Word of the Day – “rufen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time, we’ll have a look at the meaning of



I’m sure many of you have seen it in context of telephones but there’s more to discover about this weird sounding word. Seriously…. “roofen” … sounds kind of kinky.
“Honey, I’m kinda getting bored with our kink routine.”
“Well Anastasia, do you wanna try rufing?”
“Ooooohhhhhh… it’s that German thing?!?! Harrrrrrrrrrr.”
Uh… sorry, I’m being silly again.
Anyway, let’s jump right in and take a look.

The origin of rufen is an excessively ancient Indo-European root *kar. Which clearly looks nothing like rufen but hey, it’s super ancient so people had thousands of years to make a few sound changes.
Anyways, the root carried the idea of a loud shouting, like a cheer after a successful hunt for example. And that sense hasn’t changed much because rufen is the German word for to call in the sense of calling someone’s name. So it’s not super loud but it’s more than just saying in.

Now, in the last example rufen was actually used in sense of to call by phone, but that only works in contexts of police, fire fighters or the ambulance. It’s basically a leftover from back in the day when you actually shouted these things.
The main word for to call  in sense of calling by phone is anrufen. Because… you know…  rufen means call and an means phone.

German Language – putting the ‘f’ in logic

Wait a minute, I’m pretty sure there is no f’in logic… oh… oh… I got it.
Seriously though…  the reason anrufen ended up the word for calling by phone is that people felt the need for a distinction to normal rufen (which would be just shouting the name) and an has this notion of addressing someone so anrufen was a good fit.

Besides anrufen, there’s also durchrufen as a colloquial choice for quick calls, and of course we need to mention  zurückrufen which is to call back and which works for all kinds of contexts, not just phones.

Now, what would you say… were those all the prefix versions? Of course not. There are more. Because

German Language – putting the ‘more’ in versions. 

Wow, that didn’t make ANY sense.
But at least the prefix versions do because they all stay somewhat close to the core idea of rufen.

rufen prefixed

Aufrufen for instance. The range of uses might seem pretty broad but essentially it’s always a call to action.

Or take abrufen. The idea here is “calling something off of some sort of a stack or stock”.

Not too crazy, right? I mean.. it’s not like you see abrufen and you immediately know the meaning but when you see it in context you can definitely get the gist of it right away.
In fact, let’s try it. I’ll give you a few more versions in context and you can try and see if you understand of even find a translation. Here you go…

Fart-noises at 36, #nevergrowold, man.
Anyway, here’s the solution:

  1. widerrufen – this one is about renouncing, recanting and the most important context nowadays is cancelling contracts. The noun is der Widerruf.
  2. hineinrufen – this simply means to shout into,  so it’s super straight forward. It sounds quite literary though and in daily life you’d use reinrufen.
  3.  das Ausrufezeichen – this is the German word for exclamation mark. The verb is ausrufen and you can find it for public announcements but it’s not that common.
  4. hervorrufen – this one means to cause. Seems a bit random maybe, but it’s basically a twisted take on “calling out into the world”. Like… think of the coffee being like “Winds, I summon thee. Show yourself, blow out.” 

Now, if you didn’t get the all of them or none, don’t worry too much. For me, it might seem super obvious, but that’ because it’s my native language; I can’t really tell how difficult or easy it is for you guys.

Anyway, there’s one more version, we need to talk about. Berufen. By itself, it’s expressed the idea of calling someone up for a job but it’s sounds REALLY formal and pompous.

There’s also a version with a self reference – sich berufen auf – and this basically expresses the idea of giving something as reference to justify what you’re saying or doing. Kind of like to refer to but MUCH more narrow in when it’s actually idiomatic. Unless you’re a lawyer you probably won’t need this word because it sounds super stiff and formal. The word for normal referring the word is sich beziehen.
Now, if the verb is so useless, why are we talking about it? Because of the noun  der Beruf. Because that is the German word for job in the sense of profession/occupation.  Like… basically, it’s what parents mean with REAL job.
Oh, and while we’re at it… there’s also the noun die Berufung, which is basically what you mean when you tell your parents you NEED to become a singer songwriter. Your calling. It’s also a boring legal term for to appeal but who cares.

So that we have a pretty good overview over the prefix versions of rufen, let’s get back to the bare version. Or more precisely to the bare noun der Ruf.

