Prefix Verbs Explained – “auffallen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of Prefix Verbs Explained, this time with a look at the meaning of



Auffallen is kind of pretty common and useful in day to day conversation and it’s one of those verbs that can really  “up your native”.  But it’s kind of below the radar and many learners, beginners as well as advanced, don’t ever notice auffallen. Which is kind of ironic, because noticing is actually what it’s all about.

Auffallen is about the idea of catching someone’s attention or being noticed by someone. Here’s an example.

  • Ist dir an mir was aufgefallen?
  • Did you notice something about me?

What does that have to do with falling and auf? Well, you can think of it as falling “on someone’s head” or just “falling open” so someone can see it. So both notions of auf, the on-top-ness and the open-ness kind of make sense here, in the usual twisted prefix verb way.
Actually, auffallen is kind of the external cousin of einfallen. Einfallen means to come (fall) to one’s mind and it’s about ideas and memories. Auffallen is about your perception of the world and the stuff you notice there. The grammar is just as twisted as for einfallen, though. Instead of “I notice something” you say “something falls on/open to me“.
Let’s look at some more examples

  • “Na, wie seh ich aus?”
    “Hmm… wie immer.”
    “WAS? Ich habe  20 Kilo abgenommen.”
    “Oh, stimmt. Ist mir gar nicht aufgefallen.”
  • “So, how do I look?”
    “Hmmm… same as always.”
    “WHAT?! I lost 40 pounds.”
    “Oh, right. I didn’t notice.”
  • “So, jetzt mach ich mal den Motor an. Fällt Ihnen was auf?”
    “Äh… nee. Also ja, ich höre nix.”
    “GENAU… der Motor macht kein Geräusch.”
  • “All right, now I’m gonna turn on the engine. Do you notice something?”
    “Uh… no. Well yes, I can’t hear anything.”
    “EXACTLY… the engine makes no sound.”
  • Die Frau ist mir sofort aufgefallen, als ich in die Bar gekommen bin.
  • The woman immediately caught my eye when I walked into the bar.

Now, auffallen also works without mentioning a specific person who notices something. Then it expresses the general idea of standing out or being immediately visible.

  • !!!! **** ———>  Dieses BEISPIEL fällt auf jeden Fall auf.
  • !!!! **** ———> This EXAMPLE definitely catches the eye/stands out.
  • Meinst du, ich kann heimlich ein bisschen von Marias Kuchen essen? Oder fällt das auf?
  • Do you think I can secretly eat a bit of Maria’s cake? Or is that noticeable/Or will that catch (her) attention?
  • An dem Bild fallen vor allem die 3 Einhörner auf, die für einen Van Gogh eigentlich untypisch sind.
  • What’s most notable/what catches the attention about this painting are the 3 unicorns, which are (usually) uncharacteristic for Van Gogh.
  • “Ist das rote Kleid okay für das Dinner?”
    “Wenn du auffallen willst, dann ja.”
  • “Is the red dress okay for the dinner?”
    “If you want to be an eye catcher/stand out, then yes.”
  • “Wow, du hast ja voll den krassen Pickel.”
    “Ach mann, ja. Ich weiß. Aber so groß ist der doch gar nicht.”
    “Nee, stimmt. Aber er fällt schon sehr auf. Weil er halt direkt auf der Stirn ist.”
  • “Wow, you have a hell of a pimple.”
    “Aw, maannn. I know. But come on, it’s not that big.”
    “Nah, true. But it definitely does catch the eye. Because like … it’s like right on the forehead.”
    (probably not the most idiomatic translation, I know)

Now you’re all like “Hmm…  let’s see what the other meanings are.”
But there is no other meaning.
No, no… I’m not joking.  I know it sounds crazy but auffallen really only has this one meaning. Poor auffallen. Like… it’s always been the odd one out. Already in verb kindergarden,  all the other prefix verbs with their multitude of meanings would mock auffallen. “Onesie” they would call it. And then laugh in its face. And they wouldn’t see how useful auffallen really is. Well… we do, auffallen. We do see it. You’re a great verb. And you have a great relate… my god, what am I saying. Autumn gets me all melancholic and whiny.
But seriously, auffallen is a really useful word in daily life.
And so is the related adjective auffällig. Auffällig expresses the idea that something is eye-catching, flashy or striking and because these characteristics kind of come from being different from the norm, and because people have a tendency to get weirded out by stuff that is different than the norm… uh… damn, I forgot the beginning of the sentence. The point was,  auffällig can also express the idea of suspicious and the connection is  “standing out” – “being different” – “being strange” – “being suspicious”.

  • Maria trägt manchmal gern auffälliges Augen-Make-Up.
  • Maria sometimes likes wearing striking/flashy eye make up.
  • Der Restauranttester geht nie alleine ins Restaurant. Das wäre zu auffällig.
  • Some restaurant critic never goes to restaurants alone. That would be too obvious/conspicuous/suspicious.
  • Maria ist heute auffällig ruhig.
  • Maria is remarkably/weirdly quiet today.
  • Ich finde, Thomas ist auffällig oft mit der neuen Kollegin eine rauchen.
  • I think, Thomas is going for a smoke with the new (female) colleague suspiciously/ remarkably often.

