German Word of the Day – “ankommen”

2 meanings of ankommenHello everyone,

and welcome to another rendition of our German Word of the Day. Glad you tuned in again. And if you have any questions or something I say is not clear, feel free to call me and maybe you’ll be live on the show. The number is 0800-vocab-4-u. But let’s get started.
This time we will look at the meanings of:



Despite its pronunciation ankommen is not at all rare. You can hear and read it every day in both high quality “novelish”  German and colloquial speech.
It consists of the basic verb kommen, which basically is to come (and the English homophone too, for those dirty minds of ya’) and the preposition an, which means either at, to or on.  And we already have a first call here, Christin from Sugar City, Idaho, welcome to the show.
“Hi Emanuel, great to talk to you…”
What can I do for you, Christin?
“Well, uhm… you know I am like a really big fan of your show and all… but when I saw ankommen in the preview I was like… isn’t that a little bit boring… ?”
Oh, and why would you think that?
“Well… I mean… it’s like … it’s just to arrive right? Of course it’s an important word to know and all, but half an hour spent on to arrive seems sort of like a really long time I guess…”
Oh, once my flight was canceled and I had to wait 36 hours for the next one… now THAT took a really long time for me to arrive :)
” Ahahah…. that’s so funny…”
But seriously, you are definitely right that ankommen means to arrive… I got a little challenge for you…
 “What is it… (still snickering)”
You have to translate a short sentence for me…
 “Oh damn… I’m so gonna embarrass myself…  you gotta help me ok?”
Sure, so the sentence is:

“Oh… uhm… that’s kinda hard …  it’s like …  Whether Thomas arrives at Maria’s, arrives on that, whether he arrives in time…Shit, that doesn’t make sense to me… is that correct???”
Well no that doesn’t make sense to me either. There is just so much more to ankommen than just to arrive. It actually means 4 distinct concepts.
“Oh wow… well I’ll definitely keep listening.”
Cool, than enjoy and thanks for your call Christin.
“Bye… thank you…”

ankommen – to arrive

So I am not exaggerating here, ankommen really means 4 different core concepts. The first one is literally “to come to a place” or as one word to arrive.

There are some differences between arrive and ankommen. One is that you can only ankommen at places and locations, NOT at conclusions, decisions or something other abstract. There are many possible verbs for these cases but generally kommen without an will do the job.

  • Ich bin zu einer Entscheidung gekommen.
  • I have come to a decision.

On the other hand, ankommen is frequently used for letters, parcels and even E-Mails.

Another use of ankommen is a bit figurative. Suppose you want to go to that very fancy restaurant with your crush. It is hard to get in there so you are all dressed up but too bad you did not know they have what is an awesome word for hangman… Krawattenzwang (pron.: cruh-vutn-tsvung). This word means obligation to wear a tie. You however are not wearing one so the door man might say this:

Literally that means “Without a tie you do not need to arrive here.”, but the actual meaning is “Without a tie you have no chance whatsoever to get in so no need to come here.” This ankommen is still based on the concept of arriving at some place, only the focus is somewhere else. It is also useful in an dispute. If the other person is about to throw an argument at you you already know and you think it to be really stupid and pointless you may interrupt him or her and say:

Think of it as if the person was approaching you and then you see that he or she is bringing along that one stupid something you didn’t want to bothered with.

Before we move on to the next meaning, one word about prepositions. Those on the place you are going to and if this place requires an then there will be 2 ans in your phrase. Don’t hesitate. It is correct that way.

Please DO NEVER skip the second an. You will unintentionally be saying something really dirty if you do…. mind the English homophone of to come.

ankommen auf – to depend

Onto the second concept which is to depend. As a descendant of the Latin pendere it has brothers in all roman languages, but not in German. We have 2 options for it, the first one being abhängen von. Literally translated this would be “to hang from”. The other option is ankommen auf. I don’t want to discuss the differences between those 2 in detail but I think ankommen is shifted quite a bit towards “that is up to” … in sense of responsibility or importance rather than choice. You’ll see in the examples.

Ankommen is also the word to go for if you just want to say:

without any further explanation.  Abhängen does not work in that case.

