Prefix Verbs Explained – “einstellen”


Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of the most epic series of all time – Prefix Verbs Explained.
Whoop, whoop… they hype train just reached the station. And we’ll all get on board.
And yes! I did have a beer before the show and I will have another one right now, as we look at the meaning of



What’s that? You think drinking beer while teaching German is the wrong mindset and you’re not sure whether you should even listen to me?
Well, fair enough, feel free to consult a dictionary about einstellen.
Everybody back? Great :).
Then let’s jump right in.

A quick look at the list of possible translations of einstellen can be demoralizing, indeed – to cease, to employ, to set, to adjust, to mentally prepare.  I mean, how are we ever to learn this crazy language.
However, like most prefix verbs, einstellen is a lot more bark than bite. So all the seemingly random translations can actually be boiled down to one or a couple of core ideas.

The prefix ein has two ideas it can add to a verb. One is the sense of inward, the other is the idea of on as in activated.
And the verb stellen is one of the two main ways of “putting” stuff somewhere.
So taken literally, einstellen is something like “putting in” and that is actually kind of already enough to understand why einstellen means to employ. You “put someone in” a position. And you put to work. So it actually also matches with the “active”-idea of ein.

  • Mein Unternehmen läuft super. Ich werde 3 neue Leute einstellen.
  • My business is going great. I am going to employ 3 new people.

There is another translation for to employ, though – the very similar looking anstellen. We’ve talked about that in a separate article so I’ll leave the link below. The difference between anstellen and einstellen is to a large extend a matter of what’s idiomatic in a given context, and it’s not worth spending too much time on. But anstellen is definitely the more common one.

The main meaning of einstellen is something different. And the key to that is another verb of “placing”: to set.

“einstellen” and settings

The direct brother in German is setzen but the languages each use their versions “verbs of placing” slightly differently.
And einstellen became THE word for the idea of entering settings.  I mean, you do kind of “put” something “in” or “on” when you enter settings, so it makes a lot of sense actually.

  •  Thomas stellt seine Klimaanlage ein.
  • Thomas adjusts/configurates/stets up his airconditioning.
  • Maria stellt einen neuen Radiosender ein.
  • Maria tunes in a new radio station. (lit.)
  • Kannst du mir meinen Computer so einstellen, dass er nicht immer automatisch Updates runterlädt, sobald ich online bin.
  • Could you set up my computer such that it won’t automatically download updates whenever I am online.

As you can see, the translations vary, but the idea of “entering settings” is always there.
And it’s not limited to devices, either.
Einstellen can also be done with humans. Not in a sense of programming, of course, but in the sense of mentally preparing.
Technically, we can einstellen someone else auf (for) something…

  • Der Manager stellt das Team auf eine anstrengende Woche ein.
  • The manager “mentally prepares“/primes the team for an exhausting week.

But by far the more common use is the one with a self reference, sich einstellen …. so us “setting” ourselves

  • Um sich auf das Meeting einzustellen, hat Maria alle Akten gelesen.
  • In order to prepare for the meeting, Maria has read all the files.
  •  Wegen Corona müssen wir uns auf einen nicht ganz normalen Herbst einstellen.
  • Because of corona we have to expect/get ready for a not completely normal fall.
  • Stell dich darauf ein, dass es morgen regnet.
  • Prepare yourself that it will rain tomorrow.
    Attune yourself to that, that it will rain tomorrow.” (lit.)
  • Ach du bist ja schon da??? Ich war jetzt darauf eingestellt dich erst NACH dem Essen zu sehen.
  • Oh you are here already??? I was thinking that I meet you AFTER dinner.

