Prefix Verbs Explained – “aufgehen”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: April 7, 2022

aufgehen-raufgehen-meaningHello everyone,

and welcome to another episode of Prefix Verbs Explained. The sun does it, your shoe does it, dough does it and the villain’s evil plan to conquer the world does it… well, okay…actually the plan usually DOESN’T do it.
Anyway, I bet you’re a little confused right now, but don’t worry. It’ll dawn on you.
Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for a look at the meaning of



Gehen means to go and auf has two notions it can add to a verb: on-top-ness (or the moving sister upward-ness) and open-ness.
In case of aufgehen, it adds both. And does some crazy stuff with it. But we’ll start with the two more “normal” meanings.

The most straight forward aufgehen is the one with the open-auf, which means “to go open” or simply to open.

  • Mein Reißverschluss geht immer auf.
  • My zipper always goes down (opens).
  • Die Tür geht von alleine auf.
  • The door opens by itself/automatically.
  • Das Marmeladenglas geht nicht auf. Es klemmt.
  • The jam jar won’t (come) open. It’s jammed.

Haha… the jam jar is jammed. Hilarious.
Anyway, it’s important to note that aufgehen is only a part of to open. It describes that something opens by itself (or gets opened).  And it can also express that something is generally “open-able”. The one thing aufgehen can NOT be used for is opening something. You cannot “aufgehen a door”. Aufgehen is what the DOOR does, be it because of the wind, or you or some solar powered mechanism.
Hey, speaking of solar powered mechanisms – for them to work we need the sun hanging in the sky. Which brings us right to the next meaning of aufgehen: to rise.
Oh boy… these transitions. 
Anyway, so to rise, “to go up” – that makes sense. The thing with the rise-aufgehen is that only a very few things can do it:
the sun and the moon…

  • Sun rises/goes up at 7.
  • Die Sonne geht um 7 auf.
  • Der Mond ist aufgegangen, die goldnen Sternlein prangen…. (famous German lullaby)
  • The moon has risen, the tiny golden stars, resplendent.

theater actors …

  • Du gehst auf, wenn Hamlet “Vater” sagt.
  • You go up/out/on stage when Hamlet says “Father”.

and  dough.

  • Mein Teig geht nicht auf.
  • My dough won’t rise.

For all other rising things, like rising prices or rising people,  aufgehen doesn’t work because it’s simply not idiomatic.

  • The temperature is rising.
  • Die Temperatur geht auf.NOPE!

This is wrong and people would be REALLY confused and not know what you mean. Sun, moon, actors and dough. Nothing else. So unless you’re an actor or really into baking, you’ll only need this aufgehen in context of the sun.  Well, and there’s a very common idiom about suddenly understanding something, which is based on the light of the sun.

  • jemandem geht ein Licht auf
  • someone suddenly gets/understands something
  • Als ich diesen Artikel gelesen habe, ist mir ein Licht aufgegangen.
  • When I read this article, I started to understand something/I began to see.

All right.
So stuff opening up and (certain stuff) rising. Those are the two bread and butter meanings of aufgehen. But there are a few others that are also good to know.

More meanings – always more meanings

In combination with plans or tactics, aufgehen can express the idea of working out.

  • Maria’s plan worked/came to fruition.
  • Marias Plan ist aufgegangen.

Does that tie in then with one of the basic ideas of auf ? Well, it does when thinking of the plan as a beautiful flower blossom that is opening up.
This idea of “working out” is also part of the next use of aufgehen.
But this time, it’s about one specific plan… the plan to  “evenly divide something into parts and distribute them”.
Uh… what?!?!
It’s really hard to explain so here’s an example. Imagine you have 3 thirsty people and 10 Feierabendbeers to give to them… that would be a situation where you could say this

  • Das geht nicht ganz auf.

You cannot divide your stock of beer evenly. I have no clue how to translate that but I hope you got the idea. It’s not super common anyway.
Last but not least there is the phrasing in etwas aufgehen which expresses the idea of being absorbed by something or dissolve in something. Not in a factual sense of like sugar in water or something. The main use is for people getting really into their work or their hobby.

  • Maria geht ganz in ihrer Arbeit auf.

Dictionaries suggest to lose oneself in something but the German phrasing sounds much more positive… the work fulfills her completely.
There’s also in Flammen aufgehen (to go up in flames) and I guess a couple more, but I think we got the most important ones covered.
And in daily life you only really need the one about opening and the one about the sun. And if you’re a super hero villain, probably the third, too. The one about the plan.

  • Mein Plan für die Weltherrschaft geht so sicher auf wie die Sonne und mein Schuh…. muahahahahaahahahaha
  • My plan for world domination will work out as certainly as the sun rises and my shoe opens itself.

