Word of the Day – “anhalten”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: March 23, 2022


Hello everyone,

and welcome back to a brand new episode of the biggest, most epic series ever – no, not Game of Thrones and not The Mandalorian.
I am talking about Prefix Verbs Explained.
And today, we will have a look at the meanings of



And anhalten is really special because it means to stop AND to continue.
OMG, what a #contradiction.
Gee, I actually just thought that I maybe should start making little explanatory TicTocs for these.
Like… the first part could be a guy in a car, coming to a halt with a caption “Thomas hält an.“.
And the second one could be the same guy in the same car, coming to the same halt, but then spraying us with water, and then an hour later, he’s still spraying. And the caption would be “Der Regen hält an.”
That would be cool.
Anyway, for now we’ll stick to boring ass reading, so if you want to find out how anhalten means those two things and also what the difference is between anhalten, halten and aufhören, then let’s jump right in.

English has the two verbs to hold and to halt. Both are of course related and the common theme they share is an idea of “preventing movement”. Or more generally, we could say “preventing change”. If you hold your cup, you prevent it from changing position (e.g. falling down), if you bring something to halt, you also prevent further change in location. And if a friendship is holding, then it doesn’t “change state”.
And in German, the two verbs got fused and halten covers all those ideas.  So you can halten a cup, or you can halten with your bike and the cease fire between unicorns and squirrels can halten.

The meaning that matters most for us today, though is the idea of stopping. Because to stop is the main meaning of anhalten.

“anhalten” as “to stop”

And big question is of course how does the prefix an change the meaning. Like, we’ve just learned that halten itself can be about stopping at a red light. And most of you know that bus stop in German is Bushaltestelle and not Busanhaltestelle. So what’s the difference between  halten and anhalten?

Well, one idea an often adds to verbs is a notion of starting. The an-version of a verb often describes the beginning of that action.
And so anhalten has the focus on the pure act of coming or bringing to a halt.

  • Kannst du kurz anhalten? Ich will ein Foto machen.
  • Can you stop for a second? I want to take a picture.

So you can anhalten in front of the drive through window and then  halten there until you have passed your order.
Halten can express that as well, but halten can also describe the period AFTER the initial anhalten.
That’s why the no waiting sign in German is called Halteverbot, for example. You may well come to a stop there, if there’s traffic for instance, but you can’t really “stay” there.

Now you might be like “Wait, so if it works for both anyway, can I just use halten all the time and be on the safe side?”
Well, technically it would work, I guess. But as we’ve mentioned, halten has quite the range of meanings and it’s not always clear.

  • Das Auto hält.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

This can mean two things:

  • The car stops.
  • The car is holding (as in not breaking

And even though the context would make it clear, using anhalten for the stopping is much more idiomatic.
Especially, if you add the location where something is coming to a halt. Because that is usually connected by the preposition an, which means that we have a nice double an.

  • Ich halte an der Ampel an.
  • stop at the traffic light.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

German looooves that kind of stuff.

Cool. So the bottom line is: anhalten is the best choice whenever the context is stopping in the sense of bringing an actual movement to a halt. No more, no less.
For all the other contexts of to stop, German has different options.
And because I know you’re all gonna ask about them in the comments, let’s take a quick look at them right now :)

The other options for “to stop”

And the first one we need to mention is of course aufhören. We’ve talked about it in a separate article, so if you you want to find out WHY exactly it means to stop, you can check that out (I’ll leave the link below).
Today, we’ll focus on the difference between anhalten and aufhören. And that difference is HUGE.
Aufhören and anhalten are NEVER interchangeable, because the better translation for aufhören is actually to cease.
So someone or something is doing some sort of activity, and then stops that. THAT is aufhören.

  • Der Regen hat aufgehört.
  • The rain stopped.
  • Das Einhorn hört auf zu rennen.
  • The unicorn stops running.

Now you might be like “Wait a second, the second example is about halting a movement, right? So can’t we also use anhalten?”
Well, yes, we could say this:

  • Das Einhorn hält an.
  • The unicorn stops.

And the effect is pretty similar to the first sentence. However, the version with aufhören is entirely about stopping the activity and it just coincidentally happened to be a movement. The version with anhalten on the other hand doesn’t even mention the running. It’s purely about the unicorn coming to a halt.
Just to make sure though – the following would be completely wrong:

  • Das Einhorn hält an zu rennen! WRONG

People wouldn’t even know what you’re trying to say.
So… aufhören is for ceasing, not doing something anymore while anhalten is about literally coming to a halt.
Here they are back to back in the same sentence:

  • Hör auf zu reden und halt an!
  • Stop talking and pull over!
    Stop talking an stop! (lit.)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Now, another option for to stop is beenden. Technically, it is to bring to an to end but sometimes people also use it in a sense of just knocking off something. Like… think of two co-workers who are having a little something something and then they have to stop it, because one is getting the feels.
And then, let’s not forget about  aufhalten. And that one can be about simply holding up someone on their way somewhere, but it can also be to stop in the sense of prevent from doing. Like… the kind of stopping the Avengers want to do to Emperor Palpatine.
Yeah, nerds. Feel the rage. I just said it. You read it. Feel the desire to correct me. Feel it, it’ll lead to the dark si… anyway, uhm…

  • Das Formatieren hält mich total auf.
  • The formatting holds me up a lot.
  • Wir müssen Palpatine aufhalten.
  • We have to stop Palpatine.

