German 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 Euro.
  • 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

5 4 votes
Article Rating

Newsletter for free?!

Sign up to my epic newsletter and get notified whenever I post something new :)
(roughly once per week)

No Spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Your Thoughts and Questions

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

Is this r-version meaning pretty much standard? For example, the word einschließen. How would you say something like, “Do I have to lock/shut you in there?” I have a few ways, maybe you can explain the differences.

Muss ich dich einschließen?
Muss ich dich reinschließen?
Muss ich dich drinnen einschließen?

Are any/all of these correct, and which sounds the most natural to you?

6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

That is clear in this instance, but I’m still having trouble with other examples. How about taking a pill?

Ich nehme die Pille rein.
Ich nehme die Pille ein.

There’s definitely a directed movement there, but I’m pretty sure rein is incorrect here.

I’m also confused about the ein-prefix in general in many cases, as the “in/into” guideline is not always clear. First one that comes to mind is sammeln vs. einsammeln. I can’t see how you would gather “into” something. Unless we’re talking about a mouse gathering cheese and collecting it inside its mouse hole.

Die Maus sammelt den Käse.
Die Maus sammelt den Käse ein.

Is there a difference?

6 years ago

Du hast zwei ‘s’ in Einkommenssteuerrückerstattung .

6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

GoogleTranslate sagt dass nur ein ‘s’ notwendig ist.

6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Also, das ist wirklich nur ein komischer Steuerbehördensprech.
Die überwiegende Tendenz im Deutschen ist es, bei solchen Zusammensetzungen nach dem Infinitiv immer das Fugen-s einzufügen. Es gibt nur ein paar Ausnahmen – das Steuerrecht und einzelne Wörter wie Erdbeben- (vorsorge, dienst), Andenken- (laden, buch) u.Ä. Ich vermute mal, diese können als Pluralformen aufgefasst werden (die Vorsorge für die Erdbeben, der Laden der Andenken, die Steuern auf die Einkommen).

6 years ago

Hallo! Danke für deine Beiträge! Ich wollte wissen, hast du dir dies schon angeschaut?

Ich finde, Anki ist super! Was hälst du von Flashcards?

7 years ago

Einkommenssteuerrückerstattung – hat Thomas Geld zuruck bekommt (auf Englisch – a tax refund) oder ist dies das Formular dass man ausfullen muss um die Regierung zu sagen wieviel Steur mann zahlen muss? (auf Englisch – doing your tax return – etwas was niemand gern habt!)
Danke fur das wunderbare Blog und entschuldigung dass mein Deutsch so schlect ist – ich habe auf der Uni vor 30 Jahren gelernt und versuche jetzt es zu verbessern.

7 years ago

“Herein!” meaning “Come in!”? I’d love to know why you don’t use it. Old fashioned? Regional? Or just not your top pick?

In the example “In der ersten Halbzeit sind wir nicht gut reingekommen.” I assume that “the game” is football, but I’m not sure whether it’s about a team not playing well, spectators not being interested, or either. The English version could be either, depending on context. In the English “first half” and context would be enough for “the game” to be just “it”.

7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ja, das hilft. Danke.
Now I know what Brazilians might have said (if they spoke German) about their World Cup 2014 semi-final. Nach mal in der zweiten Halbzeit.

7 years ago

You can still have a fit of pique… I think? (Which – I think – more or less means spit the dummy)

7 years ago

Just accidentally found your blog while looking up for some word meanings, and now just couldn’t stop reading all your older posts. Thanks so much for all your articles! They made so much of my German problems clear. Definitely gonna follow your blog from now on!

7 years ago

You’ve mentioned the ‘r-version’ in a few of your posts, but have you ever written one exclusively about that? I’m not sure I fully grasp it based on the sporadic mentions.

Thanks for the articles!

7 years ago

These r-version posts are really helpful. Does it always work to replace “rein” with “herein”? “Komm bitte herein”? And this question may not make sense but should r-versions only be thought of as with ‘her’ and not ‘hin’? Obviously there’s no ‘r’ in hin but thusfar I’ve been thinking of her/hin as two sides of the same coin. So if I were standing inside my house and said to someone outside at the door “Kommen Sie bitte rein”, they’re coming in, moving towards me. But what if I’m standing outside with them and I want to say “Come inside with me”, would it still be rein or could I say “Komm hinein”? (Or maybe you can’t even use kommen and have to use gehen?) I think I’ve heard “Wirf das Gemüse in der Kochtopf rein”, so is that herein, or hinein as I would assume?

6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks, that’s really helpful. “Hergehen” which you say they use in the West is exactly what I was wondering about. I haven’t heard of the “n-versions” but that’s also helpful too, will have to keep an eye/ear out for it.

7 years ago

Doesn’t ‘r’ come from word ‘her’ ? reinkommen = hereinkommen.

Nikolaus Wittenstein

“didn’t really get into it” is exactly what you’d say in English. Also “couldn’t get into it” or “it didn’t grab me”.
In English, interest isn’t spawned, but it can be piqued: “The book piqued my interest.” I think the word pique isn’t really used anywhere else anymore, just in that context.

7 years ago

So, as you once mentioned, r-versions are kind of direct meanings for locations. Still, there must an exception, otherwise it’s not German

7 years ago

why did you not mention herein, for heaven’s sake!?