Prefix Verbs Explained – “ankommen”

2 meanings of ankommenHello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of our epic series Prefix Verbs Explained – today with a look at the meaning of

ankommen

And despite what it sounds like, ankommen actually isn’t uncommon at all. Many of you probably know that it’s the German word for to arrive.
But that’s not the only meaning it has, as you can see in the beauty:

  • Ob Thomas bei Maria gut ankommt, kommt drauf an, ob er pünktlich ankommt.

Yup, that’s a real sentence.
Ankommen actually has four meanings and on the surface, they seem quite disconnected.
But with a bit of mind yoga, they’ll all make sense. So let’s roll out the Yoga mat and jump right in :).

Now, when I said that ankommen has four meanings, you probably sighed inside about German and its pesky prefix verbs. And yes, they’re really pretty in our face in German.
But if you’ve read my (awesome) series on Prefix Verbs in general you’ll know that English, too, has a LOT of prefix verbs. We just don’t see them as such.
And to arrive is a perfect example because it comes from Latin *arripare and that was a combination for the prefix ad-, which expresses toward and reaching, and the word ripa, which meant shore – the same word that river is from.
So the original idea of to arrive was to get to shore.
German ankommen is a bit more “walking focused” if you will, but they both are at their core about the idea of “touching base” after a journey.

  • Das Flugzeug kommt um 6 an.
  • The plane arrives at 6.
  • Ich bin gestern abend angekommen.
  • Maria arrived/came yesterday evening.

And if you want to include the location, then in German you do that with an.

  • Ich komme an der Station an.
  • I arrive at the station.

Yes, this does sound a little clumsy, but that’s how it’s done and hey… arrive at is kind of the same, because the a- also used to be an ad-.

Now, there’s a couple of noteworthy differences between ankommen and arrive.
The first one is that ankommen ONLY works for arriving at actual locations. It does NOT work for 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 commonly used for letters, parcels and emails, while in English different wordings are more idiomatic.

  • Ist meine E-Mail angekommen?
    “Has my mail arrived?” (lit.)
  • Did you get my E-Mail?

And there’s are a few more idiomatic uses.
Suppose you want to go to that very fancy restaurant with your crush. You made reservations and got all dressed up but what you didn’t know is that they have Krawattenzwang. A word that sounds like an asthma attack but it’s the German word for obligation to wear a tie. You however are not wearing one so the door man might say this:

  • Ohne Krawatte brauchen Sie hier gar nicht anzukommen.
  • Don’t bother showing up without a tie.

And while the connection to actual ankommen is still pretty clear here, there’s also a more abstract variation of this.
Like, suppose the date went well regardless and you’re a couple now and one day, your partner starts complaining about how you dress and that you don’t have enough class. You argue and then they bring up the infamous tie-gate. That’s a perfect moment to say this:

  • Ach bitte, jetzt komm doch nicht DAMIT an!
  • Oh pleeeease, don’t bring up THAT, ok?

But I think you can see the idea of “showing up” in that, still.
Cool.
So that’s ankommen as to arrive.
But as I said, that’s only one of its meanings.
Just as common, or even more common, is the second use of ankommen ….

“ankommen auf” – to depend on

The word to depend once again is a nice example for an English prefix verb hidden in plain sight – it’s a combination of the prefix de- and the Latin verb pendere and literally it meant “to hang off of”. That makes sense. If you’re climbing, for example, and you fall, your life literally hangs on the the rope.
And German does have its own version of that: abhängen von. But that’s just one possible translation for to depend. The other one is ankommen auf.
And even though that might seem a bit random at first glance, it makes a lot of sense once you think of the English phrasing

“It comes down to…”

That, too, does express a kind of dependency, it’s just not this notion of dangling, hanging.
And that’s actually kind of the main difference between abhängen von and ankommen auf – they’re equally common and often they’re interchangeable but ankommen auf does NOT cover dependencies that are really about “needing” something…. like drugs or a partner or whatever.
Let’s look at a few examples to get feelings for it… I mean get a feeling.

  • “Kommst du morgen zu meiner Party?”
    “Das kommt darauf an, ob ich arbeiten muss.” (“hängt davon ab” is also okay)
  • “Will you come to my party tomorrow?”
    “That depends on whether I gotta work ?”
  • “Gibt es in deutschen Bahnhöfen saubere Toiletten?”
    “Das kommt auf den Bahnhof an.” (abhängen sounds a little odd here)
  • “Are there clean toilette in German train stations.”
    Depends on the station.”
  •  Oh Gott, ein Meteriod rast auf die Erde zu. Jetzt kommt alles auf Superman an.
  • Oh god. An asteroid is heading for earth at enormous speed. Now it is all up to Superman.
  • Seriösität ist das wichtigste. Darauf kommt es an.
  • Repute is what’s most important. That is what counts/ All come down to it.

     

Now, some of you might be like “Hmm, can I just pick one of the two and only learn that?”
But in this case, I’d actually say no. You need abhängen von for the real dependency stuff. And also, all the related words like dependent, independent (unabhängig) or dependency (die Abhängigkeit) are based on abhängen.  But you also need ankommen auf for at least one phrasing:

  • (das) Kommt drauf an.

