Word of the Day -“lassen”- 2

lassen-verlassen-meaning-geHello everyone,

and welcome to the second part of our German Word of the Day



In part one, we learned about lassen in general. Today, we’ll look at all the swarm of prefix-versions and not only that. We’ll also take a look at the past tense of lassen. Originally my plan was to pretend as if there wasn’t anything to say but… well… there is and I figured you deserve the truth. The very very annoying truth. But before we get to all new stuff that let’s do a little recap of the old stuff:
Lassen is related to to let but also to lazy and lax and at its heart it means to do nothing. We’ve found out that doing nothing is actually quite productive.  It can mean not changing something (to leave as it is), to not take away something (to leave it here)  and to not prevent something/to let something happen. From giving permission it is not very far to making a demand (to have someone do something) and last but not least just like to let, lassen is used for inviting statements like “Let’s leave it.” which would be this in German:

Yeah, I know we already had that example. It’s called a recap, so no new examples.
Now let’s dive right into part 2…. with a look at the past.

Dude, where’s my ge-form

So, here’s the past as we know it in a nutshell… for each and every verb there are two options to build the past, the spoken past and the written past.Which one is used for a verb depends mainly on convention. The written past is just a form of the verb itself and, for the useful verbs, it often includes a vowel change. For lassen that would be ließ

The spoken past of lassen is built with haben, which make sense because it’s not a movement, and the ge-form is gelassen.

By and large, the spoken past is more common for lassen and the written past would actually super strange in the second example… ließest, ließst… I don’t even know. Anyway…. so far lassen was just our average Joe verb. Nothing special.
Now, in part 1 we’ve seen that lassen often comes together with another verb, and  without any zu or um zu…. kinda sorta modalishesque.

And what’s the past of this? If we just use the rules we’ve learned we’ll get this:

  • Ich habe dich schlafen gelassen.

Beeeeeeeehp.  That’s wrong. Here’s the correct form

It’s the infinitive lassen instead of ge-form gelassen. The official jargon term for that is “Ersatzinfinitiv (substitute infinitive) and this pheromone doesn’t only occur with lassen but also with the modal verbs (können, wollen, and so on) and a few others like sehen or hören…. oh… make that phenomenon.
Anyways… so infinitive instead of ge-form. And there’s no neat, logical reason for it and linguists have struggled to explain it. It’s likely that it has something to do with the meaning and function the ge-prefix once had (if you want to learn more about that, there’s a book coming out soon with a little more background on that SPOILER).) But whatever the original reason may be… it’s pretty  it’s right because it sounds right. If you use the ge-form you’ll be understand, it just sounds odd, or wrong, mainly because of the different rhythm. So try to get a feel for the specific flow

Oh … and of course there are exceptions to that “exceptionuous” form.

In these example, both ways are used. The ge-less version is probably better, but the other doesn’t really sound wrong either. And there might be even a super slight difference in meaning, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway… here are some examples:

Now, it’s time to talk about the prefixes…. after we’ve talked about the second, even more annoying thing about  lassen in the past.

This is a normal main sentence. Now let’s make that into a side sentence, one of the ones with the verb at the end.
This is what a students thinks happens:

  • Maria ist dankbar, dass ich sie schlafen lassen habe.
    (habe moves to the end)

This is what really happens:

It is a niche rule of German sentence structure, which is not limited to Ersatzinfinitiv by the way, was introduces because German verb order was too easy and the official grammar name for this is Confusative… okay, of course that’s not the name. I don’t know if it has a name, actually. The helper-verb goes IN FRONT of the bulk of verbs at the end but AFTER all the rest.

  • …, dass ich werde kommen können.
  • …, that I‘ll be able to come.
  • … weil, ich ihn gestern so lange habe warten lassen.
  • … , because I let him wait for so long yesterday

Doing this at high speed can cause brain damage. Seriously. This is tough for natives, too and you can hear blunders every day because it takes an incredible amount of concentration and awareness to process this switcheroo in time before the mouth blabbers out stuff in the … ahem… “normal” order. Here’s how a conversation might go between two naked speakers… I mean native

  • “Danke, dass du mich schlafen lassen hast.”
    “Warte mal, sollte das nicht ‘schlafen hast lassen‘ sein?”
    “Hmm… egal… schlafen gelassen haben gesein.”
    “Ah ja, genau”
    (both laughing)

Even correcting someone else takes some brain power and everyone understands.  This structure has defeated us all, so getting it wrong is a good way to blend in ;). Nah… kidding… the correct version does sound super smooth and elegant to a native ear while the others are “bumpy”. But you’ll be understood.
All right. So this was our short look at the annoying past of lassen. Don’t forget… all this only applies if there is a second verb involved. A stand alone lassen is just normal.

