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.

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.

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 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… .

For others, you need a bit of mind bending…

And for some, the idea is quite obscured…

And then, there’s this one…

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.

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.

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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It’s “in the photo,” at least for me as an American English speaker. To me, it sort of sounds like “within the frame of a picture/painting,” describing the content. “On the photo” sounds more like it refers to the photo as an object, where something is on top of it physically.


Auf-Meisterin-Schein-Kandidat here. So, you asked for a little speculation–and just a little thing I see that most of those examples have something of leaning or pointing in a certain direction to them. Ich freue mich sehr auf die kommende Erklärung

Ashlea Konecny
Ashlea Konecny

I just wanted to leave a note that I just found your blog and I love it! Thank you!


Ich passe in Deutschland viele Leben auf benutzt auf. Eine Mann Kannen einfach auf auf auf auf sagen und eine Deutschlander wollen unterstützen ihn.


English correction “One of the most hardest things in German ” isn’t right, “One of the hardest things in German ” or perhaps “One of the most difficult things in German ” Just saying


And yes, its “in the photo”. The glass is on the photo, so I can’t see the unicorn in the photo”


I just want to say thank you for allowing me to be apart of this wonderful blog!


All these auf-verbs set aside for the donning, wearing and removal of hats! It’s a shame no one wears them any more, like they do in that there Babylon Berlin. When we’re talking about shoes in English (at least here in England) we say “come undone” and we’d probably be talking specifically about the laces (or other fastenings) rather than the shoe as a whole, although it would be fine if we did. “My laces/shoes have come undone” – either would be fine.


Yeah, “undone” or “untied” in the USA. I’m not sure I’d immediately understand what somebody meant if they said their shoes had come “open.”

Charlie Joe
Charlie Joe

I’ve worn a hat outside for decades. The brim of our baseball caps keeps the sun out of your eyes! But it’s a fashion that’s not in. When I don’t wear mine I have to squint and when it’s cold or raining, people who still wont wear a hat just look like people in shorts and T-shirts in bad weather because they want to show off their bods. In this case their hair. Fashion is dumb and arbitrary. All you need to do is watch a movie from the 80’s to go “Wow! Fashion victims everywhere.”


“Aufsetzen” is also used for glasses – “Thomas setzt sich eine Brille auf, weil er intelligenter aussehen will.”

Anything else that you aufsetzen, other than hats and glasses? Incorporating that into active vocabulary is kind of tricky, since “put on” in English covers basically every article of clothing or accessory you can wear.


Hallo, I am a student in high school who moved to Germany three months ago. I just want to say thank you everyone in this community that let me become a member of this great site. Vielen Dank :)


in Austria we never say auf for offen with regard to shops.


Ich freue mich auf mehr auf!

Just realized that “Aufgabe” could be translated as an undertaking (not overtaking)…. and “aufschreiben”, as you mentioned, as write down (not write up).

As always German likes to go in the opposite direction! I will keep an eye of more of these pairings so I can come up with my own semantic theory!!


I just officially became a member of this community. A special thanks to the Canadian sponsor. If you’re reading this, I really appreciate your deed.


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


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.


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!


–“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! :-)


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?

Peter Lobl
Peter Lobl

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


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


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