There are 2 other nice and often used expressions. The first one is “Wenn es drauf ankommt….” which can mean any of the following:

  • When the chips are down…
  • When shit hits the fan…
  • At crunch time…

It is debatable whether this really belongs in the depend-category but to me it is close enough, especially when you say “it is up to” instead of depend. The German phrase literally means “When it depends…” without saying on what it depends. It just depends. It is on the edge. I hope you can see a connection there :). If not, it’s fine, but remember the phrasing for it is really common.

The second expression I’d like to tell you is

Literally this would be “I let it depend.”and the real meaning is “I will risk that.”. Imagine you tell your friend a plan you are convinced of and he tells you possible negative consequences. If you are willing to take the risk, this expression is what you can answer. Also this is something you can hear quite a lot so … remember it if you have some spare memory :).

What’s generally important for the depend-ankommen is that it ALWAYS comes with auf followed by accusative case (case 4). Without auf it won’t be understood as to depend!!!!
Could there possibly be confusion with the arrive-ankommen? No, because you arrive at a place and to ask for this place you use Where? and not Where to?. Thus, even if the place needs you to use auf, this auf will be followed by dative case.

The first sentence means “He arrives at the station”, the second means “It depends on the station.”

ankommen bei – “to make an impression”

This meaning of ankommen is hard to translate as one word to English. The closest and most general would be “to make an impression (be it good or bad)”, I think, but the actual English  phrasings are different.

There are other possible English phrasing but I think you get the idea of this.
It works to think of it as an actual arrival. If the people like you, they will be nice to you so they will make your arrival gut. If you suck, they will show a negative attitude and your arrival will be … not so pleasant or nicht so gut.

This ankommen always comes with the preposition bei. Bei is by default followed by case 3 (dative) and thus this time there is ample room for confusion with the arriving-ankommen.

This could either mean that he is arriving safely or that she likes him. If no context is provided people would likely interpret this as the arriving-ankommen because that would be the most common use.
One last thing I’d like to mention is that the opposite of gut ankommen isn’t really schlecht ankommen but nicht gut ankommen. Maybe that is because ankommen by itself has a positive touch to it, and nicht puts that in the negative while schlecht just qualifies something good as bad. So schlecht ankommen is understandable but it does not feel genuine to me.

Now before we get to the last meaning of ankommen, let’s look at the example from the beginning.

The second part – “kommt drauf an” –  is very likely to depend, as it is exactly the translation of “It depends.”. The last part must be to arrive because this is the only meaning you can do in time. As for the first one, we have learned that this is not clear but since we already have 1 arrival in that sentence, let’s go for the impression one and see if that makes sense.

  • Whether Thomas will make a good impression on Maria depends on whether he will arrive in time.

Seems like punctuality is VERY important for Maria so let’s hope for Thomas that his train is not delayed. :)
We are almost done, one more meaning to go.

ankommen gegen – yeah… well uh…

This one is really the hardest to translate and even dictionaries have their problems. Pons’ attempt is a complete fail and Leo doesn’t list it.  It means something like you stand a chance against someone or something, you are a match. It does not include victory, it just means that you are doing well enough in the confrontation.

This should be enough examples for that meaning. This ankommen is not something people say everyday. Yet it is not old fashioned so having heard of it could save you from some confusion.

Now we are almost done, and this means it is time for everyones favorite but I hear we have another call, Erik from Sweden, hello and what can I do for you Eric.
“Hi Emanuel, … so you have given us some idiomatic expressions and seem really useful but I was wondering if you have left out the most obvious one ?”
Oh, do you mean come on! ?
“Yeah exactly, that’s the one I meant… it looks VERY close to komm an to me.”
Excellent question Erik, thank you. It does indeed look very close but it is not. Come on is not related at all to ankommen. The translation for Come one! depends of course on context but if it is with kommen then it will be just kommen without an. Are you gonna look at the grammar with us Erik?
“Sure I will, that’s always the best part.”

