Prefix Verbs Explained – “ausfallen”

ausfallen-meaningHello everyone,

and welcome to another episode of Prefix Verbs Explained. Today we’ll have a look at the verb that’s probably the favorite word of all students… especially in summer.



Aus can add two notions to a verb: switched-off-ness and outside-ness.  And in combination with fallen, switched-off-ness doesn’t make too much sense. I mean… switching off by falling?

“Honey, can you turn out the light?”
“Sure.” (shoves bed side lamp from the nightstand)
“That was our last one. We gotta get new ones tomorrow.”

What a dumb system that would be. 

So we’re probably dealing with the idea of outside-ness and ausfallen can actually be translated to to fall out.

  • Thomas denkt, dass ihm langsam die Haare ausfallen.
  • Thomas thinks that his hair is starting to fall out.

And if you’re now worried that German has gotten simple and convenient.. calm down. It hasn’t. This super literal ausfallen is pretty much limited to hair and teeth, though, so it’s NOT for random object falling out of your pocket.

  • Mein Handy ist ausgefallen.

This sentence would be understood in sense of your phone falling out of service and that’s because it’s essentially a variation of the main meaning of ausfallen:

to not take place although it was scheduled

Some event or something “falls out”, so it’s not there. The result is the same as the result of to cancel. But ausfallen makes it sound like the event cancelled itself. Instead of “being cancelled” a meeting “falls out”. It’s a pretty handy word, especially because some events just don’t take place without anyone having to had cancelled.

  • Wegen Hitze fällt die Schule heute aus.
  • Because of the heat, school is cancelled today.
  • Der Sommer fällt dieses Jahr wohl aus.
    (common headline when there’s a rainy summer with no end in sight)
  • Looks like summer is cancelled this year.
  • “Na, wie war der Deutschkurs”
    “Gar nicht. Ist ausgefallen.”
  • “And? How was the German course?”
    “It wasn’t. It was cancelled.

And in context with a phone or other technical devices you depend on, the idea is broadened to falling out of service. You expect your phone to work but it stops.

  • Leider ist in diesem Zug die Klimaanlage ausgefallen. Wir bitten um ihr Verständnis.
  • Unfortunately, the air condition in this train isn’t working. We ask for your understanding.

This technical context is also part of the noun der Ausfall but it’s used for a wide range of contexts where something you expected doesn’t come or happen.

  • Der Stromausfall hat drei Tage gedauert.
  • The blackout/power outage lasted for three days.
  • Thomas arbeitet jetzt halbtags, aber er hat Probleme mit dem Verdienstausfall.
  • Thomas is working part time now but he is having trouble with the loss of earnings.
  • Kreditausfallversicherungen waren einer der Hauptauslöser der Finanzkrise.
  • Credit default swaps (CDS) were one of the main causes for the financial crisis.

Kreditausfallversicherungen… what a boring, long word. Had this thing had this name, we might not have a had a financial crisis :).

“I have some money to invest. Any ideas?”
“Hell yeah.  Kreditausfallversicherungen!”
“Kredisauserfallichungersen. It’s a German word. They’re the shit.”

“Uh … yeah … uh … do you also have treasury bonds?”

All right.
So this was the bread and butter meaning of ausfallen. But there’s another one, a more fancy one.

  • Die Ernte ist ausgefallen.

This is the ausfallen we know and it’s bad news for the village because the harvest didn’t take place (I think there’s an Aldi there though, so they’ll be okay).

  • Die Ernte ist gut ausgefallen.

This on the other hand is a reason to party because they had a good harvest.
And if you’re now like “Wait, how can one verb mean two things that are so opposed?” Well, the reason is simply that out is relative and it can be about both… getting out of the scene and getting out into the scene. Here’s an example in English.

  • Go out! (leaving)
  • Come out! (entering)

And ausfallen works in both senses. Something falls out of the scene… like the air condition in trains in summer. Or it can fall out into the scene. Like a good harvest. A very good translation for this second ausfallen is to turn out.

  • Das Feedback ist größtenteils positiv ausgefallen.
  • The feedback was mostly positive.

It’s a bit formal and technical sounding and mostly used for things like reviews, financial balance reports, bottom lines, summaries, feedback decisions and tests. So you wouldn’t use it to tell someone how your soup turned out.

  • Das Urteil über den Film ist überwiegend negativ ausgefallen… newspaper language

  • Fast alle fanden den Film scheiße… discussion board language

If you want to sound posh or impress your teacher, try and use this ausfallen but the one you’ll really need is the other one, the one that’s about stuff not happening.

All right. Now, before we move on, we should quickly mention a couple of uses that are a bit independent of the verb. The ge-form ausgefallen can be used in the sense of extraordinary and the phrase ausfallend werden means to become verbally abusive. I think the idea in both cases is falling out of some kind of norm, if that makes sense.

  • Maria hat einen ausgefallenen Musikgeschmack.
  • Maria has an extraordinary/unusual taste of music.
  • Der Manager wird beim Meeting ausfallend.
  • The manager loses it at the meeting (in the sense of he’s starting to insult people… is there a better translation for it? Danke!)

I think we have a solid grasp on ausfallen now. Time to pimp it up…

Yo dawg, I heard you like r-versions?
So, I put an “r” in your car so you can roll while you drive.

Wow… that made noooo sense.


And rausfallen is a great example for r-versions taking the combination of verb and prefix literally. It simply means to fall out in sense of … well… falling out of something.

  • Meine Tasche war offen und mein Handy ist rausgefallen.
  • My purse was open and my phone dropped out.
  • Marias Dekoltee war so tief… da ist beinahe alles rausgefallen.
  • Maria’s cleavage was so low, that ‘things’ almost fell out.
  • Ich muss zum Zahnarzt. Mir ist gestern eine Füllung rausgefallen.
  • I have to go to the dentist. I lost a filling/inlay yesterday.

And that’s it. Really. I know some of you are waiting for some mind yoga but that’ll ausfallen today because … for a German prefix verb ausfallen is ausgefallen pretty straight forward ;).
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to try out some examples, just leave me a comment.
Or just go out and enjoy the sun. That’s what I’ll do now, and by the way, if you’re in Berlin take a bath in the Spree. It’s AWESOME. Just make sure you don’t go in after a heavy rain because than it’s not that clean. But after a few hot, dry days it’s safe.
Anyway, schöne Woche euch und bis nächstes Mal.

** ausfallen – fact sheet **

– to be cancelled, to not take place though originally expected to happen
– to be (to turn out)… only when there’s an adjective and only for result-like words like decision, summaries, feedback or reviews

spoken past:
form of sein + ausgefallen

related words:
ausgefallen – cancelled, also: unusual, extraordinary (for clothes and style)
der Ausfall – failure, loss, outage, default, also: lunge attack (in fencing)
ausfallend – losing “professionality”, getting personally insulting

ausfallen – stattfinden (for meetings and other planned events)
ausgefallen (sense of special) – langweilig, normal 

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