Prefix Verbs Explained – “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.

  • Die Durchschnittstemperatur der Erde nimmt zu.
  • The average temperature on earth is increasing.
  • Der Wind nimmt zu.
  • The wind is increasing.
  •  Der Schmerz nimmt zu.
  • The pain is intensifying.
  • Der Jahresgewinn der Firma hat zugenommen.
  • The companies annual profit went up.

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…

  • Ich nehme zu.

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):

  • Toll, Ich habe nicht zugenommen.
  • Great, I did not gain weight.

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.

  • Ich nehme 3 Kilo ab.
  • I lose 3 kilo.
  • Ich will abnehmen.
  • I want to lose weight.

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

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:

  • I gained 10 kilo.
  • Ich nahm 10 Kilo zu.

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

  • Ich habe 10 Kilo zugenommen.

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

  • Ich habe nicht vor zuzunehmen.
  • I don’t intend to gain weight.

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.

4.9 14 votes
Article Rating