And of course we also need to mention  unauffällig and I think most of you can guess that this is the opposite. It’s about NOT catching the eye, NOT standing out. The translation depends on context and

  • Endlich locker lassen – 5 Tipps wie sie beim Meeting unauffällig pupsen.
  • Finally letting go – 5 tips how you can inconspicuously/discreetly fart at the meeting.
  • Thomas versucht, sich Christina unauffällig zu nähern.
  • Thomas tries to inch closer to Christina inconspicuously/without her noticing.
  • “Was soll ich denn zu der Dinnerparty anziehen? Gibt es eine Kleiderordnung?”
    “Nee, einfach irgendwas unauffälliges.”
  • “What should I wear for the dinner party? Is there a dress code?”
    “Nah, just something that’s not too flashy.”

Cool. Now let’s discretely move on to the r-version :).


Rauffallen means to fall on top of something and it’s… well… rare. There simply aren’t that many contexts for it and if there is one drauffallen is the more common version, I think.

  • Mein Laptop ist kaputt. Ich bin gestern betrunken (d)raufgefallen.
  • My laptop is broken. I fell on it when I was drunk, yesterday.

So,  I really think you won’t ever need this verb.
And because rauffallen is so incredibly useless, let’s instead look at it’s “opposite” runterfallen.  Because there’s something really interesting to learn and if you do it correctly, you’re friends will notice and they’ll be impressed by how native you sound.


Unterfallen itself doesn’t exist. But runterfallen means to fall down; or falling down from a height, to be precise. For falling down in sense of falling over, you’d say hinfallen.

  • “Wo hast du denn den blauen Fleck her?”
    “Ich bin beim Inlineskaten hingefallen.”
  • “Where did you get the bruise?”
    “I fell down inline skating.”
  • Der Apfel fällt runter.
  • The apple falls down.
  • “Guck mal Mama, ich bin auf den Baum geklettert.”
    “Toll… aber pass auf, dass du nicht runterfällst.”
  • “Look mom, I climbed up the tree.”
    “Great… but pay attention that you don’t fall down.”

So far so good. Now let’s get to the interesting part. And that has something to do with the phrasing. Take a look at these two examples:

  • Thomas ist die Treppe runtergefallen.
  • Thomas fell down the stairs.
  • Thomas ist die Tasse runtergefallen. 
  • Thomas dropped  the cup.

Looks like runterfallen actually also mean to drop. But does it?

  • I drop my cellphone.
  •  Ich falle mein Handy runterWRONG!!!

This is super hyper mega uber wrong. Runterfallen does NOT mean to drop. Not directly, anyway. It means to fall down and the German sentence in the last example means “I fall down my cellphone”. Like… we’re Antman and we’re tumbling down our iPhone or something.
So what’s up with the example about Thomas dropping his cup? Well, the solution is that Thomas is actually NOT the subject. Instead he’s in Dative case. It becomes clear once we use a pronoun.

  • I drop the cup.
  • Mir fällt die Tasse runter.

I used mir, not ich. Literally, this means

  • The cup falls down to me (like… it does that to me, mean cup).

Now, this weird phrasing is actually the standard way to say that you drop something.  And the interesting thing about it is… that you’re not really guilty. Technically, you don’t do anything.

  • I dropped your new computer.
  • Mir ist dein neuer Computer runtergefallen.

The German version really captures that it wasn’t intentional at all. It sounds almost as if you’re just as much a victim as the owner and the computer itself is to blame. And of course we can also switch around the elements.

  • Mein Computer ist mir runtergefallen.
  • My computer dropped me….

Wait, that doesn’t work in English :). That’s the “cool” thing about cases, that you can move stuff around and it doesn’t change the meaning.
Anyway, here’s the structure in general

  • Jemandem (mir, dir, ihm, ihr, …) fällt etwas runter. (etwas is the subject)
  • Someone drops something (someone is the subject)

If you drop something on purpose, then runterfallen is the wrong word. You’d use fallen lassen then. But for unwanted droppings, the weird structure with the dative is the way to go.

  • Mir ist meine Brille runtergefallen.
  • I dropped my glasses (accidentally)
  • Ich habe meine Brille fallen lassen.
  • I dropped my glasses (on purpose).

And I think that’s it for today. This was our look at the verb runterfallen and the twisted grammar you use for dropping something…. wait, no… actually it was our look at the verb auffallen.
If you want to recap a bit and check if you understood the grammar parts, you can take the little quiz I have prepared for you
And of course if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it, and I’ll see you guys next time.


** auffallen – fact sheet **

auffallen – stand out, catch the eye, be noticable
mir, dir, ihm… auffallen (an )- I, you, he…  notice(s) something (about)

fiel auf
form of sein + aufgefallen

related words:
auffällig – flashy, in the face, conspicuous, suspicious

auffallend – remarkably
verhaltensauffällig – exhibiting abnormal behavior
unauffällig – sneaky, inconspicuously, low key, understated, not flashy

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