Word of the Day – “aufwachen”

aufwachenHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will have a look at the meaning of:



Aufwachen… a burden at times and a relief at others. We usually do it once per day… or twice… or not at all if we are party animal. The word consists of the basic verb wachen and the prefix aufAuf can mean a number of things like open, up, on top of or on and wachen means something like… uh screw it …just watch this video here.
See you in 2 minutes … … … … … … … … … … … … 

Thank you Everly Brothers for that nice explanation. BY THE WAY… I bet you were so fascinated by those guys jiggling that you DID NOT see the black gorilla passing in the background… Don’t think so? Well watch it again… and oh maaaan… please tell me, you agree that the guy at 1:16-1:18 looks a bit like Frodo… and if you think so, have you payed attention to the lyrics at that very point… so not true ;)

Aaaaanyway… aufwachen means to wake up.

  • Wann bist du heute aufgewacht?
  • When did you wake up today?
  • Ich wache von allein auf.
  • I wake up by myself.

The 2 words wake up and aufwachen are of course related. Actually there some other examples where the English k is the softer German ch, an exhale with a little friction in your throat. Two other prominent examples are machen  to make or brechento break.
And I see we have some people calling. The first one is Martin from Sheffield, how are you doing?
“Hey Emanuel, nice song… would it be possible that you translate the hook line for us? A friend of mine who speaks German sometimes does that and it’s always  hilarious …”
Oh yeah that is true… great idea. We’ll do it in a little bit. Thanks Martin for that and our next call is Veronica from Madrid, hi Veronica…
“Ola… so in language class I learned aufwecken, and this also means to wake up… could you explain me the difference? “
Oh of course, don’t worry… I’ll talk about that a little later on but first I want to say some things about aufwachen.

The stem of the word wachen is the word wach which literally means awake.

  • Als du angerufen hast, war ich schon wach.
  • When you called I was already awake.
  • Bist du wach?
  • Are you awake?

If you want to say that you are wide awake you could say hellwach. Literally this would be bright awake.

But the word is also used in a more abstract sense. Calling a person wach can mean as much as smart, clever, alert or astute. And this is not far fetched after all as being awake in the literal meaning also comes with being able to concentrate, perceive and think … at least most of the time :).

  • John ist zwar schon 78 Jahre alt, aber er hat einen wachen Geist.
  • John might be already 78 years old but he is an alert, lifely mind.

You see that wach can have the notion of being alert. This becomes quite obvious in the words wachen and bewachen… they mean to guard or to watch over. On first sight these 2 seem to have little to do with wake but being awake is THE number one prerequisite for guarding so I hope you can see the connection.

  • Der Wachhund bewacht die Villa.
  • The watchdog is guarding the mansion.

Just for completion I want to mention the word erwachen here. This is kind of the poetic brother of aufwachen in that it has a string notion of dignity and gravity to it… nature does it, or Snow White after the kiss… A good translation is to awaken.

  • Im Frühling erwacht die Natur.
  • In Spring, nature awakens.

What you do every morning usually does not qualify as awakening with all than crankiness, smelly breath and wrinkly face . What you do is aufwachen which has only this one meaning: to wake up; so translating the lyrics of that song is a piece of cake:

Wach auf, kleine Suhusie, wach auf!
Wach auf, kleine Suhusie, wach auf!


Now onto something else.

Difference between aufwachen and aufwecken

To answer that I first want to present you with another video from 2 guys who’s thrust and jiggle ability makes the Everly Brothers look stiff like an erect uhm piece of… uhm wood… yeah wood really nails… uhm… fits… god that song has some influence on me.

Yeah good old George Michael… his voice carried so far back then, that he didn’t  need a microphone AT ALL. I like the moment at 1:19 when he sings “You’re my lady…” and he so does say it to the other guy :)… by the way for those who are wondering… Jitterbug is a kind of dance. If you win money in a quiz-show remember where you learned that, will ya’???

So… the hook lines of both songs seem to be almost identical. They are both orders in a way.

  • Wake up (little Suzie)!
  • Wake me up (b4 you go go)!

BUT they are perfect examples for the difference between aufwachen and aufwecken. Suzie is told to wake up herself while whoever is told to wake up George Michael.
Aufwachen means to wake up YOURSELF. It is what you do every morning and you CANNOT do it to someone else. Even if an alarm clock is the reason for you waking up, you still aufwachen. So aufwachen is the EXACT opposite of falling asleep.
Aufwecken or simply wecken is what you do to others or what your alarm does to you. Here are some examples.

  • Thomas wakes up at 11.
  • Thomas wacht um 11 auf.
  • Thomas wakes up Suzie at 11.
  • Thomas weckt Susie um 11 auf.
  • Kannst du mich morgen um 8 (auf)wecken?
  • Can you wake me up at 8 tomorrow?
  • Ich wache immer mit guter Laune auf.
  • I always wake up in a good mood.

By the way… it should be obvious now why an alarm clock is called Wecker. It is simply a thing or person waking up others… just like Fahrer (driver) or Bäcker (baker).
So the Everly Brothers want Suzie to aufwachen and what they do by singing it to her is aufwecken.

So we are almost done but we need to talk about the grammar a little bit. I think you have already seen that both verbs are separable so auf is weakly linked to the stem.
The past is a little tricky. Aufwachen is sort of a movement of your mind and thus builds it’s spoken past with sein while aufwecken is just something you do so it needs haben. The ge-forms of both verbs are straight by the book though.

  • Thomas woke up at 10.
  • Thomas ist um 10 aufgewacht.
  • Thomas woke up Maria at 10.
  • Thomas hat Maria um 10 aufgeweckt.

You need to pay a little attention there because if you confuse haben and sein people might assume you mean the other wake up and misunderstand your sentence.
As far as the real or written past is concerned you don’t really need it, especially not for aufwecken but it is not a problem anyway since it is also completely regular.

  • Thomas wachte um 10 auf.
  • Thomas weckte Sam um 10 auf.
  • Thomas woke up (Sam) at 10.

And if you ask yourself why Thomas is waking up different people with different gender… well, he just gets around.

So… this was our Word of the Day. Aufwachen and aufwecken both mean to wake up but the former is to wake up yourself while the second one is to wake up others and the 2 are not interchangeable.
If you have any questions just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and… oh and we have a call again… Jane from Dublin. Hey Jane, we don’t have much time left…
“Hi Emanuel… could you please please give the translation for that Wham song too?”
Good idea… but promise to sing it and post it to Youtube!
“Cool, will do… thank you so much, bye…”
Bye Jane… so here you go:

Weck mich auf, bevor du geh-hest,
Lass mich hier nicht hängen wie ein Jojo
Weck mich auf, bevor  du geh-hest,
Ich will dabei sein, wenn du voll abgehst.

Weck mich auf, bevor du geh-hest.
Denn ich hab’nich’ vor allein zu gehen.
Weck mich auf, bevor du geh-hest.
Geh mit mir tanzen heut naaaacht!

Ich will dass es kraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacht!

Uff…. the cringe-protection kicked it at the end, thank God :D.
If you want to record a record with me send me and email, I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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