The German prefix “aus” (and other words for “out”)

Written By: Emanuel Updated: July 27, 2023

Hello everyone,

and welcome back to a new episode of the series German Prepositions Explained – the series that makes prepositions suck 30% less.
And today it’s time for the second part of our look at the trials and tribulations of

aus

In part one, we learned that the core theme of aus and is outward and that that can be used to express the idea of leaving, exiting, but also for the idea of emerging and origin.
If you haven’t read part one, or you want to review it again, you can find it here:

German Prepositions Explained – “aus” (Part I)

We also started to talk about aus as a prefix and saw how it bends and twists the two core ideas.
Today, we’ll continue with the prefix, because it actually has a couple of themes that are kind of new… or at least they might seem that way.
So are you ready to jump in?
Then let’s go.

Two Themes of “aus”-verbs

The first “side-theme” of the prefix aus is something like finishing or completely. And a great way to see how that ties in with the core of aus is the verb austrinken

  • Ich trinke mein Bier aus.
  • I finished (drink up) my beer.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Finishing your beer means getting it all “out”. And we can kind of find that in other verbs in that group.

  • Der See trocknet aus.
  • The lake dries up.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Morgen kann ich ausschlafen.
  • Tomorrow, I can sleep in.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Der Chef beutet seine Mitarbeiter aus.
  • The boss exploits his employees.
    (literally: “loots out”)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Lass mich bitte ausreden.
  • Please let me finish (my sentence).
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Ich bin total ausgepowert.
  • I’m completely exhausted.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

In all these, we get something “out” completely.
But if we really think about it,  finishing and ending are inherently connected to the notion of leaving.When we finish a project, we also “leave” the project. When we leave the bar, then our time there ends.
Or take this example with one of the meanings of ausgehen.

  • Wie geht die Serie aus?
  • How does the series end?
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Actually, just think of the phrase “The series goes out with a bang.”… that’s the perfect showcase for how leaving and ending overlap.

And that also brings us to the second theme I want to talk about.
And I’m sure many of you are already kind of familiar with it, because even though there are not that many verbs with it, it is absolutely essential for daily life that it’s hard to not see.
I’m talking of course about the idea of inactive, deactivated or simply off.

  • Das Licht ist aus.
  • The light is off.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Well… technically aus sein isn’t actually a prefix verb but rather a verb and an adverb , but who cares. It’s really just a spelling convention, after all.

So, aus is THE German word for off in the sense of inactive, and at least in my opinion, it is connected to what we already had.

You see, if I leave a bar, for example, if I go outside, I’m no longer present there. Except in the mind of the ladies, of course, because I’m an absolute alpha-chad.
But yeah, I’m not in the bar anymore. Me being in the bar has ended.
And when the barkeeper later turns off the light… the light is not in the bar anymore. It “left” the space. It has ended.
The notion of leaving and the notion of off, inactive have in common the idea of not being “there”, not being present.
If you’re now like “Nah… that’s too twisted for me.” that’s totally fine, you can just ignore it then and think of off as an independent idea.
Anyways… here are some examples.

  • Kannst du deine Musik ausmachen?
  • Can you turn off your music?
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Warum ist das Projekt noch nicht fertig?”
    “Mein Computer geht immer aus, wenn ich arbeiten will.”
  • “Why isn’t the project finished yet?”
    “My computer turns off whenever I want to work.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Ich habe den ganzen Tag versucht, dich anzurufen.”
    “Ja, sorry… ich hatte mein Handy aus.”
  • “I tried calling you all day.”
    “Yeah, sorry… I had my phone (turned) off.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And while there are a few more verbs carrying this idea (like ausschalten for example), ausmachen and ausgehen and also aus sein are really all you’ll need in daily life.

All right.
So now we have a pretty complete overview over what aus can do as a prefix. And I hope you could see how the core theme of “outward” with its two aspects of leaving and emerging is wafting through all the various aus-verbs, even though it gets twisted and bent.

Usually in this series, we’d now take a look at these fixed combinations of verbs with a preposition. Like ankommen auf or Angst haben vor.

But for aus, there really isn’t anything to explore.
There are a few of these fixed combinations, like bestehen aus (consist of) or  ableiten aus (to derive from) but those are perfectly in line with the idea of origin that we already established for the preposition.

So there’s not much to analyze here.

But there is another area, that definitely could use some clearing up and that’s all the direct relatives of aus.

aus, außen, draußen, außer and so on

When it comes to expressing spatial information, German is a bit OCD, in that it really likes to be precise.
That’s why there are often several words where English uses one and the same and the aus-crew is a great example for that.