This einstellen is used quite a lot, but even more important is the corresponding noun die Einstellung.
Of course, that works for devices in the sense of settings (die Einstellungen). Check with your cell phone for example.
But also people have Einstellungen.  Einstellungen about a certain question, Einstellungen towards other people and also general Einstellungen about life…

  • Du bist immer pessimistisch. Das ist die falsche Einstellung.
  • You are always pessimistic. That is the wrong  mind set.
  • Meine Einstellung gegenüber Vegetariern hat sich geändert.
  • My attitude towards vegetarians has changed.
  • Thomas hat eine merkwürdige politische Einstellung.
  • Thomas has a weird political opinion/view.
  • Du musst deine Einstellung ändern, wenn du Erfolg haben willst.
  • You have to change your attitude, if you want to be successful.

As you can see, the translations vary again, but the core idea is always how your mind is “set” about something.
Now, this settingeinstellen is definitely the most important meaning, but there is another one that we haven’t mentioned yet. Some of you might remember it from the intro… it is to cease.

“einstellen” as “to cease”

That’s right!
Einstellen can also mean to cease. More specifically, it is about ceasing an activity.

  • Feuer einstellen!
  • Cease fire/halt your fire!
  • Die Produktion des wurde letztes Jahr eingestellt.
  • The production was stopped last year.
  • Ich bitte Sie, das Telefonieren während der Oper einzustellen.
  • I ask you to stop making phone calls for the duration of the opera.

It is NOT to cease in the sense of something ceasing by itself. Like … a storm can cease, but it can’t einstellen for instance.
Einstellen is about us ceasing something. And what’s also noteworthy is that it can only take nouns. That’s one of the main differences to aufhören, which also means to stop, to cease.
Aufhören can be connected with a verb by using a zu-construction. That will NOT work for einstellen. There, we need to “nounify” the activity.

  • Ich höre auf zu rauchen.
  • I stop smoking.
  • Ich stelle ein, zu rauchen…. WRONG!
  • Ich stelle das Rauchen ein.
  • “I cease the smoking.”

Grammar aside, though, einstellen sounds VERY formal and stiff and it’s not something people typically use in daily life.
So there isn’t even really a question when to use aufhören and einstellen. Just use aufhören!
I just wanted to mention this meaning of einstellen, because it might be REALLY confusing if you and your friends are smoking on a plane and then, because the plane is about to land, they say ask you over the speaker if you can einstellen the smoking. And you’re like “Wait, what do you mean adjust the smoking?”
Well, I guess now we can’t smoke on planes and trains anymore anyway, because of the stupid Corona virus. Or was it because of that?
Anyway, so the ceasing-einstellen is nothing you’ll need on an active day to day level.
Still, you might be wondering how exactly this meaning evolved in the first place.
And honestly, I don’t really know. Maybe, it’s a twist on “putting something inside” in the sense of “putting it away“… though that’s kind of a stretch.
But as I said, this meaning isn’t really all that useful to us, so we shouldn’t worry about it too much.

What is very useful, on the other hand, at least if we like our beers cold, is the version that wraps up all episodes of prefix verbs explained… the infamous r-version


And reinstellen is a classic r-version, because it captures the most literal meaning we can get from the combo of prefix and base verb: the idea of literally putting something inside somewhere. Like a beer in the fridge, for instance.

  • “Ih, das Bier ist warm. Hast du keinen Kühlschrank?”
    “Doch, aber ich habe vergessen, die Biere reinzustellen.”
  • “Ew, the beer is warm. Do you not have a fridge?”
    “I do, but I forgot to put them in there.”
  • Über den Winter sollte man diese Pflanze reinstellen.
  • For the winter you should put this plant inside.

And oh, you can also find it in context of putting up classifieds on the web, sometimes.

  • Ich hab den Tisch bei Ebay reingestellt.
  • I put the table on Ebay.

And I think that’s actually it for today :). Hooray.
This was our look at the meaning of einstellen and die Einstellung.
As usual, if you want to recap and check how much you remember, you can take the little quiz I have prepared.
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.

Oh,  and to end this article with schmaltz, here is the famous Marlene Dietrich… enjoy


further reading:

Prefix Verbs Explained – “aufhören”
Prefix Verbs Explained – “anstellen”


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