The spoken past for 3 of the meanings is built with sein and the ge-form angekommen. Only the depend is built with haben. Technically, I have to add. Ankommen is one of the few verbs where people use the real past also in spoken language. When they mean to arrive then they will use spoken past most of the time. For all others I would prefer the real past and for the to depend one it even feels a bit wrong to use the spoken past. So you need to know the real past stem which is – kam an. Looks pretty much like came so it shouldn’t be too hard to remember. To wrap this up, here are all the meanings again in past tense.

Ankommen – to arrive at a location – preposition depends on the location

Ankommen auf – to depend – always followed by case 4 (accusative)

Ankommen bei – to make an impression

Ankommen gegen – to be a match for sb/sth.

So, this was it for today… quite a lot of input. If you have any questions or suggestion, just post me a comment and I will respond as soon as I can.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

for members :)

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Hi, Emanuel. What a complicated word! This blog is fantastic, very entertaining and useful for aspiring germanophones like me. I send my thanks, and hope that you will continue. I do have a small suggestion regarding ‘abhängen von’ – namely that in English things only ‘hang from’, never ‘hang of’ (in other cases they may ‘hang on’ or ‘hang by’, but never of). Someone who has tried to learn a European language, and knows that of and from are often the same, would probably understand, but otherwise it could be confusing.
Thanks again!!


Hi! wow, this blog is wunderbar! I really learn a lot! especially the ‘everyday meaning’ that is not usually what would be taught in regular Deutschkurs. Soo.. When will you do the anstellen? Since your last comment on this post indicating this one is a very usual verb that everyone in Germany uses everyday (maybe, i just presume it is so :) ), I tried to look up on, but it just hardly makes sense on this verb :)


Dear Emanuel, what’s the difference between vergeben and verstecken?


Sehr sehr hilfreich! Vielen Dank. <333! Du bist der Wahnsinn.


As a beginner, I find some of this over my level; however, it’s fantastic!
Funny, educational, and thorough.
Vielen Dank.


Dein Blog ist fantastisch!. Dein Blog kommt sehr gut bei mir an!.
Forgive me if it sounds worng. You posts are wonderful!!.


This is awwwesome. Also, ankommen… come to/come down to (es kommt drauf an), come/go over (the film went over really well…come/go up against feels like there´s a similar theme in English but not as succinctly expressed (this might be totally in my head but hey it helps me remember)


wow!!! you are so good at this!!!! i mean i have this test tomorrow and this really helped me,,, anyway i realise im writing 1 year after this post so i won’t be surprised if you don’t see this… but thank you sooooooo much!!!


Hallo! as usual your explainations are super toll, however I fear I haven’t quite caught the meaning of ‘wenn es darauf ankommt’, maybe because I’m not an English native speaker so I had to look up the definitions you gave (btw, ‘when the shit hits the fan’ gave me a laugh, thank you for that as wellXD)… could it mean something like ‘when it comes to the point’? I found a few examples on the net, please correct me if I’m wong or considering a different meaning of ankommen.

Wir haben in Europa, wenn es darauf ankommt, keine Entscheidungsgewalt in außenpolitischen Dingen.

Aber wenn es darauf ankommt, die Prinzipien in die Praxis zu übertragen, läuft unweigerlich etwas schief.

Don’t know why I just found this politic stuff… sorry about thatXD
Have a nice evening


Thanks as always for a nice post..
While reading on DW, i came across a form of ankommen, which i think corresponds to the third type you mentioned above:
Sein Land liefere wie immer in vollem Umfang, die Frage sei aber, was am Ende bei der EU ankomme, sagte Putin bei einer Sitzung des nationalen Sicherheitsrats in Moskau.
So what does “was am Ende bei der EU ankomme” here mean? I am guessing that Putin here is sarcastic in his first comment and wants to put the blame on EU, ie, how the EU receives this ‘goodness’ from him.

On another note, i wanted to ask you that is there a book that explains German words in such details along with etymological references. I know that no book can even half as good as the job you are doing. I am kind of fedup with dictionaries and mobile apps to increase my German vocab. Unless we understand the words as you explain them, it is difficult to keep those in mind of long time ( esp when one is seas away from Germany ).
I have searched through Internet but the Etymology books i get are German-German and not German-English. If you can recommend anything, that would helpful.