Cool. Now, after this confusing structure stuff let’s get to confusing meanings…

Lassy Potter and the goblet of prefix

For a verb as versatile as lassen the prefix-versions are surprisingly straight forward in that the change in meaning they cause is pretty obvious.
First of, there’s a big group of separable prefixes that  talk about the how or where…. like… how something that we’re not changing is or where or how we leave something or where we let  someone go…

There are a few more, and sometimes, like for example with weglassen, two aspects of lassen can apply.

But all those should be pretty clear from context.
The second group is a little more abstract … but still, it’s nothing too crazy. Zulassen, besides its literal meaning of leaving closed can also express that you let something happen. You let it come to you, if that makes sense.

Unterlassen is a formal version for to not do something, stop doing something. The idea behind you “leave it under” with under expressing the idea of not there… I guess.

It only has this abstract meaning as to let down would be runterlassen.
Next, we have überlassen. It doesn’t have a local meaning either and the über expresses pretty much the same as the over in to hand over. Überlassen  means to leave something to someone. That can be a decision as well as something physical and it can be in exchange for money or not.

Niederlassen can be a slightly poetic word for to sit down but it’s also used in sense of to settle or to make a home for both people and companies.

And then, there is hinterlassen, which can literally mean to let someone go to the rear, but the more common use is the one we know from answering machines.

And I see we have a call here, Maggie from Motherwell in Scotland, welcome to the show…
“Hey Emanuel, I was just wondering aboot which of these are separable… I mean über, unter and hinter.”
Oh great question… über and unter are both inseparable and for hinter it depends… if you have the local meaning then it’ll be with a ge-, for the voice mail version it’s without.
“So it would be ich habe eine Nachricht hinterlassen, right??”
“Awesome, thank you so much.”
You’re welcome, and inseparable was actually a good cue because the third group are the “real” inseparable ones. And those too are surprisingly easy.
Belassen which is just a technical, formal sounding variation of lassen in sense of not changing.

Entlassen is basically to let go out  and it’s often used in context of… a job.

Erlassen is a bit tricky  because it can mean two things.

The first one puts something into place, the second (usually used in context of debt or fees) takes something away. But they do make sense. In both cases, er– adds the notion of completion, in the first case the parliaments lets the law out so it’s in effect, in the second we let go of the charge till it’s gone. A moderately fun side fact is that the “er-” kind of reverses the meaning lassen alone would have here.

  • Das Parlament lässt ein Gesetz. (not really idiomatic)
  • The parliament doesn’t bother with a law.
  • MediaMarkt lässt die Mehrwertsteuer.
  • Best Buy leaves the VAT (in place).

A somewhat common adjective based on the let go till it’s gone-erlassen is unerlässlich which is basically a formal word for a must-have.

Generally, erlassen is not really something you’ll need in daily life, especially not the law-erlassen. So … let’s leave it on the passive pile.
All right.
Now, there’s also zerlassen but this is only used in sense of melting butter in a pan, and then there’s one prefix left…  ver. God damn verVerlassen definitely deserves a closer look. And as we’re at it let’s  also talk a bit about to leave… because it has been a translation in like half of the examples and maybe it would be good to put lassen, verlassen and to leave in perspective.

Leaving Las Verlass

Man… these title get dumber and dumber.
So… We’ve learned in part 1 that leaving is not related to lassen. It is actually related to bleiben. That sounds like an odd relation ship since bleiben means to stay all the while “I’m leaving” very much didn’t sound like she was gonna sta… I mean doesn’t sound like staying.
Now, the original meaning of leaving was actually indeed to remain and also  let remain. This still totally shows in all these examples we had… like leave it on the table. But slowly a second perspective evolved… frrrrruiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiishhhhhhhhhhhh…….. pling… … we’re at a little tavern in England 1200 years ago and there are some really really drunk Anglo-Saxons …

 “More ale!!!”
“But … but… I don’t have any left”
“What say thou… NO MORE ALE?!?!?!”
 “Oh no, now they’ll harry my home.”
“Hell yeah, we will… but then again, we need ale for a
proper harrying. This makes no sense here. Let’s go somewhere else, folks.” 
“Oh thank god, they are leaving (letting remain) my home.”