Ruf and fame

Yes, of course a Ruf can be a literal shouted call, but what makes it useful is its other meaning. Attention ,time travel in three, two, one…. frrrrruuuuuiiiiippppp. A sunny day in medieval village, everyone is doing their village stuff when a figure emerges from between the trees, clad in white armor, on a white horse.
“OMG… it’s … it’s the white knight!!!” 
“I heard he once slew a dragon with one strike.”
“And he’s the most handsome, they say!”
“And his sword is so long.”
Such is what shouted the villagers as they gathered to welcome the guest.
Now, do you have an idea what I’m going for? No? Well, I’ll give you a hint: The knight has never been to that village before so what all the villagers are saying and shouting is what they’ve heard about him. Or in one word… his reputation.
Ruf is the German word for reputation. What people “call” you.

And our little trip to the medieval village actually also helps us with another very useful word. You see, the fact that all the villagers had heard about the white knight means that he is famous. And do you know what the German word for that is? It’s berühmt. And do you know what the noun for that is? It’s der Ruhm. And I think you know where this is going :). Der Ruhm and berühmt are direct relatives of rufen and they’re based on the idea that people call you something.

By the way, the word fame goes back to the Indo-European root *bha. This root meant something like to speak, to tell and it’s the origin for a whole lot of words including aphasia, ban or … drumroll… phone. Tadah. Full circle :)
Here’s the link to Etymonline if you want to dig deeper into the root:

 The origin of “fame” an “phone”

And that’s it for today. This was our look at the meaning of rufen and it’s related words. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions you can call me on my cellphone… wait, no, you can leave me a comment :).
I hope you enjoyed it and learned something. And as a little desert, here’s a pretty berühmt and fun song by a berühmten German chansonier, Max Raabe, about how no one is ever calling him. Viel Spass und schöne Woche



 — > HELP!! I’m testing a new feature that let’s those of you who are member mark articles as read and gives you an overview over how much of a certain topic you have read …. now my question… do you see a “complete”button somewhere here??
Also, would you like such a feature? Danke :)


** vocab **

rufen – shout, call 
der Hilferuf – the call for help
Polizeiruf 110 – famous German crime TV series

der Ruf – the reputation
der Rufmord – defamation
verrufen (adjective) – having a bad reputation 

der Ruhm – the fame 
berühmt – famous
berüchtigt – infamous

anrufen – call by phone (also: call gods)
der Anruf – the telephone call
der Anrufer – the caller
der Anrufbeantworter – the answering machine
durchrufen – colloquial word for quick calls
zurückrufen – call back
der Rückruf – the response call 

aufrufen (zu) – call up (waiting rooms), call upon to do something, also in tech for calling functions
derAufruf – sort of a call to action
abrufen – call from some sort of stack or stock (performance, data, reserves)

ausrufen – exclaim, declare (rare, context of declaring to the public)
das Ausrufezeichen – the exclamation mark
widerrufen – recant, cancel (very common for contracts)
hervorrufen – to cause (“call into the world”)

sich berufen auf – using x as reference to justify oneself (quite formal)
jemanden berufen – appoint to a job position

der Beruf – the occupation, “REAL” job
beruflich – job-wise

for members :)

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Another really useful, timely post. I actually made a rufen mistake today…but now I know. Thanks! And we would say “your number will be called (out)” – aufrufen, of course.

Wayne McKinney
Wayne McKinney

The president calls on the population, to losen up a bit. “Loosen” hat zwei “o”


However, just to add to the confusion – the village of “Loose” in southern England is pronounced as in “lose”. causes no end of issues…

Wayne McKinney
Wayne McKinney

Emanuel, your blog is really useful and easy to learn with. Thanks! Fortunately my level of German is just about good enough so that I can understand and use it without reading your stuff in English too much ….. maybe it’s an age thing, or maybe it’s an American/European English thing, or maybe it’s just me – but half of the stuff you write in English makes no sense to me ….. well, whatever it is, keep up the good work – I’ll be travelling to Germany and Austria, but I won’t be going over the Atlantic anytime soon. Thanks again!

Jardim migrante

Dein Blog ist der Hammer! <3


“Ruhm” and “Ruf”, cool. I would never have made that connection.
Some other prefix versions of “rufen” are:
“einberufen”: This word is close connected to the army. “jmd. einberufen” means to call somebody to serve in the army/other military. That is either for draft or for normal hiring into the army or for activating reserve forces. “Die Einberufungszahlen waren dieses Jahr zu klein.” = “The numbers of conscriptions were too low this year.”
The word can also be used if you call for a meeting: “Ich habe dieses Treffen einberufen, um…” = “I called for this meeting in order to…”

“abberufen”: That is kind of the brother to that but for all civil service workers and the opposite. Withdrawing somebody from their position to demote them or give them a new mission.

