Word of the Day – “zunehmen”

Hello everyone, the cat has zugenommen

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



Wintertime. White, glistering flakes slowly floating down, covering all earth with a thin soft layer, that we all want to melt away when spring comes.
Wintertime. Invisible, superfluous calories are slowly accumulating, covering all body with a thin soft layer, that we all want to melt away when spring comes.
What all that has to do with zunehmen? You’ll find out. 

Zunehmen consists of the basic verb nehmen and the small word zu. Nehmen is a very very important verb as it means to take.
The word zu, I am not calling it a preposition on purpose, usually means one of the following 3: to, towards or closed. There is a lot of verbs with zu as a prefix. For some of them the meaning of zu is obvious as in zumachen which is to “make closed” or simply to close. For others none of the 3 meanings really fit the function of zu, which, in those cases, is probably best described by “affirmative”. Examples for these kind of verbs are zulassen (to allow) or zusagen (to “say affirmative” or to promise).

In the word zunehmen, you could see the zu as something like “to oneself”.   So what does zunehmen mean? It means “to take something to oneself”, and it includes the idea that one already had something of whatever is being taken. Now you are probably thinking “Yeah…. that sentence did sound really complicated but… is there like a real translation for zunehmen?”. Of course there is. If you look for words that fit the described concept you will end up with to increase and to go up. Let’s look at some examples.

There is one important thing you need to realize: zunehmen is always done by the thing itself. This is different to the English increase. You can increase something, for example a price, but you CANNOT zunehmen something. The price can only increase by itself. If you want to increase something, the German word is erhöhen.

“Ok cool so zunehmen means to increase and you can’t do it to things actively… but what’s with all that talk about gaining weight in the beginning? Was that really necessary?”
Well, the reason for that inconvenient reminder is that zunehmen also means exactly this – to gain weight. By the way, to gain weight seems like a really nice phrasing when you think of it… it just sounds all positive :). Anyway…

Based on what we have learned so far, this sentence translates to “I increase.” or to be more precise “I increase myself.”. So from there it is only a small step to the meaning to gain weight – oh and just to make sure, there is no other way to say that in German. When you step on your bathroom scales and the numbers pop up, what you shout is (hopefully):

And now of course you want to know the opposite of zunehmen. Well, that is really easy in German, as to lose weight is simply abnehmen.

At first, I actually thought about abnehmen as the Word of the Day but frankly… I pussed out. Abnehmen just means too many different things. Most of them, including to lose weight, can be subsumed under the concept of taking something  off of something. But abnehmen REEAAALLLLLYYYY stretches this idea, so much so, that even to believe is covered – I take something you said off of you. See what I mean? So yeah, I really didn’t dare to take on abnehmen. For those who are interested here is the link to Leo.org.

To wrap this up let’s look at the grammar of zunehmen real quick. Nehmen is one of the verbs which get a face-lift when they meet you or some third person. So it is:

  • Ich nehme zu.
  • Du nimmst zu.
  • Er/sie/es nimmt zu.

The spoken past is built with haben and the ge-form is zugenommen. The real past stem of nehmen is nahm, so technically this would a correct sentence:

But unless you want to sound really epic, stick with the spoken past.

Now for those of you determined not to gain weight in winter, this is how you say it:

You can see once again, that German has absolutely no shame when it come to doubling things. Zuzu-, gege-, die die, dass das, …der, der der… we got it all.
The corresponding noun for zunehmen is die Zunahme which is the increase. And then there is the word zunehmend, which can be translated to increasing(ly) or growing.

So this was our German Word of the Day zunehmen.  It means to increase but if you do it yourself you are gaining weight. If you have questions or suggestions, I’d be glad if you leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

for members :)

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Good article.
I believe you have made a mistake that should not be ignored. You should write ‘lose’ instead of ‘loose’.


I’m very impressed with your use of “glister”. Every native speaker whom I know (and I include myself) would simply use “glisten”. This is the first use of the word I have encountered outside of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (“All that glisters is not gold..”). Bravo.


Your explanation of “zu” to mean “closed” (as in “zumachen”) initially confused me because I have just learnt the word “zuschalten”, which means “to switch on” (and not “to switch off”).

Perhaps “zuschalten” makes the circuit “closed”, which then brings the light “on”?


Hi, I kinda confused with the last example you’ve posted, the ‘ich habe nicht vor zuzunehmen’ what is the rule of the zu in front of the zunehmen in here? coz in the other post, you said that zu is not applicable when the verb is a modalverb, correct me if I’m wrong, but the verb here is ‘haben’ right? that is a modalverb, no? danke! :)


I’m sorry, made a fatal typo, it was the ‘role’ not ‘rule’ duh! my bad :)


Ach I see! (how to express it in deutsch again?) man, I really need to broaden my vocab first.. thanks 4 the explanation :)


“By the way, to gain weight seems like a really nice phrasing when you think of it… it just sounds all positive :).”
that might explain some of the body-types that we see around here in the States…


Hey, dude!

I was readin this article and a doubt arose: Is abnehmen used as antonym of zunehmen only when related to weight or in the previous exampes you gave too?
For instantece: ‘Die Durchschnittstemperatur der Erde nimmt ab.’



from the last example: “ich habe nicht vor zuzunehmen” can we conclude that:
“vorhaben zu” means “intend to” ??



Können Sie aufnehmen erklären?


I first heard the word “zunehmen” used for the phase of the moon. The equivalent word in English is a funny old word, we say the moon is “waxing” when it’s zunehmen and it’s “waning” when it’s abnehmen.

I can’t think of any other context where “waxing” means increasing. The same verb can be used for the painful removal of body hair (using wax) or polishing a car (with *supposedly* wax-based polish which is actually a stinky petroleum product.) “Waning” on the other hand only means decreasing and it gets used to describe people’s excitement about a trend, as in “their interest in cute kitten videos is waning.”

Great post again, thank you. Soon I will begin practicing the separable verbs instead of just learning about them. Do you have any exercise sheets for separable verbs?


It’s true that ‘wax’ is not a common verb in this sense, but you can say “she waxed lyrical’.


Hi Emmanuel, I write about the English language, and I was writing about the English future and came across your blog, because I thought that German didn’t really have a future tense either. Your blog is such fun and so helpful (for a language nerd like myself), that i started to wander about. Great stuff!

A question about zusagen. Could it be that ‘zu’ and (English) ‘so’ are connected? From the way you describe i, it sounds as if Zusagen means ‘to say so’. My students (I teach advanced English, mostly to speakers of Latin languages) struggle with ‘I think so’ and so on. Is there a link?


In typical conversation, do you tend to use erhöhen or steigern? And when talking about things increasing, is it more common to use zunehmen or steigen?

If I’m in the car and my favorite song starts playing on the radio, how do I say, “Hey man, turn it up!”?

Perhaps “Hey Alter, mach das mal lauter!”?


I love your blog!!!!!