Prefix Verbs Explained – “Einkommen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to another episode of our mini series about German Prefix Verbs. Today we’ll look at the meaning of


and this verb is super special because… it has zero meanings. Tadah. Okay, I can’t rule out that it’s part of some regional dialect or that it has some other niche uses but in daily life it means nothing. Case closed. See you next week.
Nah… of course there’s a reason why we’re talking about this. For one thing there’s the noun das Einkommen which does mean income…  but the main reason why einkommen is worth a look is the fact that it’s a really really great example for the whole “prefix verb vs its r-version”-stuff. And if you’re now like “Wait, the what?” then this is for you :). Knowing what an r-version is, and having a feel for what it does what the prefix verbs usually DON’T do is really really helpful… or at least I think it is. So let’s take a look at this. 

One of the notions of prefixes, of the separable ones anyway, is location. The reason for that is that they are also prepositions and those help us express where stuff is in relation to other stuff. Auf means on top of , unter means under, vor means in front of and so on. Ein is actually an exception because it’s the prefix-version for in. But the two were one word once. People just decided to pronounce and spell them differently because… why not.
Anyway,  the notion of location is at the core of these words, no matter in which functions they’re used. Here’s an example in English

  • The cat is in the kitchen.
  • Come in.

The first in is a preposition, the second is not but they both basically express inside-ness… just in different grammatical functions.
The thing with the German prefixes is this: they do add their locational notion to  a verb… but the resulting meaning is usually NOT the simple, straight forward one that would make sense to everyone. And einkommen is the perfect example.
It’s a combination of to come and the prefix version of in, but it does NOT mean to come in. 

  • Come in!

This is NOT gonna be

  • Komm ein!

It would actually be hard for a native speaker of German to even understand what you’re trying to say. I’m sure it sounds crazy to you but “Komm ein!” just feels nothing like “Come in!”. That’s how it is. So how would we say to come in? With the r-version… which is not an official term by the way, I just think it fits. So… the r-version of einkommen is reinkommen. And that is to come in.

  • Komm rein!

Again, I know it sounds crazy but this little tiny “r”, this subtle scratching sound at the beginning of the word, really makes all the difference. German native speakers are incredibly sensitive to this sound,  not least because German is so fussy about location.
Anyway, so while einkommen means nothing at all, reinkommen is actually quite useful because it’s used in a wide range of abstract contexts.

  • Wir wollten gestern ins Berghain, aber wir sind nicht reingekommen.
  • We wanted to go to Berghain (some club) yesterday but we didn’t get in.
  • Ich komm in mein eigenes W-LAN nich’ rein.
  • I can’t get into/connect with my own WLAN/WIFI.
  • In der ersten Halbzeit sind wir nicht gut reingekommen.
  • In the first half we didn’t really get into the game.
    (in German the word game is usually skipped – reinkommen is enough)
  • Ich habe versucht, das Buch zu lesen, aber ich bin nicht richtig reingekommen.
  • I tried to read the book but I didn’t really get into it.
  • Weil 3 große Aufträge reingekommen sind, kauft der Chef für das Team einen Kasten Bier.
  • Because 3 big orders/jobs came in, the boss buys the team a case of beer.

In some more formal contexts hereinkommen is the better choice. Reinkommen is just the shortened version of it. But it’s much more idiomatic in daily life and in first three examples above it would sound quite odd to my ears. I guess we should mention that “Herein!” alone can also mean “Come in!” This is for formal contexts where someone knocked on your office door or something. You wouldn’t say it at home if your partner knocks on the door of the office room. Unless you’re a really formal couple :)
All right.
So, quick recap: when you combine a prefix with a verb you can get all kinds of meanings, some just slightly abstract, others downright insane. But the basic, locational meaning that makes sense to everyone….  is most likely NOT among them. Like… imagine making a pasta sauce from tomatoes and red wine and the result goes well with pasta and tastes interesting…  but not like a tomato red wine sauce. That’s kind of how German prefix verbs work. Call it confusing or complicated.. but that stuff  is what you signed up for when you chose German.
All right. Now, we’ve already mentioned that there is a noun das Einkommen which does mean the income so let’s look at some examples for that too and then wrap up.

  • Thomas ist mit seinem Einkommen zufrieden.
  • Thomas is satisfied with his income.
  • Für eine Ratenzahlung benötigen Sie lediglich einen gültigen Personalausweis sowie einen Einkommensnachweis.
  • To apply for installment payment you only need a valid ID and a proof of income.
  • Das durchschnittliche Haushaltsnettoeinkommen in Berlin beträgt 1800 Euro.
  • The average net income per household in Berlin is 1800 Eu
  • Thomas freut sich über seine Einkommenssteuerrückerstattung 
  • Thomas rejoices over his income tax refund.

Phew… one word is longer than the other :). But that’s what you signed up for when you cho…
“Stop saying that. I signed up because it’s supposed to be poetic and deep.” 
Oh… uhm… hmm… well, then you might like this poem:


Vom Himmel brennt die Sonne Feuer
und ich, ich bin im Schatten des Waldes
 Ich jogge und dabei denke ich bald is’
es wieder Zeit für die Einkommenssteuer
oh, das wird teuer. 

I think it was Goethe. But I’m not sure.
Anyways, that’s it for today. This was our super short look at the non-verb einkommen which was really more of a look at prefix verbs  and their r-version in general. And I really hopes it helps clear up these things, give you a “feel” for it. Because I think that’s really helpful. So if I haven’t been clear somewhere or if you have any doubt about anything, just leave me a comment and we’ll tackle it together.
For now, I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** einkommen – fact sheet ** 

none.. because it doesn’t exist
related words:
das Einkommen – the income
die Einkünfte (plural of Einkunft) – another, more officiallererer term for  “income”

(he)reinkommen- to come in, to get in somewhere, to enter