Get it? Letting something remain slowly took on the meaning of walking away from it. And then, because English is very liberal about verbs having objects, people started saying

  • I’m leaving.

and context would do the rest.
So, leaving is at it’s core about not changing something and the leaving as in going away is just an odd side meaning that came in later.
For verlassen it was kind of similar. Originally, ver- added a very general idea of away to the letting and for a while verlassen had all kinds of meanings. But then it settled on walking away and that’s why it MIGHT be a translation for to leave.  It’s MUCH much more narrow than to leave though and there are quite a few differences in use. First of, verlassen MUST have an object. So you can only verlassen someone or something, you cannot just verlassen.

  • Honey, I’m leaving.
  • Schatz, ich verlasse.   … is super wrong

Let’s repeat that because it is a super common mistake… you cannot just say

  • Ich verlassse.

Everyone would be like “WHOOOO?”. In this context, you’d use losgehen or some other alternative for to head out.

Another difference is tone. Verlassen sounds rather formal or serious.

The building isn’t just temporarily empty… it is abandoned. And the second example sounds a bit like it’s taken from a police report. People just don’t use verlassen in sense of merely going out of a rooms that much . I mean, they do, but in somewhat formal or contexts.

A third difference is that verlassen is very strongly focused on the going away while leaving is super super broad and even if  just implies going away that’s simply not enough.

  • The mother leaves her child with a lullaby.

Of course, the mother leaves the room after singing but the focus of leaving is more about the child that remains there with the song.

  • Die Mutter verlässt das Kind mit einem Schlaflied.

This sounds super-odd… on several levels. It sounds a bit like the mother abandons her child, it sounds formal and cold and it sounds like she’s taking the Schlaflied with her. In this particular example I would probably say something like this

The noch kind of implies that she’s going to leave the room after.
Anyway, so verlassen wouldn’t really be a word you need much in daily life… if it wasn’t for the side meaning. Of course… there has to be a side meaning. You can count on that :)

Sich verlassen auf means to trust, to rely, to count on something. And that actually makes sense. Like… there’s your best friend and you leave yourself with him while your gone. Of course you can’t really leave yourself but  I hope you can see the idea of trust in this phrasing which is the core of this verb… not so much in sense of believing what someone says but about actual actions.

This phrasing is super common and there’s are even two adjectives based on it.

There is a difference in tone but I can’t really put it into words. Zuverlässig is used more often and also in context of machines.

Whatever that actually means… I guess that it always washes clean and doesn’t break easily :).
And zuverlässig is also the word the opposite is based on

All right.
I think this is it…maybe one quick last word about left. The translation of course depends on context and on which lassen word is used in German.

But left is often used as a sort of adjective.

  • She’s right. One beer’s left.

Of course, this comes from the verb to leave but it doesn’t matter who left the beer. It just matters that it’s there.  And the lassen words put too much focus in the person who “does” the leaving. So the actual translation for these remaning-lefts is not with lassen.

  • Sie ist rechts, ein Bier ist links.

Wait… uh… forget what you just saw.

That’s the one. Da or übrig, those are the proper translations… or just noch, which can also imply left.

And… that’s it. Hoooray. Now you can print  M. A.  “Lassen” on your cards and flash them in your teachers face next time they correct you.
But seriously, it was very long again, so sorry for that. I hope it was helpful though. As always if you have any questions about lassen and what we’ve learned today or if you want to try out some examples just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

for members :)

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Ich glaube, man würde wahrscheinlich sagen, “You can (always) rely on the fact that…” oder “You can (always) rely on German to have another meaning”. Es ist komisch, aber auf Englisch muss man immer “rely on something”, und du kannst “always” in diesem Fall verwenden, wenn du ein bisschen idiomatischer klingen willst.
Bei diesen Beispielen freue ich mich, dass ich Englisch nicht lernen muss… (dieser Satz war ein Experiment, sag mir mall, ob es Sinn macht!)


oder zumindest wäre ich ein bisschen verwirrt, wenn du sagst, “You can rely on that there will always be a second meaning”, vielleicht ist es anders irgendwo anderes.
Man kann auch “you can rely/count/bet on that” sagen… aber erst wenn es keinen anderen Satz gibt.


Re: Butter bei der Sauce weglassen… Nein, “leave away” geht nicht und klingt auch komisch. “Leave out” wäre in Ordnung: “I’m leaving the butter out of the sauce.” (Übrigens steht da “I doing the sauce” anstatt “I’m making the sauce”…) (Also, please don’t leave the butter out of the sauce! That’s the best part.)

