Word of the Day – “holen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day, this time, we’ll take a look at the meaning of



Imagine you and a few people are at a friend’s place. You’re chatting and it’s great fun, but then you notice that your beer is empty.  What’s the natural thing to do?
Exactly, you go home, do some Kundalini Yoga and then you go to bed in order to rise early and study. Or in one word: holen.
So wholesome.
Just kidding. Of course you’d go to the fridge and get another beer.
And THAT’S what holen is … to go get, to fetch

Let’s look at some examples.

As you can see, holen is often translated as just to get and it can carry the idea of to buy but the core notion of fetching, going to get is pretty stable and clear, I think.
And that’s also the case for a whole bunch of prefix versions of holen.
First up, there’s a group, where the prefix basically adds a direction. R-version is the keyword here, for those of you who are regular readers and know I’m serious on the most important prefix verbs. :)

The idea of fapping might seem a bit weird at first but it actually makes a LOT of sense. It is a great stress relief and not only that. It can also make actual sex more enjoyable becau… oh, wait. That’s for my blog. I meant to say that the phrasing sich einen runterholen makes  a lot of sense. Literally it means “to get yourself one down” … and that’s kind of what happens. The little friend is “up” and you bring him back down. The phrasing is pretty common and it’s also used in an abstract sense of being super proud of something and bragging about it.

That’s pretty colloquial though.
Anyway… let’s get to the “real” prefix versions, so the one that DON’T have an r.

And the first one is  abholen which translates to to pick up.

The only difference to normal holen  is that abholen has a strong emphasis on the notion of being awaited.
Next up, we have nachholen. And this one has slight twist to the core idea of “holen”. Literally, it means to “after-get” or “get with a delay“. Do you have an idea where this is going? Nachholen is essentially what you do when you missed out on something but you still want it. Like… imagine you’re sick for a week and then you go back to your intensive German course. There will be a week’s load of material for you to nachholen.
The English phrase to catch up has a similar idea but the usage is completely different and in most of the cases, English would just express the nachholen with to get or to do.

So… so far, everything was pretty clear, right? I mean, the core idea of getting, fetching is clear, there are loads of useful prefix versions that are also pretty clear… kind of a learner’s wet dream!
But a dream no less. With a sobering awakening.
For also holen has…
 a crazy side .
Oh… I… I’m really sorry. I should have warned you that this is NSFW.
That was disgusting! Holen isn’t THAT bad.
Just a bit weird. So let’s take a look.

Down the rabbit holen

Two ducks are sitting at a lake. And they’re super bored, so they decide to make a race across the lake. One duck quickly takes the lead and looks like the sure winner. But then the other one gets a second wind, gains ground… I mean… water and eventually catches up and passes the first one…
Why are we talking about this, you ask?
Because we’d use not one, not two, but three holen-versions to tell this story in German: aufholen, einholen and überholen. Aufholen is about gaining on someone while being behind, einholen one includes the moment of actually catching up and überholen is to actually go in the lead, to overtake to pass.

And those are not the only weird meanings. 
can actually also mean to overhaul, to give something a do-over

Then, there’s the verb  ausholen. Which is the word for what you do before striking. Like… you can ausholen with your hand as a threatening gesture or you can ausholen with a golf club. And the verb is also used figuratively in contexts of explanations … like… if you’re read a few articles here, you know exactly what it is because I’m kind of guilty of it sometimes… making a wiiiiide swing in the explanation ;).

And last but not least, there’s sich erholen, which is all about gaining back one’s strength and can translate to to relax as well as to recover.

Quite a crazy range of meanings, right?
When I first thought about this, I was actually quite confused. Like… I couldn’t really see how these verbs could possibly connect to the core idea of fetching, go and get.
So I did what I always do in these situations…  go on social media and whine about how the German language is NOT fair.
Nah, kidding.
I go online and hole myself some intel about the word… you know, where it comes from and what relatives it has.

