Word of the Day – “einfallen”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: June 22, 2021

** sorry for the missing audio… something went wrong with the upload and I have to redo most of them***

Hello everyoneeinfallen german

and welcome to our German word of the day. This time we will have a look at the meanings of the widespread word:


Wait… widespread might not be the best wording these days.
Seriously, though, einfallen is super useful and an absolute must-have.
It consists of the base verb fallen, which translates to to fall, and the prefix ein, which carries the idea of inward.
Why it’s ein and not in, you ask?
That’s a great question, and I’m sure German has a good answer for it. Come on German, tell us!
“I don’t know… I was bored, I guess.”
Great, thanks. Very helpful.
“Was that sacra…”
Shut up, German. I’m trying to explain you.
So…going by its parts, einfallen means something like falling into, falling inward. But looking at the following example, there seems to be no connection….

  • Immer wenn ich ein Beispiel brauche, fällt mir keins ein.
  • Whenever I need an example, I can’t think of one.

Seems completely random, right? But it’s actually not that strange if you rephrase it to come to one’s mind.

  • …, fällt mir keins ein.
  • …, none comes to “me” (my mind).

The only diffence here is actually that in English, the though or idea comes to you, while in German it “falls into you“.
And that can be a new idea…

  • Wir haben gestern abend nichts Besonderes gemacht. Uns ist nichts Gutes eingefallen.
  • We did nothing special last night. We could not think of anything good.

… or something that you already knew but you kind of forgot. Which is why einfallen is also often used in the sense of remembering.

  • Ich war an der Kasse und dann ist mir plötzlich meine Pin nicht eingefallen. Voll peinlich.
  • I was at the cash desk and then I suddenly couldn’t remember/think ofmy pin number. Totally embarrassing.
  • “Wolltest du nicht heute abend meditieren?”
    “Ja, aber dann ist mir eingefallen, dass ich Netflix habe…”
  • “Didn’t you want to meditate tonight?”_
    “Yeah, but then I remembered that I have Netflix…”

Now some of you might be wondering if there’s a difference to sich erinnern, which also means to remember. And the image of a thought “falling” into our head is actually great help here.  Because einfallen is for quick, short “thoughts” that come to you. You wouldn’t use einfallen in a sense of remembering the good old days. You know… when we’d still go to school and work and hang out in the park.
Oh man, I hope this will be totally not relevant if people read this in a year :).
Anyway, so einfallen is short and snappy. Sich erinnern on the other hand has a bit of a slower vibe. Like… you sit somewhere and you reminisce. Okay, maybe not that extreme.
Now, I think the meaning of einfallen is pretty clear, but I feel like we should address the grammar a little. Because it’s just kind of an unusual way of phrasing things. 

  • Dein Name fällt mir nicht ein.
  • Your name won’t come to me.
    I can’t think ofyour name.

In German, the thought is the subject of the sentence, and Iam the “receiver” of it. That’s nothing crazy but what might throw you of, is that Germans often start with the person having the thought.

  • Mir fällt dein Name nicht ein.
  • Ihm fällt ein, dass er heute einen Termin hat.
  • It comes to his mind, that he has an appointment today.
    (He remembers, that he has an appointment today.)

This phrasing is suuuuuper common in German, and I think you all understand this on a theoretical level, but it’ll take some getting used to in practice.
We’ll do a couple of questions about this in the quiz at the end, but there are a few other things we need to talk about still.

First up, let’s mention the side meaning of einfallen, which is to invade. Makes sense if you think of a horde of Vikings “falling into” a village. Luckily, Vikings are now Scandinavians and the only thing they threaten the world with is by making other countries feel bad about themselves by comparison. But you might still hear einfallen here and there…

  • Gestern abend haben wir uns alle in einer Bar getroffen und später sind wir in den  Club eingefallen.
  • Last night we all met at a bar and later we all literally invaded the club.

And this example brings us right over to our next point: the past. You might have noticed it already, but I want to mention it explicitely… einfallen builds its spoken past with sein. 

  • Mir ist eingefallen… YEAH
  • Mir hat eingefallen… NOOOO

And this makes sense, actually, because fallen is clearly a movement from A to B and that just carried over into the abstract sense.
Next up, let’s also give a shout out to the related words, namely the noun der Einfall, which is an idea. German also has the word die Idee, though, so you might not see the noun by itself very often. But the adjectives einfallslos and einfallsreich are pretty useful.

  • Du schenkst Maria einen Amazon-Gutschein zum Geburtstag? Das ist nicht sehr einfallsreich.
  • You’ll give Maria an Amazon gift card for her birthday? That’s not very creative.

And last but not least, we get to the infamous r-version.


If you’ve read a few of my articles on prefix verbs, you probably know the r-version. Many prefix verbs have it and usually, its meaning is the “literal” sense of the combination of verb an prefix. So for reinfallen that would be “to fall into”. And indeed, it can be used that way.

  • Da vorne ist ein Loch, pass auf, dass du nicht reinfällst.
  • There’s a hole coming up, watch out, so you don’t fall in.

But reinfallen is also used in a more figurative sense of falling of falling into some kind of trap – be it a prank or just a macho.

  • “Guck mal mein Bauch. Ich bin  schwanger.”
    “ECHT?! Glückwunsch!!”
    “Haha, reingefallen. Ich habe einfach nur Blähungen.”
  • “Look…my belly. I am pregnant.”
    “REALLY?! Congratulations!!”
    “Haha… gotcha. I just have gas.”
  • Maria versteht nicht, warum sie immer wieder auf Machos reinfällt.
  • Maria doesn’t understand why she keeps being fooled my machos.

And finally, there’s the noun der Reinfall, which is a colloquial word for fail or disappointment, usually in context of events.

  • “Wie war der Urlaub.”
    “Ein totaler Reinfall. Wir mussten nach zwei Tagen zurückfliegen, wegen Corona.”
  • “How was your vacation? ”
    “A complete fail! We had to fly back after two days, because of Corona.”

And I think that’s it for today :). Yeay.
This was our look at the meaning of einfallen, a word that you should definitely add to your active vocabulary because it’s really really common.
If you want to check how much you remember, you can take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And of course if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment. Hope you enjoyed it and see you next time.

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