Which is German for

  • It depends. 

Anhängen does NOT work for that.

And there are two other nice and often used expressions with ankommen auf. 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…

And the second one is the phrase es auf etwas ankommen lassen.
Seeing it in a sentence is probably better :)

  • Ich lasse es drauf ankommen.

Literally this would be “I’ll let it depend.”and the real meaning is

  • “I will risk that./I’ll take my chances.”

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.
Now, before we move on to the next meaning, a quick note on the grammar – in order to mean to depend, ankommen MUST come in combination with auf (or darauf). Without it, it will NOT be understood as to depend.

And since auf is one of those prepositions that can come with Dative AND Accusative – for the depend-ankommen you NEED Accusative.
Otherwise, it will sound like to arrive at.

  • Er kommt auf dem Bahnhof an.
  • Es kommt auf  den Bahnhof an.

The first sentence means “He arrives at the station”, the second means “It depends on the station.” 
So, it kommt auf the case an :).
If you want to learn more about this stuff, you can check out my article about two-way prepositions. I’ll leave the link below.
But now, let’s go on to the third idea of ankommen

ankommen bei – “to make an impression”

Imagine you go to visit your family. They wait for you at the airport and when you finally arrive, you get a warm welcome.
And if I then asked you how your arrival was, you’d say you’ve arrived well.
That’s kind of the logic behind the third idea of ankommen, which is NOT about act of arriving, but the way in which you are welcomed or received.
And that has broadened to a more general sense of how people react to things they are introduced to.

  • Der Film Joker ist gut angekommen.
  • The movie Joker was well received.
  • Eine Bierfahne kommt bei Frauen nicht gut an.
  • Beer breath doesn’t go down well with women.
  • Der neue Chef kommt gut an.
  • The new boss is well liked.

If you want to include the person, then you do that using the preposition bei. And yes… that opens up some room for confusion.

  • Thomas kommt gut bei Maria an.

This can mean that he is arriving safely at her place but also that she likes him. But I think in context it’s usually not a problem to tell.
This use of ankommen is nowhere near as common as the other two, but still it’s worth remembering.
Cool.
So we have to arrive, to depend and to be received. They look completely disconnected but we’ve seen that they all tie in well with the idea of coming to a place. And now we’ve actually all we need to understand the sentence from the beginning.
Here it is again…

  • Ob Thomas bei Maria gut ankommt, kommt drauf an, ob er pünktlich ankommt.

And here’s the solution :)

  • 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 on time.
And speaking of on time, our show today is almost up, but there’s one more meaning we need to mention.

ankommen gegen – yeah… well uh…

And this one is actually kind of hard to translate.
But imagine you have to walk against a very strong wind. If you can do it, then you “arrive against the wind”. The wind has met a match in you.  That’s kind of what ankommen gegen means. It’s not necessarily about  victory, but it means that you can hold your own against some challenge.

  • Seine Stimme kommt gegen den Lärm der Flugzeuge nicht an.
  • His voice doesn’t have a chance against the noise of the airplanes.
  • Meine Freundin kann sehr gut diskutieren. Ich komme gegen ihre Argumente selten an.
  • My girlfriend can discuss very well.  I rarely stand a chance against her points.

This ankommen is not something people say everyday and you don’t need to use it actively, but it is not old fashioned so having heard of it could save you from some confusion.
All right.
Now, we’re almost done, I swear. Just a few quick words about the grammar. Specifically, the past tense.

Grammar note and wrap up

So technically, ankommen always builds its spoken past with sein, not with haben.
However, ankommen is actually one of the verbs where you need both, spoken past and written past (preterit) in spoken German.

If you use the arrivingankommen, then the spoken past is the idiomatic choice.
For all others, especially the dependankommen, the written past sounds more idiomatic –
kam an.
So here are the meanings again, with an example in past tense… 

  • Ich bin gestern um 10 angekommen.
  • I arrived yesterday at 10.
  • Gestern kam es beim Basketball vor allem auf die Defense an. (“ist angekommen” sounds REALLY bad)
  • Yesterday at the basketball game, it depended mainly on the defense.

 

  • Ich glaube, meine grünen Haare kamen/sind bei meinem Chef nicht so gut an/ angekommen.
  • I think my boss didn’t like my green hair very much.
  • Die kleinen Farmer kamen gegen die Macht der großen Konzerne nicht mehr an.
  • The farmers weren’t able to resist the power of the large companies anymore.

But I wouldn’t stress about this too much. The arrive-ankommen is kind of the only one I regularly use in past tense, anyway.
So…  that’s it for today, for real this time :).
This was our look at the meanings of ankommen.
As always, if you want to recap the most important points and see 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.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

further reading:

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lokiuucx
lokiuucx
1 year ago

Hello Emmanuel,

After reading this post (and also the post about the dual-prepositions) I am still not sure when to use Akkusative or Dative with prepositions. Up until now I have always considered Akkusative to be movement with a destination-related:
– Ich gehe ins Kino/Ich fahre ins Meer/Ich gehe zum Bahnhof.

Here in your post the example:
– Ich komme an der Station an.