So this were all the meanings of aufgehen.
Two quick examples for the noun der Aufgang …

  • Ich mag den Sonnenaufgang.
  • I like sunrise.
  • Die Toiletten sind neben Aufgang C1.
  • The restrooms are next to staircase C1.

… and we can move on. Or should I say move upstairs? Hint hint….

raufgehen and draufgehen

As usual, the r-version is super mega uber literal. Raufgehen means to go up(ward) and it works for a person walking upstairs as well as for prices or other numbers.

  • Geh schon mal rauf. Ich komm gleich.
  • You can go ahead and go upstairs. I’ll be right there.
  • Der Ölpreis geht rauf und runter.
  • The oil price is going up and down.

Actually, I’d prefer hochgehen for going upstairs, but I guess it’s largely based on personal preference.
Now, what’s up with draufgehen… why was that part of the headline?

Well, sometimes the r-version and its brother the dr-version actually have such different meanings that they’re not interchangeable. This is not always the case but if it is, the difference is roughly the same.  The r-version stresses the directional aspect, the dr-version is more focused on the final destination. So in our case that means raufgehen is like “going upward” and “draufgehen” is  “go on top of something”.

  • “Mist, das Selfie wurde nicht gespeichert. ”
    “Ich glaub, dass auf die SD-Karte nix mehr draufgeht.”
  • “Damn, the selfie wasn’t saved.”
    “Ohhhh… why?”
    “I think, I can’t put more on my SD card.”

Think of the SD card as a stack or pile. You can’t put anything on top of it anymore. But okay, that example really isn’t the best and raufgehen would work, too. Draufgehen just fits a bit better.
“Wait, so if they are mostly interchangeable, then why do you even talk about this?”
Well, the thing is… draufgehen is used in a couple quite common figurative expressions.

  • Der Schauspieler wäre bei dem Stunt fast draufgegangen.
  • The actor almost died performing that stunt.
  • Fast die Hälfte des monatlichen Studentenbudgets geht für die Miete drauf.
  • Almost half of the student’s monthly budget is spent on rent.

Draufgehen can either mean to die or more generally to be used up for something. I can’t really tell you how this connects to what we had. Maybe some sort of being put on a “used up”-pile.
Anyway, what matters is that raufgehen absolutely does NOT work here.

  • Der Schauspieler ist für den Stunt fast raufgegangen.

This would sound like the actor almost went upstairs for the stunt. So here, raufgehen and draufgehen are completely different words. And by the way… that’s also the case for daraufgehen.

  • Der Schauspieler ist fast daraufgegangen.

That doesn’t even make sense.
So, all this is nothing that you need to remember actively or that’ll help you pass your exam. But I wanted to mention it to show you that dr-version is NOT ALWAYS just a colloquial dar-version (as standard textbook lore claims) and that there can be a subtle yet significant difference between the r-version and the dr-version.
God, I hate this shit. This “r-dr-dar-stuff. It’s sooo confusing. Really… if you feel like “I didn’t get that last part” then that’s fine. Think of it as planting a seed. You can’t see it now but we’ll water it with repetition (because I talk about the same stuff in other episodes of the prefix verb series) and slowly it’ll sprout and grow into a nice flower called Sprachgefühl. And if some day you’re like “Wait, I can’t really put it in words but I think I actually got a handle on dr- and r- and dar-… then my plan is aufgegangen. And if you’re feeling tired… well this “link” brings you to the lullaby :)

Oh boy … soooo serious, this song. And by the way, what’s with the editing in the video? My god, it’s like Michael Bay did it.
Anyway… that’s it for today folks. This was  our look at the meaning of aufgehen and the three main takeaways are that it can mean “to open (by itself)” and to rise for the sun and that it has a bunch of other uses that you might encounter here and there.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions about aufgehen or if you want to try out some examples, just leave me a comment; and leave me a like if you enjoyed this post. I hope you did, schöne Woche euch und bis nächstes mal.

** aufgehen –  fact sheet **

to rise (for the sun, the moon and dough)
to work out – for plans
to find (complete) fulfillment  – for jobs, activties, hobbies (“Ich gehe in etwas auf”)
to come open (for doors, shoes, zippers etc)

spoken past:
form of sein + aufgegangen

written past: 
ging- auf /aufging-

related words:
der Aufgang – the stairway (in stadiums for example, also: the rising of the sun)
raufgehen – go up(ward), go upstairs
draufgehen – to die, to be spent on something (in a negative sense)

zugehen (for “to open”)
untergehen (for the sun only)
zusammenfallen (for dough)
nicht aufgehen (for plans and items to distribute)

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