Prefix Verbs Explained – “auslegen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to another episode of Prefix Verbs Explained. And before we even get to the topic let me say that this is:

The 300th article !!!

That’s crazy!! And it’s all because of YOUR support. Because clearly I wouldn’t do this if no one read it. Your comments, questions, likes and donations are super super motivating. Danke, danke, danke. I’d say… let’s do 500 next. And then 100. And then teh world… buahahahahah… okay. Time to get to the topic.

Today, we’ll have a look at


and we’ll start with a little quiz. Which of the following is NOT a translation for auslegen:

a) to interpret
b) to comb down a horse
c) to lay out

If you pondered c) for a second, then you’ve clearly had some experiences with prefix verbs already ;). So, auslegen can mean  to lay out but the two don’t always fit. And then there’s of course the other meaning. Clearly, we have enough talk about, so let’s jump right in.

As pretty much any prefix verb, auslegen has several meanings.
The first one is a rather literal take on the combination of laying and out. Auslegen expresses the idea of putting something “out there”, putting something on display.

  • Hilfe! Tauben kacken mir den Balkon voll. Ich will kein Gift auslegen, aber die Viecher müssen weg.
  • Help. Doves are shitting all over my balcony. I don’t want to lay out poison but these critters got to go.
  • Kann ich hier ein paar Flyer auslegen?
  • Can I leave some flyers here?
    (typical question in a café )
  • Entschuldigung, vor ein paar Tagen hatten Sie so ein wunderschönes Kleid in der Auslage. Ist das noch da?
  • Excuse me, a few days ago you had this beautiful dress on display/in your shop window. Do you still have that?

Information material and (possibly poisoned) bait are the usual contexts for this auslegen. What it is NOT used for is laying out in sense of presenting, explaining.

  • Ich habe im Meeting einen Plan ausgelegt.

This is NOT a translation for the English  laying out a plan. You’d use erklären or präsentieren for that. When you use auslegen, it sounds like I have put down a physical map at the meeting.
So even though auslegen and lay out  are using the same idea here, the use is a bit different.
And that’s even worse with the second idea of auslegen. The notion of design, layout.

  • Die Flüchtlingsunterkunft ist eigentlich nur für 1000 Personen ausgelegt. Zur Zeit wohnen dort fast doppelt so viele Menschen.
  • The refugee accommodation was originally designed/laid out for 1000 people. At the moment, almost twice as many people are living there.
  • Der Sattel ist speziell für längere Touren ausgelegt.
  • The saddle is designed/laid out especially for long tours.

Looks like auslegen and lay out are fine translations. However, the German auslegen is MUCH more narrow than the English version in that it’s only used in contexts that talk about  “what/how much something can handle”.
You will never see it in statements that talk about quality of design or about aesthetics.

  • The content of the magazine is good but it is poorly laid out.

If you used auslegen here, it would sound like the magazine has been put on display poorly. Like…  the newsstand owner put it up all messy and upside down and covered with other magazines.
And then there’s the noun layout which in German is just das Layout. Or das Design. But NOTHING even close to auslegen.
So I’d say DON’T think of auslegen in sense of layout, design because that’ll likely trip you up and make you use it the wrong way. It can mean that, yes, but unlike in English, it is NOT its main idea.
So what is the main idea? It is one of the two other options we had in the little quiz. To interpret and to comb down a horse.
And the winner is…. to interpret. This is based on the idea we already had, the putting something on display. Think of the old wise shaman reading the flight telling his warriors were to go hunting. He presents the information. Only that he also creates the information based inspiration. So there’s actually also an element of layout, design in there.

  • Das kann man so und so auslegen.
  • You can interpret it this way and that way.
  • Die Bibel ist immer so konservativ, wie die, die sie auslegen.
  • The bible is always as conservative as the people interpreting it.
  • Das ist Auslegungssache.
  • That is a question of how you interpret it.

Now, there’s one meaning for auslegen left.
Yep, another one :). The English to lay out can be used in combination with money in some sense of to invest. Auslegen is similar. It means to put down money in advance, for which you’ll get reimbursed later. Especially the noun die Auslage(n) (the expenditures, expenses) is fairly common in the business world but sometimes people also use auslegen in daily life as a synonym for to borrow or to lend.

  • Thomas wartet immer noch darauf, dass ihm die Fluglinie die Auslagen für das Hotel erstattet.
  • Thomas is still waiting for the airline to reimburse him for the expenditures he made for the hotel.
  • “Wollen wir noch ein Bier trinken?”
    “Auf jeden Fall… oh, warte.. ich hab’ gar nicht mehr genug Geld.”
    “Kein Problem, ich kann dir erstmal was auslegen?
  • “Should we drink another beer?”
    “Definitely .. oh wait, I don’t even have enough money anymore.”
    “Don’t worry, I can lend you some/I can pay for you and you pay me back later

All right.
So these were the meanings for auslegen. All that we have left to do is a look at the r-version.


We’ve learned that one of the meanings of auslegen is quite literally the idea of laying something out.
Just like most other r-version, rauslegen is very literal, too. But while auslegen is about the generic idea of out thererauslegen makes it clear that something it taken out from somewhere. It’s inside before the rauslegen takes place and it’s outside after. In fact, let’s look at the two back to back.

  • Ich habe meinen Flyer ausgelegt.
  • Ich habe meinen Flyer rausgelegt.

The first one means that I put it on display somewhere. The second one means that I took it out of my pocket and put it down. Yeah, I know… German can be really annoying :).
Anyway, technically you can rauslegen all kinds of things but there’s one prime context for that verb… putting out clothes from the wardrobe.

  • Maria legt sich abends schon die Sachen raus, die sie am nächsten Tag anziehen will.
  • Maria lays out the clothes she wants to wear the next day.
  • Das hat Victoria ihm schön rausgelegt.
  • Nicely chosen for him by Victoria.

The second example is actually user comment on a video of David Beckham wearing a fashionable outfit. The user is implying that Beckham’s wife Victoria tells him what to wear. Or to bring the whole thing full circle… she does his layout for him :).
So, I think that’s it for today. This was our look at the prefix verb auslegen and  as usual we’ve seen a range of meanings that seem random but that all turn out to be interconnected once you take enough hallucinogenic drugs….  I mean, once you take a closer look. Speaking of closer look, I think there’s a goblin in my wardrobe. I gotta check on that. If you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.
Hey… hey there imp.. what are you doing there. No, put that back. I’m not gonna wear that. How’d you get in there anyway? I’m gonna call my unicorn. She’ll handle you, all right. 

** auslegen -fact sheet **


to put on display (for information material and possibly poisonous bait)
to design (only used in context of specs… not quality of design)
to interpret
to put down money that you’ll be reimbursed for later


legte(n)   aus
form of haben + ausgelegt

related words:

die Auslage – the window display
die Auslagen – the expenditures
die Auslegeware – general term for stuff you can cover your floor with (carpet, rug, linoleum) 
die Auslegung – the intepretation
Auslegungssache – question of interpretation