It is in the dative case, this is also a movement towards a place (with a destination). Why is it in dative or not in acusative? (or kommen makes no sense with acusative)?
Thanks,

RsKs81101
RsKs81101
1 year ago

Super post, wie gewöhnlich. But how does another seemingly common usage fit with this analysis? The phrase “Wie komme ich an . . . “? As in, “Wie komme ich schnell an Geld?” I hear a distant analogy to the English idiom “come on to,” but something like the simple “get” seems like the natural translation: “How can I quickly get cash”? And then there’s “bekommen,” as in “Wie bekomme ich Geld für . . . .”

RsKs81101
RsKs81101
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Most helpful. Thanks. I hadn’t reread the series, but now have. To say that prefix verbs essentially evolved from verbs with prepositions makes a lot of sense. And it does seem helpful to think of them nonetheless as distinct things, lexically and syntactically. Yet I also want to think of the base meaning (in this instance, “kommen”) as swimming in a kind of soup of particles that the base can attract. Sometimes attraction becomes a bond, which can have differing strength, ranging from a kind of affinity (verb with a preposition), to something magnetic (separable prefix verb), on to something so permanent that the prefix ceases to be separable (as in bekommen). The particles dance with the base meaning and possible actions (telic and atelic) and objects (concrete and abstract) in ways that create all sorts of different senses and nuances (takes a lot of Sprachgefühl to get what’s going on). What hooks up with what and when and where and to which effect keeps changing with context and time. But that’s the fun of it!

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago

1)All uses – 1 sentence challenge ( the one up has only 3 uses

Albert,der spät angekommen hast,kommt nicht gegan Alex,der gut bei Susan hast angekommen.

2) Regarding the ankommen figurative use. Can it be used for abstract concepts?

Examples

Mit Alex hier brauchen Sie (zum ersten Platz/ihr Herz) gar nicht anzukommen.

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ah Dankeschön

2) I mean sth like (°arrive to your goals) for example

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Well, you would use “reach” in english. When thinking about abstract concept “goal” seemed to be the only one that may fit.

Dankeschön

Random Guy
Random Guy
2 years ago

How to know if place requires an? Its has been confusing me. Auf/Am/Im/beim (Place). Some places can take both. Do you have a detailed perpostions Guide?

Annasc
Annasc
3 years ago

Hey Emanuel! Is drauf a spoken form of darauf?

Annasc
Annasc
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Just curious :) Probably better to use “darauf” trhen

jrqf
jrqf
4 years ago

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!

ukmerlin
ukmerlin
4 years ago

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.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

HI, Thank you very much for the explanation. However, where does the zu come from in that particular sentence?

illegallyparkedfrog
illegallyparkedfrog
5 years ago

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.”?

Lynnyo
Lynnyo
6 years ago

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!

Cole
Cole
7 years ago

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

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

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 … (http://de.thefreedictionary.com/ankommen)

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

gegen etw, ankommen = to cope with sth. Das hab ich auf der Internetsite http://www.dict.cc/?s=ankommen+gegen gefunden. Vielleicht ist das jemandem hilfreich. Sehr interessante Seite übrigens. Ich finde viele Erklärungen hier, die ich nirgendwo sonst gefunden habe.

Andres C.
Andres C.
7 years ago

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?

Andres C.
Andres C.
7 years ago

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.

leyarn
8 years ago

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
Letizia

leyarn
8 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Vielen Dank!!!! Ich gucke diese Website sofort! Und nächste(s?) mal, wird ich das gucken, bevor (oder vor?) zu fragen
(that was tought… I hope it isn?t sooo full of mistakes ;))

Hunny
Hunny
8 years ago

Hi..
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.

Regards,
Hunny

Hunny
Hunny
8 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

With much effort i was able to find the same article in English on DW. Here is the what is written for the same paragraph:
“We certainly guarantee the fulfillment of our obligations before our European customers in full,” the Russian president said in comments released by the Kremlin. “The issue is not about us, the issue is about securing transit through Ukraine.
In current situation it was pertinent for me to think that Putin cares more about his impression ( the 3rd ankommen ) :-)

Thanks for the info about the book. I will wait for it. Hopefully it would be available soon and outside of Germany too.
I take the liberty to say that you can write a good book as well. That would be a good way to leave your style legacy behind.

Regards,
Hunny

Desdra
Desdra
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

This post is from 6 years ago but I’m hoping you will see this. Did the professor ever publish his German-English etymological dictionary? Ive looked all over the web for it and don’t see it. Can you give me the professor’s name so I can do a more thorough search? Danke!

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

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
Sara

Sara
Sara
8 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

that’s right, I was not considering that aspect when writing.
Thank you so much and compliments on your today post about vocative (btw, how wrong is it or would it be felt? Can I safely use it in texts? Is it like ‘wanna’ or ‘gonna’, wrong but widely spread?)
ehm,.. I meant vonative of course. Force of habitXD
Sara

Sara
Sara
8 years ago
Reply to  Sara

sorry another mistake, I meant tests and exams rather than texts.

Amy
Amy
8 years ago

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!!!

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

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)

unsandled
9 years ago

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