Word of the Day – “der Abwasch”

Hello everyone

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

der Abwasch


The Abwasch,or more precisely tackling it, is something few people enjoy.  It has caused many many fights in households all around the world and even the introduction of the dishwasher could not settle the ever simmering conflict because, sure, people don’t need to do the dishes with their own hands anymore but the dishwasher won’t unload itself. You probably figured it out by now. Abwasch means something with dishes, dirty ones.

The word Abwasch is the noun for the verb abwaschen, which itself has at its core the verb waschen. Waschen means to wash and you do it to whatever is dirty – cars, dogs, yourself, parts of yourself, dishes, clothes and my pile of drug money.. uhm… one’s pile. So waschen also means to launder.
Waschen is one of the verbs with the upwards change, meaning that for the du-form and the er-form, the vowel goes up a notch.

  • Ich wasche meine Haare.
  • Du wäschst deine Hände.
  • Er wäscht seine Füße.

The ge-form is gewaschen and  it goes with to have but you can also used it as a word for clean, and then it goes with sein.

  • Ich habe meine Hände gewaschen.
  • I washed/have washed my hands.
  • Ich liebe frisch gewaschene Bettwäsche.
  • I love freshly cleaned sheets.

The real past form of waschen would be wusch but it would be really odd if a mom asked her child upon serving dinner:

  • ((Wuschest du dir die Hände?))
  • Hast du dir die Hände gewaschen?
  • Did you wash your hands?

The second one is really the way people talk, but go ahead and try the first one with your German friends. You will sure get some laughs.
So that’s waschen.
It does not come with too many different prefix versions. There is auswaschen, mitwaschen, reinwaschen, durchwaschen,  weißwaschenverwaschen and last but not least abwaschen. Oh, you think that is already a lot? Well, take a look at how many there are for gehen if you have a week off.
Now, let’s get to abwaschen. The preposition ab expresses the idea of separation, often you can just think of it as off, away. So while waschen is just a generic word for washing, abwaschen is the perfect choice whenever you wash something off of a surface like for example of a plate, a wall or a face.

  • Die Mutter wäscht dem Kind das Gesicht.
  • The mother washes the kids face.
  • Die Mutter wäscht dem Kind den Schmutz vom Gesicht ab.
  • The mother washes the dirt off the kid’s face.

By far the most common use of abwaschen is  the context of “washing off” dishes or kitchen utensils.

  • Ich wasche den Teller, den Löffel, den Topf und die Pfanne ab.
  • I clean the plate, the spoon, the pot and the pan.

The connection to doing dishes is so strong that you can even use it just by itself and it’s still crystal clear. Well, the verb, not the glasses. Not yet.

  • Ich muss abwaschen.
  • I have to do the dishes.

And now we finally get back to der Abwasch. What is it exactly?According to Pons and leo Der Abwasch translates to the washing-up. Me personally, I feel like the best way to capture it is pile of dirty dishes. So it’s not the action of cleaning them.
You might find a sentence like this in a book.

  • In der Küche stand der Abwasch von einer Woche.

That means that the dirty dishes  of one whole week were sitting in the kitchen.
And if there is such a pile, in German you can say that you … make it. Of course. Because you “make” everything in German.

  • Oh, du hast den Abwasch gemacht. Wie süß von dir.
  • Oh, you did the dishes. How sweet of you.
  • Mein Freund macht nie den Abwasch.
  • Mein Freund wäscht nie ab. (same meaning)
  • My boyfriend never does the dishes.

The grammar of Abwasch is extra simple because the word doesn
‘t have a plural. You have one Abwasch  and it just becomes bigger if you as you add more and more stuff.  Abwasch doesn’t get any extra letters in case 3 and 4 and for the gender… well of course it is masculine. Because it is us men who have been doing it for centur…. ok I guess I should stop here.

Now if you really hate doing dishes and you want to know how the machine is called that takes care of the Abwasch for you… it is die Geschirrspülmaschine. Too long?? Well then grab a sponge and the detergent and do it the old fashioned way :).
So this was our look at the meaning of der Abwasch. If you have questions or suggestions or if you want to try out some examples, just leave me a comment.
Hope you enjoyed it and see you next time.