The surprising origins of holen

And I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but we already saw an English cousin of holen –  to haul.
We mentioned to overhaul but there’s also to haul off, apparently, which is exactly the same as ausholen… this act of preparing for a punch.
And there’s is keelhaul which is kielholen in German. Keelhauling means pulling someone on a rope along the bottom of a ship (the keel) from one side to the other and it was one of the most severe punishment you could get on ship. Of course, it’s out of date now, but it’s a great help for us. Because it’s a perfect example for the idea holen had a few centuries ago:


 Ausholen (“to haul off”) got its meaning from the simple action of pulling back your hand before a strike. And overhauling was also first used on ships and it was about pulling the rigging of the sails apart for inspection.
And also the core notion of fetching kind of fits in with this idea of pulling. Pulling something means bringing it toward you and eventually getting it. So the holen we know today basically just shifted toward actually going there, instead of pulling.
But there’s actually another word that holen is most probably related to. A very very very common word… drum roll please..  hallo (and of course hello).
Yup, that’s right :).
One very early use of  hallo (or variations) was to holler (another relative) at a ferryman to come get you over the river. Kind of like a one word version of:

“Hey Sir, fetch me!”.

The very origin of the family is most likely the mega ancient Indo-European root *kel(e) which was about shouting, sounding. The holen-branch very early on added a notion of bringing towards you and it eventually focused on this aspect and got a bit more active.
Makes sense. I mean… you can hollah at your beer all you want. It won’t come. If you want to have it, you actually gotta get up from the couch.
Now you might be like “But wait a minute, so there’s a connection to pulling and shouting. But…   does that help us with aufholen or einholen or erholen?”
The answer is … well, kind of sort of, I guess… aufholen and einholen are kind of about decreasing the distance between you and something.
I mean, you’re going for something, kind of. You’re going in the direction of the person ahead, just like you’re going in the direction of a beer.

And for sich erholen… well… you’re kind of getting yourself back.
I know… this is probably not the most compelling “logic”, but if you manage to let go of all the specifics and think of holen as this REALLY vague idea of bringing toward you, then it makes at least a tiny little bit of sense :).
And if not, then don’t worry. The only purpose of making these connections is to help remember the words. If they don’t help, well, then just forget about them.
Don’t forget forget about the holen-verbs themselves though :). They’re all pretty useful. 

And that’s it for today. As always, you can check what you’ve learned with this little quiz we have prepared. And of course, if you have any questions or thoughts just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.


** vocab **

holen – fetch, go get (also used as “to buy”)

rausholen – take out (in the sense of “fetch” from a pocket, usually used for phones or wallets)
reinholen – take in (in the sense of “fetch from outside”)
runterholen – take down (in the sense of bringing down something)
sich einen runterholen – masturbate (for men)

aufholen – catch up, gaining (in a sort of race, but NOT getting equal)
einholen – catch up and be equal(in a sort of race), also: to go shopping (regional)
ausholen – swing (in the sense of preparing for a blow), also: go on a tangent when telling a story
abholen – pick up, go and fetch something that’s waiting (packages, kids)
nachholen – do later what others already did (often used in context of school and missed classes)
der Nachholbedarf – need for catching up

überholen – to overtake (context of race), also: overhaul
überholt – outdated
die Überholspur – the fast lane

sich erholen – to recover, to convalesce, to relax (general idea of getting back to shape)
die Erholung – the relaxation, the recovery

for members :)

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Nice! Just FYI, the email link took me to the “rühren” article instead of this one.

For “nachholen,” I think you’d use “make up for” something in a lot of examples:
– Maria will jetzt alles nachholen, was sie in ihren Zwanzigern verpasst hat.
– Maria wants to *make up for* all the stuff that she missed out on in her twenties.

With some of the r-prefix versions, “get” doesn’t sound quite as natural (“get the plants inside,” “get the beer upstairs”), mainly because it tends to focus on managing/achieving something. I’d say “bring the plants inside” unless I wanted to emphasize that Maria managed to get them inside before the rain hit. Same with the beer – with “get,” it sounds like you’re either in a hurry or it’s going to be difficult, not casual like in the German version. If you leave out the direction word (“inside” or “upstairs”), it sounds fine, just like “holen” by itself.

