The meaning and use of “aufhören”

Hello everyone,aufhören is NOT hören

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

aufhören

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.

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 the subject) is doing. Maybe it helps to think of it as to cease.

  • Ich höre auf, zu rauchen.
  • I stop smoking.
  • 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.
  • It has stopped raining.
  • Es hat aufgehört, zu regnen.

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.
  • Der Bus hat angehalten.
  • The bus has stopped.
  • 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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Pepe Rodriguez
Pepe Rodriguez
7 months ago

Fantastic! I only have a tiny question: how come we hear sometimes people say “hör auf mit dem Rauchen”? Prefix should go at the end, shouldnt it?

TonyM
TonyM
1 year ago

This explanation of aufhören was perfect for me. I was reading Lockdown in Liechtenstein (a graded reader), came across the phrase „Hör bloß auf!” realized this was an example of aufhören, but became puzzled, wondering what hören had to do with stopping? I looked in dictionaries and several places but got no help. So I googled aufhören and hören and — als ich diesen Post sah, hörte ich auf, mich zu wundern!

Dipannita
Dipannita
1 year ago

Finally aufhören mystery is solved

James Smith
James Smith
2 years ago

Hi, i’m just a little confused about one thing on this post. You say that aufhören can only be used for things that you yourself are stopping.

However, you use it for the rain stopping also. So you can also use it for things that are “es” as well as yourself?

Thanks!

Juerez
Juerez
2 years ago

Great as always

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

What about aufhoren mit? I believe that means to conclude?

Fred Bird
Fred Bird
3 years ago

this was helpful. I just found your site.
I’m attempting to learn German at home using Pimsleur

Sid
Sid
3 years ago

Great Stuff! Love the cavemen example.

Matt
Matt
3 years ago

My brain likes remembering it this way: “STOP. Collaborate and LISTEN…”

Sandra Alvarez
Sandra Alvarez
3 years ago

Hi Emmanuel, this is another great post! I just have one question – between these two sentences: “Es hört auf, zu regnen” &
“Es hörte auf zu regnen”, which is more likely to sound “natural” to a German in day-today- speech? Both essentially mean the same thing – it’s stopped raining, no more rain, wet is done :) I am having trouble with which to use, this “spoken” past or the “real” past. So for example, if I’m sitting with a German friend in a coffee shop and we are waiting for the rain to stop, and it does, which would I say? Danke! You have the BEST way of explaining things. You’ve made so much clear to me. What a fantastic blog!

Bori
Bori
4 years ago

Thank you for this description, now I understand the text written on the side of Innocent juice box:D love your explanations btw,laughing a lot besides learning! One question..why mich is needed after the um structure: Ich habe Italienisch gelernt aber ich habe aufgehört, um mich auf Deutsch zu konzentrieren.
It seems like an unnecessary extra word since um zu structure already implies that it is about me…:/

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

The best explanation. Nailed it !!

John d'auria
5 years ago

Very good.

John d'auria
5 years ago

very good

Mal Turner
Mal Turner
5 years ago

Sehr gut, danke!

SaeedNebo
SaeedNebo
6 years ago

a very best site to teach Deeutsch Dankeschön

Gudrun
Gudrun
6 years ago

Mir ist – jetzt, wo ich so darüber nachdenke – aufgefallen, dass es sich irgendwie immer um Tätigkeiten handelt, die beendet oder unterbrochen werden, indem man “aufhört”, die störend oder in anderer Weise negativ erscheinen.

– Sie hörte mit dem Stricken auf, da der Lehrer verärgert zu ihr hinüber blickte.
– Die Dachdecker müssen mit dem Hämmern aufhören, weil sich meine Katze massiv gestört fühlt.
– Eric muss aufhören zu lesen, weil er sonst den Bus verpasst.
– Die Sonne hörte auf zu scheinen, weil sich Wolken vor sie schoben.

Sonnenschein ist allerdings überhaupt nicht negativ….hmmm…

Nur so ein paar Gedanken. Du machst hier eine tolle Seite, ich werde weiter gerne hier lesen!

Gudrun
Gudrun
6 years ago

“Aufhören!”, schrie die Mutter in das Wohnzimmer, wo ihre Kinder einen riesigen Lärm veranstalteten. Die Kinder “horchten auf”, da sie ihre Mutter noch nie so hatten schreien hören – und “gehorchten”! (auch ganz interessant, dieses Wort hat auch etwas mit dem Hören zu tun) Sie “hörten auf”, durcheinander zu rufen und es wurde ein wenig ruhig. Nur der Jüngste stieß immer noch in regelmäßigen Abständen mit den Füßen gegen den Heizkörper. “Max, kannst du bitte “aufhören”, ständig gegen die Heizung zu treten?”, fragte die Mutter. Und Max “hörte auf”.

Vielleicht hat ja der Begriff “aufhören”, so wie du es ja schon beschrieben hast, grundsätzlich etwas damit zu tun, dass wir auf etwas hören (horchen) – auf unsere eigene innere Stimme oder die Stimme eines anderen. Wir hören auf / horchen auf / gehorchen / befolgen…..

Gudrun
Gudrun
6 years ago

hey!
ich bin Deutsche und frische gerade mein lange zurückliegendes Schulenglisch auf…ich habe diese Seite gefunden und finde sie sehr interessant! Als Muttersprachler macht man sich nicht allzu häufig Gedanken über die eigene Sprache.

Deine Erklärung dazu, woher ursprünglich das Wort “aufhören” stammt, empfinde ich als sehr logisch.

Wenn ich deine Erklärungen richtig verstanden habe, sagst du, dass “aufhören” lediglich verwendet wird, wenn man selbst eine Tätigkeit unterbricht oder beendet. “Precisely aufhören means to stop an action you yourself are doing.”
Es ist jedoch auch so, dass wir “aufhören” ebenfalls verwenden, wenn wir über andere Personen sprechen oder zu etwas auffordern. For example:

Sharon Pritchett Richards

I really appreciate the ‘listen up’ association, which helps me to keep it in mind. If it weren’t for your obscenity early on in the piece, I would share it, but as it is, it is a valuable addition to my knowledge, so thank you.