And then, finally, there are some situations where it is not that clear…

  • My internet connection sucks. When I watch a movie it always stops for a few seconds because it isn’t loading fast enough.

Honestly, I don’t really know what to say here. None of the ones we’ve mentioned really fits and I think I’d use stocken (to stutter, get stuck) or simply stoppen. Because German has that, as well :).

Anyway, so now we know which kind of stopping  anhalten is used for, namely the… uhm….what was it again…. ah yeah, the kind that’s about coming to an actual halt.
But as we’ve learned in the intro, it can also express the idea of continuation.
So let’s now take a look at how that works.

anhalten as to continue

And as counter-intuitive as it may seem at first glance – it’s actually not that crazy. Just think of a big fat cloud of rain. If that comes to a halt right across your area, then that means the rain will continue. And if that doesn’t convince you, well do you remember the core theme that we found for  halten itself? It was the notion of  “preventing change”. 
And what do you get without change? You get continuation of the current state, right?
So both ideas, stopping and continuing are just two sides of the same coin. And they’re actually also both visible in English.

  • Hold on a sec!
  • Love is holding on.

Neither of them will be translates with anhalten, because, confusion. BUT the two examples show the same ideas – the first one is about stopping, the second about not stopping. And you know what –  about 700 years ago “Hold on!” actually meant “Continue, stay the course!”… here’s the source, if you don’t believe me.
So yeah, German anhalten isn’t THAT twisted, after all. 

IN practice, this continuing-anhalten is not very common, though. It sounds a bit formal and you’ll usually find it context of weather or broader trends, like the demand for something.

  • Das gute Wetter hält an.
  • The good weather continues.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Der Trend zu überteurten Vintage-Möbeln in Berlin hält an.
  • The trend to overpriced vintage furniture in Berlin is continuing/here to stay.
  • Wegen dem anhaltenden Applaus gab der Musiker eine Zugabe.
  • Because of the continuing applause, the musician gave an encore.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

I don’t actually think that you’ll need this anhalten in your active vocabulary. But it can sure be hella confusing if you see it written and you have never heard about.
Which brings us to all the other meanings that anhalten also has… nah, don’t worry, it’s not that many, and neither one is really common :).
But lets go over them real quick. 

other meanings of “anhalten”

And those two seem to have nothing to do with anything we have mentioned so far.
The first anhalten – the full phrasing is jemanden zu etwas anhalten  – is about a mix between urging and encouraging.

  • Thomas hält seinen Sohn dazu an, die Hausaufgaben zu machen.
  • Thomas mildly urges his son to do homework.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Der alte Chef hat uns immer dazu angehalten, keine Überstunden zu machen.
  • The old boss always encouraged us, not to put in overtime.

For a connection we could maybe think of a police officer stopping us to tell us to switch on the light or to stop speeding, and then the verb shifted from halting toward the advice itself. But I don’t really know if this is the connection, or if it’s even helpful.
The phrasing is definitely not very common, so don’t worry about it too much.
And the same goes for the next one, which is actually REALLY specific and we ideally only do it VERY few times in our lives.

  • Thomas hält um Marias Hand an.
  • Thomas asks  for Maria to marry him.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Sounds a bit like we’re doing a casual afternoon ride over to the farm of our love, and there we stop and pop the question. I honestly don’t know how that connects to an and halten. But yeah, I just wanted to mention it because it is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to guess if you just randomly see it in a novel.

Now we’re almost almost almost done for today. But of course there is one more thing we need to talk about for this to be a proper episode of Prefix Verbs Explained – and that is the r-version.


If you’ve read a few episodes of Prefix Verbs Explained, you might know that the r-version usually tends to express the most literal meaning we can create from prefix and verb. That’s true also for ranhalten because it literally describes the act of holding an object at/against something. Like… imagine you want to hang up this old vintage “No bad vibes allowed”-sign you bought from the thrift market to hipster up your apartment. Then you could tell your friend to “ranhalten” the thing for a second so you can see if it fits at the spot.

  • Kannst du das kurz ranhalten, damit ich sehe, wie es aussieht?
  • Can you hold it there (against the wall) for a second, so I see how it looks.

But if that was ranhalten‘s only meaning, it’d definitely be a case for the passive pile.
However, every now and then, an r-version actually picks up a nice little obscure, metaphorical meaning itself. And ranhalten is one of them.
Sich ranhalten, to be precise, is a pretty common colloquial version for to hurry.

  • Wenn ich pünktlich sein will, muss ich mich ranhalten.
  • I have to hurry, if I want to be on time.

And this is one of the words that’ll REALLY make you sound like a native speaker for a second. Not because it is fancy, and not because it’s some cool slang or anything. It’s just one of those words that learners just don’t know about.
You do now, so get out there and impress your friends :)

And I think that’s it for today.
This was our look at the meaning of anhalten, the difference to halten and aufhören, and all the other stuff we’ve talked about.

As usual, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

further reading:

Prefix Verbs Explained – “aufhören”
Prefix Verbs Explained – “aufhalten”

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