For whatever reason, that doesn’t apply to “getting your phone out,” which is totally normal. “Getting the Frisbee down from the tree” sounds right, but that’s mainly because it sounds like some sort of achievement.

So yeah, English is weird too.


I was going to say something similar regarding “get sth. inside” and “get sth. upstairs”. “Get” seems to work well on a casual level with simple adverbs like “out”, “in”, “up”, down” etc. but with more involved adverbs like “inside”, “upstairs”, “downhill” it does not. “Get” has an immediacy that ignores the complication and effort involved in reaching such locations and, as you say, combining the two would communicate urgency and a disregard for complication. That urgency might sometimes be required though! If (as a purely randomly imagined example) you were fed up with a drunken relative making a scene in your front garden you would probably say “Get inside!” rather than “Go inside!”.


Or, distilled to its essence, as an American Southerner might say to a misbehaving dog: “Get!” (Pronounced “git,” but I gather that’s a different part of speech with its own meaning in BE.)


For clarity: “Get!/Git!” means “go away!” or just “go!”

Larry Seymour
Larry Seymour

” git” is just short for “get out, or get away” and is mostly Southern US, Western, and rural.


Yes, we have “get” (northern) and “git” (southern) in BE but it means something else (namely an illegitimate offspring).


Ahhhhh, that’s where that comes from… I knew it was an insult, but didn’t know the specific meaning. Makes sense, though.


It’s used as a mild term of abuse without many people actually knowing what it means. Usually prefixed with “daft”, “stupid”, “dirty” etc.


Can you explain the last answer in the quiz? Why is
Ich habe mich von der Silvester-Party erholt


I got that wrong too. I’ll attempt an answer at this and will eagerly await expert analysis…

“Von” is a dative preposition and as such requires the dative pronoun “mir”.

Or, sich erholen is just one of those German words that always takes the dative case?

90% chance I’m wrong.


I am wondering this, too. It looked like there was a box showing the correct answer around the one that didn’t have the reflexive at all, but maybe I’m misinterpreting what the box means.


Let’s get some typos corrected!
“know my serious” (know I’m serious)
isn’t Dach roof and not tree??
“kind of learner’s wet dream!” (a learner’s)

So I did the quiz and got all the holen versions right just to fail miserably on the last one because I thought “sich erholen” was reflexive accusative and not reflexive dative (you used a “sich” example, in which there’s no difference between the cases). And this brings me to a question: is “sich einen runterholen” reflexive accusative or reflexive dative? (dative would make more sense, I suppose, but with German one never knows…)

Another question: is there a difference between “sich erholen” and “sich ausruhen”?

Bis bald


That idiomatic way of bragging (the R one) isn’t used in the US–at least I’ve never heard it.


You said: Maria jerks herself off over her new clothing line.
(I feel like this is idiomatic in English, too, but I’m not sure)

er no!

We sometimes use an expression that could say “Maria really gets off over something…” – excited by, enthused by…

But jerks off is too crude and close to fapping for comfort here!


My mate uses this type of language but he’s vulgar.


Great article. I love how you explain the base word and them allow us poor souls that were not born thinking in German to understand the mind process behind figuring out what the hell those combos of particle + base means.

For me it is always a huge mind-fuck trying to figure out those things on my own, and are the subject of hundreds of flashcards in Anki.

Did you ever do an article on richten? I tried searching via Google and the searchbox but nothing came. A few richtens that you could cover: abrichten, anrichten, aufrichten, ausrichten, berichten, einrichten, errichten, geraderichten, sich, herrichten, hinrichten, verrichten, umrichten and last but not least… unterrichten. But why not… herausrichten? hineinrichten? Oh my God.. so many possibilities…

A question for the other people following the blog.. is there a way to get notified of every new post? How are you guys doing it? Some sort of recipe with RSS and https://ifttt.com/ perhaps?


A question for the other people following the blog.. is there a way to get notified of every new post? How are you guys doing it?

