Meh… no idea if that makes sense.
If not, don’t worry. I’m just kind of nerding out a bit with these connections.
You don’t really need them in daily life.

But you do need auf-verbs, so here’s a little overview over the most important auf-verbs with their most common translations (when there’s “…”, that means, there are some other not so common translations. )
And a link to a separate article on the verb, if we’ve talked about it in the series about prefix verbs. Because… you know… German prefix verbs are not  like “Oh, this the core idea? Well, I’ll have this meaning then.” 
They’re more like “Oh this is the core idea? Great, I’ll twist and bend that till I have like a dozen meanings. ” And then there’s the r-versions and maybe the dr-versions and the related nouns. So… if you want to take a closer look at one of them, just click the link.
I categorized them by core idea, but please please please don’t take this too literal!! We’ve learned that the ideas (on top, open) are connected, so there isn’t really a sharp line between them. It’s more of a continuum.

verbidea of “up”idea of “open”
auffallennotice, catch the eyecatch the eye
aufgehenrise (sun, dough)open by itself, …
aufhabenhave on/wear (hats)be open (for store, from perspective of store/owner)
aufhaltenhold up, stophold open
aufhörencease, stop
aufkommenarise, hit the ground, …
auflegenhang up phone, to dj, …
aufnehmenrecord, take in, pick up,…
aufmachento open (up)
auftunput food on a plate
aufgebento give up,…
aufdrehenturn up (radio, heater), …tap
auflassenleave on (for hats)leave open
aufpassenpay attention, watch
aufschreibento note down (onto the paper)
aufsetzenput on (hats), …
aufstehenget up (bed, chair,…)(“stand open”; rarely used)



Of course there are plenty of verbs out there that we didn’t mention here, and I am sure some will make you go like “Huh? This meaning doesn’t fit in with either of the two cores.”
If that happens, then just have some red wine.
Uhm… I mean, go to the comment section and ask. And have some red wine while doing that :).
Anyway, I hope you’ve got a rough idea, maybe even a feel for auf  as a prefix.

All that’s left now for the auf-mastery-certificate are these infamous fixed prefix verb combinations like warten auf or sich freuen auf. And speaking of those two, waiting for and looking forward to is exactly what you’ll be doing for the next few days, because we’ll talk about all that in part two.
“WHAT? Part two?!?! More like part boooooooh…..”
I know, I know, I don’t really wanna wait either (#lie).
The thing is… we’ll not just list the most common combos. We’ll actually analyze them and see if there’s an underlying theme (hint: there is). And also, we’ll take a look at common phrasings with rauf and drauf and all that would be a bit too much for today.
But okay… I’ll give you a little preview. Here are some of the most common combos…

  • warten auf (to wait for)
  • sich freuen auf (to look forward to)
  • sich vorbereiten auf (to prepare for)
  • zielen auf (aim for, target)
  • werfen auf (to throw at)
  • zeigen auf (point at)
  • achten auf (pay attention to, to heed)
  • aufpassen auf (pay attention to, to watch)
  • sich verlassen auf (to rely on)
  • ankommen auf (to depend on)
  • kommen auf (think of)

Can you see a common theme ;)? Feel free to speculate on the comments.
And of course, if you have any questions about what we learned today or if you want to mention a few other auf-verbs or if you want to try out some examples, or if you just want to troll, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it, have a great week and see you next time.

Ready for part two? Then here you go…

German Prepositions Explained – “auf” – Part 2


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1 month ago

Ich habe eine Frage! :)
Wenn man ‘werfen auf’ benutzt, braucht das akk. oder dativ?
Und wie kann ich das herausfinden?

Wir werfen Kartoffel auf sie.
Wir werfen Kartoffeln auf ihr.

1 month ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ich habe es gelesen – vielen Dank, alles klar. Ich liebe die Erklärungen, sie sind klar und lustig, danke! :)

1 month ago

1.AUF einer Basis sein=basieren auf,beruhen auf,bestehen auf,bauen auf 2.AUFPASSEN-konzentrieren=aufpassen auf, achten auf,hören auf,richten auf 3. ZUKUNFT= sich freuen auf,warten auf, vorbereiten auf,vertrauen auf,haben Lust auf

2 months ago

Hi, just discovered this existed, and I love it!

3 months ago

Zum Bild:
Die Maschine ist offen oder aus (von mir aus auch aufgedreht (an), aber so sieht das Bild nicht aus). Aber auf allein? Auf den Boden vielleicht. Das passt irgendwie nicht.

4 months ago

Ich spreche lieber auf deutch.
What is the use of “auf” here?
maybe with the example “something put upon you” where Im putting my own preference?

7 months ago

Can I just say that this is exceptional work?
I have been trying to find articles that would explain the meaning of prefixes for ages.

9 months ago

Very nicely explained so that I (almost) get it. If you had been my German teacher at school I might have stuck with it, rather than feeling like my brain was going to explode when we got to the FVCPTGOENS :)

1 year ago

Hi –
Would you use auf to describe swimming on “top” of the water: Der Schwamm schwimmt auf dem Wasser. If describing swimming in the water would you use “in” – Ich schwimme in dem See?


