The meaning and use of “aufhören”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: May 26, 2024



aufhören is NOT hören

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
Today we are going to take a look at the meaning of:


And aufhören is one of those verbs that give German learners the impression that German prefix verbs are a random mess, that you can’t ever guess.
I mean, hören by it self means to hear and to listen. Most of you probably know that.
But in an example like the following this can mislead you big time if your friend says something like this:

  • Morgen höre ich mit dem Rauchen auf.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Especially  if you’re new to German, it’s easy to miss the little words at the end of the sentence. Always mind the 6th commandment of the Learning German:

12. Thou shalt not ignore little words
 at the end of a phrase.
lest you be confuseth.

And even if you caught it, your brain might still very well try to create a sense around hearing.
But of course that’s totally off, Unfortunately this time, you are totally wrong
The verb of the sentence is NOT hören, it is aufhören.
And aufhören means to stop.
And it actually makes sense…

Imagine some cavemen and cavewomen and cave-non-binary-people sitting around their fireplace doing cave-people things, like grilling meat, sharpening sticks, delousing each other or watching Netflix.
And then, all of a sudden, there is a noise in the dark woods.

Naturally, they would all stop what their doing, take their heads up and try to listen closely. And there we already have it :).
Just think of the English phrase “Listen up!”. That also usually implies that you stop what you’re doing for a second.
Over time the verb has focused completely on the aspect of stopping and lost all connection to hearing.
The old meaning did survive in a cousin of aufhören, though – aufhorchen. Horchen itself is about attentively and secretly listening, and aufhorchen is about this initial burst of attention.
Like…you’re on a date, it’s boring and your date is babbling away and you’re looking around the bar, not paying attention. Until they say  “blah blah blah threesome blah blah blah”  and you’re like “Wait, what?!”

Anyway, so aufhören means to stop, because it was originally about stopping what you’re doing in order to … well.. listen up.
And knowing that connection doesn’t only help with our Prefix Verb anxiety, it actually also helps us understand when to use aufhören. Because NOT every to stop can be translated with aufhören.

Aufhören is to stop in the sense of stopping an activity that you (or  whoever is the subject) is doing. Maybe it helps to think of it as to cease.

  • Ich höre auf, zu rauchen.
  • I stop smoking.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Ich habe Deutsch geübt aber als meine Freundin angerufen hat, habe ich aufgehört.
  • I had been practicing German but then my girlfriend called and I stopped.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Es hat aufgehört, zu regnen.
  • It has stopped raining.

In the last example, it’s this weird illusive “it” that is “doing” the raining, but still the core idea is the same. Someone does something, then stops or ceases. That is what aufhören is. Just think back to the whole idea of stopping what you’re doing in order to listen.

Aufhören absolutely DOESN’T work in the context of stopping a car would NOT be aufhören. That would be anhalten. And stopping the evil villain from destroying the planet would be aufhalten.

  • Ich halte das Auto an.
  • I stop the car.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Der Bus hat angehalten.
  • The bus has stopped.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Wir müssen Pony-Man aufhalten.
  • We have to stop Pony-Man.

None of them would be understandable with aufhören and you can easily try that by using to cease instead of to stop. It doesn’t make sense, either.

Now, a quick word about grammar before we wrap this up.
The most common phrasing is probably aufhören in combination with a zu-construction, which describes the activity that you’re stopping.

  • Ich höre  auf, während ich schreibe Bier zu trinken.
  • I stop drinking beer while I am writing.

But we can also phrase activities as a noun. And in that case, we need the word mit to connect it to aufhören.

  • Ich höre mit dem Biertrinken auf.
  • I stop “the drinking of beer”.

You can NOT skip that mit. It would be understandable, but it would sound REALLY bad.
And the same goes of course if we want to just use a reference. We can’t just use “es” like we could say “I stopped it.” in English.
We need “mit es“, which is of course the da-word damit.

  • “Trinkst du Bier, während du schreibst?”
    “Nicht mehr. Ich habe damit aufgehört.”
  • “Do you drink beer while you write?”
    “Not anymore. I stopped (with that).

If you’re not sure about the da-words, then don’t worry… I have a post for it. I’ll leave you the link below. And I’ll also give you the link to my articles on anhalten and aufhalten, if you want to dig a little deeper into the wonderful world of stopping. And those two actually have more than just one meaning.

Aufhören has only the one we already know, so that means that we’re done for today. Hooray :)
This was our little look at the meaning of aufhören, and if you ever get confused again about the connection between stopping and hearing… just think of a deer eating grass, and then hears a noise. It stops eating, and raises the head up to listen.

As usual, if you want to check how much you remember, just take the little quiz we have prepared for you.
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.

further reading:

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