Word of the Day – “einfallen”

** 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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9 months ago

Wow, what an article

1 year ago
  • Great article! Just a quick question why in ” Ich war an der Kasse und dann ist mir plötzlich meine Pin nicht einfallen. Voll peinlich.” einfallen is used instead of eingefallen. Is it not separable here? Why not?
2 years ago

Just want to say your explanation and examples are very easy to follow and leave me knowing a useful German verb. Ich muss später in einen Club eingefallen!

4 years ago

Was wondering whether the r-version reinfallen mit+D and reinfallen auf+A. are really used. They seem pretty handy in real life situations

7 years ago

´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.´

also ´in DEN Club eingefallen ´ besagt eindeutig, dass ´we invaded the club´
but what if I were to say ´…in einer Bar getroffen und später sind wir IM Club eingefallen´?
would that mean that ´we collapsed in the club´ (implied being here that ´we drank too much and passed out´)

if such is the case, then I must say I would´ve never thought that these pesky little wechselpräpositionen could change so drastically the meaning of a word, thus conveying and entirely different message.

Danke im Voraus

7 years ago

Another question, on the prefix, ein

I always assumed Einstein translated to “a rock”, or maybe “one rock”, but now I’m wondering if maybe it means “in a rock”, or “a rock from inside”, or does the prefix only work for verbs, and not nouns? Is it possible stein is also a verb that I’m not aware of, or is there no good translation for Einstein?

7 years ago

Einfallen is proving a difficult term for me to learn. In the context of remembering something, I notice you begin all of your sentences with the object (Ihm, Uns, Mir, etc.). To me, this feels unnatural. Would you ever say it the other way around?

Die Idee fällt mir ein.
The idea occurs to me.

or past tense

Die Idee ist mir eingefallen.
The idea occurred to me.

After reading your first two posts on word order, I’m guessing the above would only be used in contrast to another idea, such as in the following.

Die Idee ist mir eingefallen, nicht dir.
I came up with the idea, not you. (rough translation)

The way you’ve ordered it, such as in the sentence, “Mir ist deine Telefonnummer wieder eingefallen.” I would more literally translate to, “I was fallen back into by your telephone number”

This one is going to take some practice, but I’m afraid I’ll more likely just use ” erinnern” in any opportunity I have to practice it, except maybe during a Eureka moment.

7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

I’m sure “einfallen” is actually easier than “erinnern”, but I already know “erinnern” as “to remember,” so when I’m trying to translate from what I know in English to German on the fly, “erinnern” is the first thing that comes to mind, and as long as it gets the job done, I’m not going to look for something better.

Also, it’s apparent that I’ve been using “erinnern” wrong this whole time anyway. I would have probably said something like, “Ich habe deine Telefonnummer geerinnert.”which is apparently not right.

“Einfallen” is just something I’m going to have to practice. The word order throws me off a bit, but I need to practice that too.

To be clear, with “einfallen,” do you always put the object first, as long as it’s the least important part of the sentence?

7 years ago

Hey Emmanuel
Gerade habe ich häufiger gesehen, dass man auch “auffallen” verwendet, und ich frage mich, was der Unterschied dazwischen ist.
zB: “Mir ist aufgefallen, dass mein Beispiel nicht wohlbereitet ist.”

7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ganz einfach!
… Sie werden in ähnlichen Lagen verwendet, deshalb fand ich schwierig, die Unterschiede zu erkennen.

1 year ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Hey Emmanuel! Awesome explanation as usual.
so, einfallen is also used when-remembering something suddenly. Then why does the 2nd question in the quiz shows incorrect? Am I missing anything?

7 years ago

Why wouldn’t besonderes and gutes be capitalized?

8 years ago

Loved loved loved this… Been thinking about why your blog is so good/appreciated and for me, it’s like you’re sitting next to me telling me an interesting and often funny story about the word/concept from what you’ve discovered, then I’m drawn in to it, walking with you, then I think about it in my own way, so now I have an idea on how to remember einfallen that relates to how you’ve described it, though not exactly the same, it’s one that will work for me… Which is the most important bit… So you’re bringing it to life and then allowing it to be made personal for each person reading… That’s my thoughts so far anyway ;)

Alternatively, it could just be your curiosity and interest in German, and quirky sense of humour is contagious??

That’s what comes to mind… Oh my, wait, what a pun… I believe I just applied einfallen with this comment I’ve just written… Too funny… (I hope so anyway)…

8 years ago

Your very first sentence is grammatically incorrect. It should read “Thomas ist froehlich, als ihm einfaellt (verb to end of dependent clause beginning with ‘als’), wo sein Schluessel ist. (There was a tense problem too but I’ll overlook that).

8 years ago

That really helps! I get it finally, danke schön!

8 years ago

I am a beginner and your explanation is so great! Anyway I could not get the meaning of “Mir ist deine Telefonnummer einfallen.” Could you please translate it into English? That I can much easier to understand :(; thanks in advance!

9 years ago

Such an excellent site!!! Tausand Danke :D

9 years ago

Ich bin sehr froh dass ich deinen blog gefunden habe. Toller Blog!!. Keep on coming!!.

10 years ago

Man, must have overlook it. I was reading your blog while I was at work.
Guess my job somehow distracted me from the joy of reading the article to the end.

Oh my! I’m doing it again!

10 years ago

I love your blog. Your style of writing makes me smile quite so often and your articles remind me of just how beautiful my native language actually is.
And as a note, from a native speaker:

“einfallen” can also be used in the context of “invading”.

We don’t really have a verb for “to invade” that derives from the noun “Invasion” in the German language.
I mean, I looked it up and found “invadieren” which kind of sound logical but also very awkward and bulky to me. In fact, I’ve never ever heard this in my entire life.
So Instead of this, we usually use the verb “einfallen” for “to invade”. Just like a thought can drop into your mind a whole nation, tribe or group of people can drop into your country, house or golf club ruining your day.

In the European history e.g. the invading or “einfallenden” Huns were part of the reason for what we Germans call “die Völkerwanderung” (the Migration Period).

Hope this makes sense to you.

Keep on bloggin’! :)

Amr Boghdady
10 years ago

Wow, glad I came by your blog!
I’ve seen many sites offering a German word of the day, but none gave any explanation on how it is usually used in context!

Kudos for doing such a great job, will definitely be a regular visitor here :)

3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

That site advertises cheating services for college students. As a language educator is that something to support?