German Prefix Verbs – “ausziehen”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: July 25, 2023

Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode ofme everyone’s favorite series: Prefix Verbs Explained.
And today, we’ll take a look at the meaning of

ausziehen

Which a normal mind would assume means to pull out. I mean… ziehen means to pull, and aus means out.
But that’s of course not how German prefix verbs work.
There’s pretty much always a twist there. Or like half a dozen twists and turns.
And for all the prefix verbs of ziehen, one of the biggest twists is the meaning of the base verb itself.
If you’ve read my articles on ziehen or einziehen, a lot of this is probably familiar, but repetition is the mother of skill as they say ;).

By the way, the cartoon on the top is actually a sneak peek for two of the cartoons of the book my friend Helen and I are working on.
We are currently trying to finalize the format and design and once that is done, we can do the editing and the final touches. It’s quite a tricky layout to pin down, and we already “fired” one designer. But we’re on it and it’ll be finished eventually :).
We have an info page where you can sign up for a newsletter that is just specific to the book (many of you are already on it).

PrefixVerbs.com (Info-Page for our book)

And if you’re on Instagram, you really should also check out Helen’s page. She’s a German learner herself and she does really lovely cartoons for German expressions and words. Like this one for “verrückt” which I find absolutely genius :)

But now, let’s jump in and learn about ausziehen.

ziehen, ausziehen and moving

Many beginners soon learn that ziehen means to pull and you’ll see it on a lot of doors in Germany.
But ziehen also means to move. In the sense of “migrating”.

  • Die Vögel ziehen nach Süden.
  • The birds migrate south.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

When you hear about this for the first time as a learner, this must sound like a super random combination, but it actually makes sense if you picture about how people would move back hundreds of years. They’d put their belongings on a carriage or makeshift sled and pull it along, or have some animals pull it. In fact, ziehen is the German cousin of the English verb to tow and that one does have a connection of pulling but also moving to a new place.
The common ancestor of the family, the predictably Ancient Indo-European root *deuk- , was actually about a sense of leading, guiding, going ahead. Which also fits with both ideas of pulling and moving.
But I think the image of a person pulling a carriage is more helpful in remembering the word. 

Anyway, this notion of moving, migrating is the reason why many prefix versions of ziehen have one meaning that is about moving places, in particularly apartments, and with that in mind it makes perfect sense that ausziehen means to move out.

  • “Wie läuft’s mit dem neuen Mitbewohner?”
    “Der zieht morgen schon wieder aus. Gott sei Dank.”
  • “How are things going with your new flatmate?”
    “He’s moving out again already tomorrow. Thank God.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And because it’s about us moving from place A to place B, the spoken past is of course built with the helper sein.

  • “Meine Nachbarn sind gestern ausgezogen.”
    “Sind die nicht gerade erst eingezogen?”
  • “My neighbors moved out yesterday.”
    “Haven’t they just moved in?”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Cool.
So that’s one of the meanings of ausziehen, and it’s definitely one you should add to your active vocabulary.
But the second meaning is even more important. Because we do it every day.

ausziehen and clothes

ausziehen and its counterpart anziehen are the main two German verbs for putting on (anziehen) or taking off (ausziehen) clothes.
And the best way to memorize this is to think of skinny jeans or leggings that are just a liiiiittle bit too tight. You do have to do some pulling to get them on and off :).

What makes ausziehen (and anziehen) a bit tricky is the way people phrase their sentences with them.
In English, you’d say this:

  • I take off my shirt.

And the same “structure” in German would look like this:

  • Ich ziehe mein Shirt aus.

And this is NOT wrong, by any means. People do say that.
But they also use a different phrasing – something German likes to do when talking about body related things like washing hands or brushing teeth…

  • Ich ziehe mir das Shirt aus.
  • I take off the shirt “to myself”.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

In these contexts, Germans tend to add themselves as the receiver of the “service” (hence Dative) and they also tend to drop the possessive article and just use the normal one.

  • Soll ich mir die Schuhe ausziehen?
  • Should I take off my shoes?
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Thomas hat sich im Meeting die Hose ausgezogen.
  • Thomas took off his pants in the meeting.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Now the analytical part of your brain might low-key start hyperventilating like “OMG, so ausziehen is a reflexive verb?! I think that’s a reflexive verb! Taking clothes off is reflexive in German, this is sooo confusing.”
But I don’t think it really makes sense to call ausziehen a reflexive verb.
You see… you can also take off someone else’s clothes.