So let’s go over those real quick, in no particular order.

raus

We already talked about that in part one, but no harm in repeating this one because it’s so so important. raus essentially is out as a direction of an action.
So it is essentially an answer to the question “where to?“.
There are loads of prefix verbs with raus like rausgehen or rauskommen and it also works by itself.

  • “Wo gehst du hin?”
    Raus.
  • “Where are you going?”
    Outside.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Some learners sometimes use raus as a preposition and say something like “raus dem Haus”. If you catch yourself doing that… that’s wrong :).
Because raus is NOT a preposition. So there you need aus.
Cool.
Next one!

draußen

Draußen is the “steady” version of raus, so while raus answers the question “where to?”, draußen answers the question “where?”

  • “Wo bist du?”
    Draußen.
  • “Where are you?”
    Outside.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Draußen ist es kalt.
  • Outside, it’s cold.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Like raus, draußen is NOT a preposition, so you can not say something like “draußen dem Haus” for “outside of the house“.
People would probably say vor dem Haus here, which means in front of the house. But technically, the closest word is the next one on our list… außerhalb.

außerhalb

Außerhalb means outside of and it’s one of the view prepositions in German where you actually need Genitive.

  • Rauchen ist nur außerhalb des Stadions erlaubt.
  • Smoking is only allowed outside of the stadium.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Hallo, Sie rufen leider außerhalb der Öffnungszeiten an.
  • Hello, You’re calling outside of the business hours.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

As you can see, außerhalb is not limited to locations.
And it can even be used as a location by itself, in the phrase von außerhalb, which essentially means “not from here/there”.

  • Ich komme von außerhalb.
  • I’m not from here.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

This sounds a bit formal though, and it’s hard to use idiomatically, so I’d put that one on the pile of passive vocabulary.

außen

außen is an adverb again, so it can answer the question “where?” by itself. But while draußen is about the outside as a space, außen is more about the outside as … well… a side. On the outside is a pretty good match, actually.
It can technically stand on its own, but in practice, it is actually very often combined with a von or nach or im.

  • Von außen sieht das Restaurant aus, wie ein Schuppen.
  • From the outside/on the outside the restaurant looks like a shack.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Deine Gedanken manifestieren sich im Außen.
  • Your thoughts manifest on the outside.
    (One of the standard phrases spiritual influencers use.)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Der Spieler rennt nach außen.
  • The player runs outside.
    (He is still in bounds here, außen refers to the outer part of the field here, not the outside of it.)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Die Partei ist rechts außen im politischen Spektrum.
  • The party is on the far right in the political spectrum.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

As you can see, it’s used in quite the range of contexts. But there’s one context where it doesn’t really fit. Which brings us to the next word.

äußerlich

äußerlich also translates to on the outside but its main use case is the context the appearance of someone, where außen would sound a bit strange.

  • Äußerlich ist Maria ruhig, aber innerlich kocht sie vor Wut.
  • On the outside, Maria is calm, but inside, she is boiling with rage.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Thomas achtet nur auf das Äußerliche.
  • Thomas only cares about the looks.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

außer

Last but not least, we have außer, which is the German word for except, but (and besides, in certain contexts).

  • Einhörner essen alles, außer Sushi.
  • Unicorns eat everything except Sushi.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Thomas räumt nie auf, außer wenn ein Date kommt.
  • Thomas never cleans, except when a date is coming over.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

I’ve actually talked about außer in more detail in a separate article, so I’ll leave the link below if you want to know more.

And we’re almost done but let’s give an honorable mention to the two verbs äußern and veräußern.
Äußern is basically a slightly formal sounding verb for the idea of bringing your thoughts to the outside and depending on context, it can be to make a statement or to comment or simply to express.

  • Maria hat im Meeting Kritik an ihrer Chefin geäußert.
  • Maria voiced/expressed criticism about her boss at the meeting.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Die Eichhörnchen äußern sich nicht zu den Verhandlungen.
  • The squirrels are not making statements about the negotiations.
    (äußern needs a direct object, that’s why the sich is here)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And veräußern is a formal term for…. selling. But it really only works for huge sales, like selling land or selling the assets of a business. It absolutely DOESN’T work for selling normal retail goods.

And I think that’s it :).
Yeaaay!
This was our look at aus, its use as a prefix and its various relatives. The main challenge are definitely the prefix verbs which are not always obvious, but I hope you got a good impression of how the core theme of outward gets twisted and bent to create the wimmelpicture of meanings that we see in a dictionary.

As usual, if you want to check how much you remember just take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And if you have any questions are suggestions about aus, you know what to do… just leave me a comment :).
I hope you liked it, have a great week and I’ll see you next time!

 

 

further reading:

Word of the Day – “außer”

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