1 year ago

Hallo, this type of article really helps me. with my particular form of LD, knowing the whys, wherefores and (especially ) the history of the word use is critical to learning. the obsessions with why and how is, also, one of those little Aspergers traits that can drive some others a bit crazy. ;)

Emmanuel Alcocer
Emmanuel Alcocer
2 years ago

I’ve read the article and I liked it a lot. I’m from Colombia and I’m trying to learn German using the english to also improve it. In this way, I practice both languages.

Rupert Ingrams
Rupert Ingrams
2 years ago

die Wut auf der Turkei ist spuerbar – what does this mean?

the American Frau
3 years ago

Can you explain the heading in my A2 book – Auf der Bank (with a pic of a lady in front of a ATM)????? Could that mean upward to the Bank, open the bank? No clue. Help, love your site.

4 years ago

Quick question:

Hey, dein Hosenstall ist auf.
Hey, your fly is open.

Bis wann habt ihr heute auf?
Till what time are you open today?

Why is the first using “ist” and the second using “haben”. Can the second one, for example, be “Bis wann seid ihr heute auf?”

4 years ago

Do you draw your own illustrations? The unicorn on the washing machine is adorable!

Peter Lobl
Peter Lobl
4 years ago

Do some folks go on one’s nerves?
Am I getting on your nerves by asking? ;)

4 years ago
Reply to  Peter Lobl

Better that „geht mir auf die Nerven“ is „geht mir auf den Keks,“

4 years ago

I have a question about the verbs “setzen/aufsetzen” and “sitzen/aufsitzen.” I was taught that setzen is an Akkusativ verb and sitzen is Dativ… Is this accurate?

4 years ago

–“In fact, take the English verb to open up (vs. to close down) boom, both ideas combined.”

Actually, the “vs” of opening up in English is closing up!

e.g. “He would open up the shop at 0900 and then close up at 1900. It was hard, but the only way to stop his shop having to close down.”

Thinking about it, the “up” in both these contexts doesn’t change the meaning of the verb at all – you could remove either or both “up”s and the sentence would still make perfect sense, but each adds a sense of “effort”, that there may be several things involved in the process of opening or closing. Same is true of “opening up” a bank account. Or indeed opening up a book – it either means the book is big/heavy or that the act of opening requires care e.g. he opened up the book at page 120.

*Or* the “up” can mean to widen. “They opened up the cave entrance”. “She opened up a seam in the jacket lining to get at the shoulder pad.”

*Or* it can mean to “give it the gas” (Gas geben!). “Let’s open her up and see what she’ll do.”

Yeah, our equivalents of prefixes can be variable too! :-)

4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I’m from England, and a quick look finds “close up” in British English dictionaries with three listed senses: to lock the doors of a building or business (usually when going away); to move closer together e.g. the runners closed up as they approached the 1km mark; and in the sense of blocking off an opening e.g. to close up a cave entrance or for a wound to close up.

Of a shop:
To close – to have finished business for the day (there may still be staff working inside)
To close up – to have been locked and left for the night
To close down – to have gone out of business

I can’t say whether it’s the same in American English! (I think they may use “close out” for going out of business, where we would more normally only use it for finishing something off, often completing a deal!)

4 years ago
Reply to  demoneyes136

Demoneye – same in American English. In Swedish „öppna upp“ ( open up) is more like baring your soul or for a shy person who finally starts to speak. „Stänga ner“ close down is more like what is done to an illegal operation – the authorities closed down Pirate Bay‘s file-sharing tool.

1 year ago
Reply to  Amerikanerin

American English guy again: confirming that closing down is indeed what is done to illegal operations. But more often it is said that the cops shut them down, to accentuate the abrupt and forceful nature of the action. A business facing a temporary closure due to Food Safety Violations, is usually said to have been shut down by the authorities, but can also be said to have been shut down by them.

1 year ago
Reply to  demoneyes136

Hello, I am “American English,” and posting on a dead thread! All but one context the British fellow described are correct on our side of the pond, as well.
The odd one out is “blocking off an opening e.g. to close up a cave entrance or for a wound to close up.” Not that “close up” wouldn’t work for a cave entrance, but “close off” works a bit better for said cave, or a condemned building, defunct doorway now drywalled over, barrackaded street etc.
As for the example given regarding wounds, may I note that currently bleeding wound should have the blood supply closed off, (better yet, cut off) but when it heals it will be closing up. If it will close up on it’s own, “Tis but a flesh wound!”

4 years ago

You explain everything much more understandable than all of my teachers. I can feel that I’m comprehending and I’m grateful :) And I especially thank everyone in this community for letting me become a part of it. Vielen Dank!

4 years ago

Thanks for giving me some assistance with “auf” – up until now it just hadn’t clicked. And so much to learn from the comments, as well! The examples that don’t work directly in my mother tongue, English, work great in my adopted language, Swedish: aufschreiben (skriv upp – write up) aufstehen (stig upp – stand/step up), aufpassen, (passa upp – pay attention to), auflegen (lägga på – lay on top of or hang up), aufkommen (komma upp – arise in social status, or hit the ground from under, as in seeds sprouting and coming up), aufhören (upphöra – stop) – it’s like magic. Feels like cheating – having the Swedish equivalent to clear up any translations that I don’t get naturally from English. I know they are both Germanic languages, but Swedish never really sounded like German until I started studying German – now I hear the similarities – odd that Swedes don’t understand any German unless they’ve studied it, considering how close the languages are.

4 years ago

I guess the worst combination is this preposition and the trennbare verben. I am thinking about “Ich bereite mich auf den Lauf vor”