Hi Emmanuel! First of all thank you so much for your course, which is awesome (I will never thank you enough for explaining the difference between als, wenn and wann…. maybe one day you could make my world even better by explaining the negative form and the damn position of nicht ;))
Anyway, I have a question about the preposition auf, which can apply to other prepositions too. Today I colleague asked me if I want(ed? even my English has problems with if ;)) to do some sports on Saturday, and I was so proud of myself and so grateful to you when I answered: “das kommt auf DEM Wetter an”, which of course was a mistake, because I should have used akkusativ instead of dativ.
And here comes my question: when prepositions introduce more than one case (other great post about cases, by the way :)), is there any rule to distinguish which case this is? Or it depends only on the verb, so I have to learn each of them by heart? I understand the difference between preposition indicating movement, with akk, and preposition indicating something that stays in a place, with dat (but only because Latin works the same way ;)), but what about the case of “ankommen” meaning “to depend”?

thank you so much in advance

Andres C.
Andres C.

Hallo Emmanuel! My question is about a sentence you wrote using two different prepositions:
-Ich komme um 9 am Bahnhof an.
-Er kommt auf den Bahnhof an.
In both cases the meaning is the same (to arrive), but the prepositions change: am Bahnhof (an dem), auf den Bahnhof. What would be the difference here? Is there some change in the meaning of the sentence?
Vielen dank! Your blog is terrific.

Andres C.
Andres C.

Excuse me, I made a mistake in the first post. I wanted to say:
-Ich komme um 9 am Bahnhof an (also, Ich komme an der Station an)
-Er kommt auf deM Bahnhof an.
The three phrases use dative, they all have the meaning of arriving at some place, but in two cases you used “an” and in the other “auf”. What would be the difference?


gegen etw, ankommen = to cope with sth. Das hab ich auf der Internetsite gefunden. Vielleicht ist das jemandem hilfreich. Sehr interessante Seite übrigens. Ich finde viele Erklärungen hier, die ich nirgendwo sonst gefunden habe.


Can we use “auf etwas ankommen” with the meaning “it boils down to”? Somehow I got this meaning in my German class, and when I saw this in the dictionary I thought I was right:

Es kommt (mir) darauf an, dass … es ist (mir) wichtig, dass … (


Could the third lankommen be to come across: “he didn’t come across well.”


Hi, may I ask the following questions concerning the verbs ‘melden’ and ‘anmelden’:

what’s the difference between the two: ‘sich zur Prüfung melden’ and ‘sich für eine Prüfung anmelden’ ?
Do they both mean ‘to register for an examination’?
What sense does the prefix ‘an-‘ add to ‘melden’ to become ‘anmelden’ in here?

Besides, I am wondering why ‘melden’ partners with ‘zu’ while ‘anmelden’ partners with ‘für’ ?
Does ‘sich für die Prüfung melden’ communicate the same info as ‘sich zur Prüfung melden’?
Does ‘sich für die Prüfung anmelden’ communicate the same as ‘sich zur Prüfung anmelden’ ?

Many thanks!


Hi! Thanks for the great article! It really cleared things up for me.

I was wondering more about the phrase “Wenn es drauf ankommt”. I know one of your translations is “When shit hits the fan…”, and I know what that means, but I’m still not quite sure how to use that colloquially in German.

For example, how would you translate “I left the party when shit hit the fan.”? Would it be “Ich hab die Party gelassen, wenn es drauf angekommt.”?


Hi, Thank you very much for the explanation. I have just one question regarding this post, it has always bemused me:

Ohne Krawatte brauchen sie hier garnicht anzukommen.

Why there is a zu positioned between ankommen. Is there any grammatical reason behind it as a general rule?

Thank you very much. I am looking forward to your reply.


But, I found the expression:

— That’s up to you.
— Das liegt bei dir.

from “bei jdm liegen”. Does it mean that whatever it is (decision, responsibility) is up to this person? And after reading the articles ankommen and abhängen, I would like to know this difference (if any).

Can it be translated by

— Das is von dir abhängig.
— Das kommt auf dich an.

Lastly, does it change if I want to add another sentence, like

— It’s up to you, etwas zu tun.

Thanks a lot!