  • Maria zieht mir das Shirt aus.
  • Maria takes off my shirt.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

This is the exact same structure. We’re taking off clothes from someone – the receiver of the action.
In the earlier examples, we took them off of ourselves, now we’re taking them off of someone else.
And here, we can’t really skip the mir, because then it wouldn’t be clear who was wearing the shirt – was she wearing it or was I wearing it. Or was Thomas wearing it. Grrrr…. he better not!!!
English is like “Cpt. Context, help!” and Cpt. Context is like “I got you, bro!” and saves the day, as he always does.

But yeah, in German it’s normal to add the “receiver” of the undressing and I recommend practicing it, because it just sounds much more natural.

Now, so far we were talking about taking off single pieces of clothing.
However, ausziehen can also be used in the more general sense of undressing. And here, German lines up pretty well with the English verb to undress someone. So you need a direct object and that can be someone else or you yourself.

  • Maria zieht mich aus.
  • Maria undresses me.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

 

  • Ich ziehe mich aus.
  • I undress myself.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Again…. I wouldn’t call this a reflexive verb. It’s just a normal verb that you can “do” to others or yourself.
But ultimately, it’s up to you how you want to look at it.

Cool.
Let’s do the two phrasings back to back once again.

  • Ich habe mir die Hose ausgezogen.
  • I have taken off my pants.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Ich habe mich ausgezogen.
  • I got undressed.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And just to make sure, let’s explicitly note the past tense. For ausziehen in the sense of moving, it was done with the helper sein. But for taking off clothes, the helper is of course haben, because in this sense, the verb is not about us going from one location to another.

All right, so those are the two main meanings of ausziehen moving out and taking off clothes.

Are there others?
Well, technically yes. In the context of an extendable device, ausziehen mean to extend, to pull out and the noun der Auszug can be the moving out, but also an extract or excerpt.

  • “Die Couch kann man ausziehen …. und mich auch ;).”
    “Couch reicht!!”
  • “You can pull out/extend the couch… and me too ;).”
    “Couch is enough!!”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Morgen liest Thomas einen Auszug aus seinem neuen Roman  “Der Zebra-BH-Bro” in dem Café, wo sein Kumpel arbeitet.
  • Tomorrow, Thomas will read an excerpt/sample/part of his new novel “The Zebra-Bra-Bruh” in the Café where his buddy works.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

The Zebra-Bra is a really good novel, by the way. The New York Times called it “The quintessential portrait of the TikTok generation.” and Tucker Carlson, the famous literature critic of Fox news called it “The ‘Civil Disobedience’ of Gen Z.”
Oh and that old librarian called it garbage.
Anyway… uh… I think I just zoned out a bit, I’m sorry. Forget what I just said.
And you can also forget the side meaning of ausziehen. You’ll recognize them when you see them in context and that’s enough.
But what might be worth remembering besides the two main meanings of ausziehen is … the r-version.

rausziehen

If you don’t know what I mean by r-version… no worries. I’ve got an article about it (link below).
But the one key thing to understand about prefix verbs and their r-versions is:

r-versions usually have the most literal, spatial meaning
you can create from verb and prefix.

And rausziehen is a prefect example, because it simply means… to pull out. In the literal sense of pulling out an object from somewhere.

  • Aua, ich habe einen Splitter im Finger. Kannst du mir den rausziehen?
  • Outch, I have a splinter in my finger. Can you pull it out for me?
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Rausgezogen und trotzdem schwanger – geht das? (Spoiler: ja!)
  • Pulled out and still pregnant – is that possible? (Spoiler: yes!)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Wenn die Programmierer anfangen, zu diskutieren, ziehe ich mich langsam aus dem Meeting raus.
  • Once the programmers start arguing, I start extracting, pulling out myself from the conversation.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

The last one is a bit abstract, but that’s more of an exception because rausziehen does not really work in the context of pulling out of a deal, for example.
And as for herausziehen… that is the same, in this case. It just sounds more formal and stiff and boring. And no… it is NOT like that is proper German and rausziehen is JUST colloquial slang. These r-versions really deserve to be seen as proper words.
But check out the post on r-versions for more on that.

So… I think that’s it for today. Hooray.
This was our look at the meaning of ausziehen. As always, you can check if you remember the most important bits by taking 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 see you next time.

 

further reading: 

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