** vocab **

der Abwasch – the pile of dirty dishes /the task of doing the dishes
abwaschen – clean something off with water(mostly used for dishes)
der Löffel – the spoon
die Gabel – the fork
die Pfanne – the pan
der Topf – the pot
der Teller – the plate
die Geschirrspülmaschine – the dish washer
das Spülmittel – the detergent
der Schwamm – the sponge

5 8 votes
Article Rating

Newsletter for free?!

Sign up to my epic newsletter and get notified whenever I post something new :)
(roughly once per week)

No Spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Your Thoughts and Questions

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Gute Erklärung wie immer , danke sehr ;) :*

4 years ago

“Die Mutter wäscht dem Kind das Gesicht.”

Can you please explain for me which case Kind and Gesicht are in? I am confused by the article uses here and this is a great example to clear up my case confusion in general!

4 years ago

I like the way you have an associated vocabulary list at the end of the article. That is really useful. However, I am not sure why you left ‘knives’ off the list (you have forks and spoons). And how about bowls, cups, glasses, etc? Maybe your sink has less of an ‘Abwasch’ than me.

6 years ago

Very very good place to learn German. I’m really enjoying. Thank you!

7 years ago


You said “According to Pons and leo Der Abwasch translates to the washing-up. Me personally I perceive it more like the pile of dirty dishes than the action of cleaning them.”

Funnily ‘washing-up’ in English is a weird hybrid of the action and the pile of dirty dishes. So I think many English speakers would agree with you that is was the noun. Almost. It would definitely start a discussion in a pub :) Because we say “I will do the washing-up”. So there is kind of a mixture of a verb and noun there.

8 months ago
Reply to  nadgerz

Yep, i would say “the washing-up” is a noun describing both the dishes themselves and the task of washing them up, e.g.

“The washing up is piled up to the ceiling.” aka “the stack of dishes is piled up…”


“I finished the washing up an hour ago.” Aka “I completed the task an hour ago”

The fact that it starts with “the” implies to me it must be a noun, even when describing the action, e.g.

“I do the washing up every day.”

The verb here is “do”, “the washing up” is the object we are “verb”ing.

7 years ago

Hallo Emanuel! Gutten Tag aus Indien. Just discovered your site yesterday and DU ROCKE! Although German is a favourite I sometimes feel the Sprache is playing hard to get. It shouldn’t be this hard and yet it is. I know cos I’ve studied French and it certainly was’t as rewarding as German. And yet I find myself struggling at times. Thankyou very much for your efforts.
So in this phrase “Die Mutter wäscht dem Kind den Schmutz vom Gesicht ab.” does ‘waescht’ here specifically mean ‘remove’ or can ‘remove’ and ‘wash’ be used interchangebly. As in ‘the mother washes the dirt off the kid’s face’ P.S- I assure you a donation soon although I need a little time to save some given the Euro-Rupee exchange. You should’t be shouldering this burden all by yourself. :)

7 years ago

Hi, your blog is amazing for lerning vocabulary. What I like is that the definition of the words are contextual, i. e., you give examples of when use one word (specially the verbs) and not another one.
I would like to ask you if you could explains the forms of waschen with prefixes: reinwaschen (i assume this one is when people clean something and make it “pure” -rein-, for example, when the medic desinfects their instruments), wegwaschen, auswaschen, mitwaschen, durchwaschen, weißwaschen (i guess hier the meaning is cleaning something till is white, like with chlorine) und verwaschen.

PS. Im in the process of doing a memrise.com course with your collection of “word of the day”. The credits, obviously, goes to you. I hope it´s not a problem.

GrüBe von México.

7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel


Maybe Pedro answered separately… and I am sure you know about Memrise now, but just in case, for other people…

Zum Beispiel…


It is great for straight out spaced learning of vocab, but somehow misses your explanations and quirky humour :)

8 years ago

It is always definite? How about sentences like: “Das machen wir in einem Abwasch” (We will do it in one go).

10 years ago

Good stuff. I’m trying to learn some German and plan on folling your blog. Thanks,John