Zum Thema “jmdn. verlassen,” ich glaube, dass “leave someone” ziemlich ähnlich wirkt. Nicht immer: “I left the kids with my mom while I went shopping.” Aber “I’m leaving you” ohne weiteres zu sagen ist total definitiv und kommt fast immer im Zusammenhang vom Ende einer Beziehung vor.


Man kann sich drauf verlassen, dass es gibt immer eine zweite Bedeutung. -> Man kann sich drauf verlassen, dass es immer eine zweite Bedeutung gibt.


Great articles as ever thanks, these really help.
Can you comment on gelassen as in relaxed, are there any nuances with it or is it a reliable translation for cool, relaxed, chilled etc?

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Ich glaube, die Hauptbedeutungen von “lassen” lassen sich durch zwei vom Verb abgeleitete Verben ausdrücken: zulassen und veranlassen.

Der Richter lässt mich das Protokol führen.
Der Richter veranlasst, dass ich das Protokol führe.

Der Richter lässt den Anwalt die neuen Beweise beibringen.
Der Richter lässt zu, dass der Anwalt die neuen Beweise beibringt.

Allerdings ist die Grenze dazwischen nicht immer klar.

Dabei soll man auch aufpassen: “veranlassen” leitet sich nicht direkt von “lassen” ab, sondern durch das Substantiv “Anlass”. Deswegen wird es schwach konjugiert:

er veranlasst, nicht *veranlässt
ich habe veranlasst, nicht *veranlassen

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Korrektur: Protokoll

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Mein Beispiel aus dem letzten Thread:

Der Zauberer ließ den Mann dessen Bierglas fallen lassen.

Mal sehen, ob wir es krasser machen könnten (wobei ich mir nicht sicher bin, dass irgendeins unterer Beispiele stimmt).

Der Zauberer hat den Mann dessen Bierglas fallen lassen lassen.

Der Oberzauberer ließ den Zauberer den Mann dessen Bierglas fallen lassen lassen.

Der Oberzauberer hat den Zauberer den Mann dessen Bierglas fallen lassen lassen lassen.


Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Was den Ersatzinfinitiv mit “pseudomodalen” Verben in Nebensätzen betrifft, sind laut canoo beide Formen zulässig:

“Wenn eine Verbgruppe einen Ersatzinfinitiv von heißen, lassen, helfen, sehen fühlen, hören enthält und dieser Ersatzinfinitiv vom Hilfsverb haben abhängig ist, wird das finite Hilfsverb im Nebensatz in der Regel vor die Verbgruppe gestellt. Zumindest bei lassen, sehen, fühlen, hören gilt aber die Endstellung des finiten Hilfsverbs auch als korrekt:

weil man euch hat kommen heißen nicht weil man euch kommen heißen hat
nachdem ich ihm habe aufräumen helfen nicht nachdem ich ihm aufräumen helfen habe

bevor du das Glas hast fallen lassen auch bevor du das Glas fallen lassen hast
weil sie euch haben ankommen sehen auch weil sie euch ankommen sehen haben
obwohl er sie hatte lachen hören auch obwohl er sie lachen hören hatte”


I guess a good translation for ‘unterlassen’ would be ‘to desist’.


It is almost always used in the infinitive (he asked them to desist, they would not desist) or imperative (cease and desist). It’s pretty formal and ‘legalese’.


Was wäre der Unterschied zwischen lassen und liegen lassen im folgenden Beispiel.
– Ich lasse den Schlüssel auf dem Tisch.
– Ich lasse den Schlüssel auf dem Tisch liegen.
Wenn ich das Ganze richtig verstehe, beide Sätzen sind richtig? Stimmt das?


Hi, cool work with “lassen”. To put it all to the relaxed “let it be, let it be” feeling. There is just one question I have. For “anlassen”, there is a second meaning you didn’t meantion. When you say:

Ich lasse das Auto an. That can mean: You let the car running, but more often you mean “to start the car”. So how does this “anlassen” = “to start” fit into the picture? Is the car being (in a demanding sense) allowed to start up? Yes, that seems okay, but it does not really feel that way if you say it. There it feels like the action realy comes from you not the car. I am saying nonsense, huh. Did you mention “einlassen” by the way? “To let yourself be involved with” or is there a better translation?

Thanks for keeping up the good work.