I use Feedly RSS reader for all my old-school blog reading.



Hi guys! Just saying thanks to anyone who payed a little extra so I could get a year for free to use during my A-levels.


That was so much fun I had to share it with my son who is also learning German (because he’s living in Hamburg now).


Where are the NYE party pictures ?


And the 1 January photos :-)


100% First ever!


Ausgezeichnet, ganz toll, Emmanuel! Ich hab selber auch noch ‘ne Menge dazu gelernt. Vielen Dank!

Cyndey B
Cyndey B

Nice article and quiz.
Happy New Year !
Here’s to more German and more Yoga !


Sehr gute! Vielen Danke!


Hello everyone, I’m here to thank you for the support on making possible for me taking the German course of this site. I don’t have the money to afford it and yet the opportunity was given. Vielen Danken, I will make the most out of it. Tschüss!


Audio not working for pronunciations!


Do you think holen might be related to ‘howl’. ‘howling’ is a way of shouting after all.


Thanks for another informative post. I was surprised that wiederholen wasn’t listed. Is that not a word in common usage? It’s the first one that came up in Duolingo (and the only one besides holen).


Not sure if anyone has mentioned this already but in English sich einen runterholen can also be translated to “knock one out” so it’s pretty similar



Quiz, nur 6 falsch

Teil 1 von 3)

Einhörner Gespräch ist hier

Einhorn 1 : Könnten sie bitte mir die zwiebelsuppe holen

Einhorn 2 : Nein,denn du hast mir von der Club nicht abholen

Einhorn 1 : Es was 3 uhr….I brauch etwas Zeit zur Erholung und Schlafen

Einhorn 2 : ich hatte das Bus aufgeholt und dann
eingeholt und dann überholt. Warum? Ich war aufgebracht und also denke ich nicht davon, in den bus zu steigen. Deine Schuld!

Einhorn 1 : Hast du ne Vogel?

Einhorn 2 : ja. Wir spielen zusammen und singen auch

Einhorn 1 : bestimment…..

Einhorn 1 : Überholt. Dieses Einhorn braucht das….

Einhorn 2: Warum du holtst in Richtung auf die Pistole aus

Einhorn 1 : Keine… Gründe

Ende von Gespräch

I couldn’t think of a good example for nachholen. Also, another advice. I know its obvious, but you should mention that sich einen runterholen is vulgar since sometimes people are way too bright like Me.

Teil 2 – Fragen)

1 – So I could technically use holen with people,but this would objective them as stuff lying around?

2 – Wie viel Bier hast du schon?”
“Oh, ich muss aufholen.”
“How many beers have you had already?”
“Oh, I have to catch up.”

How does fit this example fir the notion of race? A side note : I have read someone before implying that aufholen can carry the notion of both getting equel and racing then and that einholen can have both equel and ahead association.

3) what would be the suitble words for aufholen,einholen und überhoren in sense of achievements/ knowledge

Teil 3 – Notizen ( Mostly pointless story) )

Achtung : pointless story

Ich denke an eine Zeit züruck, wann ich mir “Bekommen,Holen,abholen,bringen” an sehe, 0und ich würde vor Schmerzen schreien. Dann habe ich von ihrem Blog “besorgen” gesehen. Das bringt mir zum Weinen. Wie viele Wörter muss man weißen for “fetch,get”, aber MIT Entschlossenheit ist alles möglich

Wir weissen Jetzt.

Bringen –> You/sb bring sth to you/sb
Holen —> Bringen + Platz
Abholen —> Holen + time
Bekommen : You get stuff
Besorgen —> Holen?


Hello everyone!
I just signed up here and wanted to express my gratitude.
I couldn’t pay for the premium plan since I’m living in Iran and trying to learn German as best as I can. So I emailed Emanuel about it, and He let me know that there are people here who have paid some extra to help out folks like me. I’m genuinely delighted and grateful for it, and I hope you all have a great year ahead of you :)
Thanks to everyone, and Thank you, Emanuel ;)