“verrufen”: That is not a verb even if it looks like one. There was probably once one but you only use the word as a noun nowadays. It means “shady”/”with a bad reputation”. And the noun to that is “der Verruf”. Which is often used in the proverbs: “in Verruf geraten” = “to be discredited” and “in Verruf bringen” = “to discredit”.
When I looked for good translations I happened about “to decry” here. Which shows a good connection as “cry” and “call” are not that far off and “de-” is a latin prefix.

By the way “ausrufen” can also be used in airports and shopping malls when a person/their car/children are called up by the speakers as to get them or their owners to the plane, the information or their parents. And “sich berufen fühlen etwas zu tun” = “to feel called/appealed to do something” uses the word above as an adverb. That is very idiomatic and also poetic. I like this expression.


For “einberufen,” “to conscript” would work in the sense of a draft, but at least in American usage “to call up” is typical for activating reserve forces (obvious parallel to “aufrufen”).

A great word for “Verruf” is “ignominy.” (Obviously “disgrace,” “discredit” et al. work fine too.)

For “ausrufen” in the “announce somebody’s name over the speaker system to get them to go where they need to be” sense, the usual verb (again, at least in AE) is “to page.”


“to page” as in “the pager”? The thing from premobile phone time and medical dramas, is that how that name came to be? Interesting.


I think the verb came first – you use a pager to page someone individually instead of having to call out their name over the intercom. But yes, that’s exactly right.


Hier kommt ein weitere Witz über 50 Graustufen:)


For everyone who donated to the website, I’d like to thank you all and do know that you have indirectly given other people the chance to use this great platform and learn this beautiful language that is German :-).


“The program crashes at this function call”. What? A “function call”? What are you talking about here?


Only since you mentioned in your post that you are not sure how easy it would be for us students to understand the meaning, I will share my “thinking” w/ the first test question. (Section with widerrufen, hineinrufen etc.) I missed the first one because it sounded (to me) like Wieder (as in wiedersehen), and I am always getting my “e” “I” “ei” “ie” sounds all jumbled up, especially when I go back-and-forth in German-English. Anyway, I thought, “Oh, Galileo was a good researcher. He repeated his study for validity and reproducibility”. (Mind you, I am in both human and veterinary medicine, so my gehirn works this way.) So I thought the sentence meant Galileo had to repeat/retest his theories. ONLY after I thought about that, and how during those days they probably didn’t do repeat studies, that I then guessed it was the ‘ol “save-my-neck-from-the-Church” recanting.
What I learned is that Wieder and WiderXXX sound the same to me. And I got good laugh at myself.


“wieder” and “wider” have the same pronunciation. The only difference is in spelling, and meaning of course. “Wider” is synonymous to “gegen” (against). But the words are not always interchangeable because “wider” behaves less literally especially in connection with verbs and idiomatic expressions.
For example: “die Gegensprechanlage” = “intercom system”(the place where you speak against the wall) … “widersprechen” = “to object/disagree/contradict” (to speak against another opinions)
“Wieder” would be “again”. So the difference in English is an “st”. But the longer word in German is the shorter one in English. So that might not work well as a mnemonic.


Thank you! Such helpful information! I appreciate your time in answering!


Max Raabe! I saw him in Hamburg on Wednesday (February 14th)! Took the train to Hamburg on Wednesday and back home on Thursday just to see Max Raabe – he speaks and sings so cleaely that I can hear what he is saying – I don’t understand all of it, but I recognise all the words. Sportfreunde Stiller also sings clearly as well as Peter Fox. I’m learning German with some tracks from his Stadtaffe album. What a coincidence with Raabe. I like the ”complete” button – could be good to know how many articles I’ve read.

Jo Alex Sg
Jo Alex Sg

Thank you so much for this most interesting lesson. I loved the way you put the diachronic and comparative philological aspects of the roots and basic words as pleasantly and clearly as possible. Anyone who loves Indo-European studies must have enjoyed this posting to no end as I have myself.
Oh, and your humor/humour does brim over, it´s deliciously hilarious and leaves me splitting my sides down here, that certainly improves the learning curve!
Among the good teachers of German on the web, you and Lucas Kern are definitely my favorite, cause you both know how to make learning a truly enjoyable process as I think it should always be, whatever the subject being learned.
And, of course, I learn a lot from the comments made by the others here as well!


Maria ist sauer, weil ich gesagt habe, Food-Blogger ist kein Beruf.

Maria is angry because is said Food-Blogger is not a job (profession). Would be better written: Maria is angry because Food-blogger is not considered a real job. “Considered” doesn’t need to be there, but as you wrote “is said”, I added it. The sentence works with/without “considered”.

The next sentence would be better as, “Chef is his occupation and his calling.” There is only one sort of “chef” in English and that person works in the kitchen.

Sierra described it perfectly: Wieder and Wider sound the same to me, as well. This will certainly be problematic in oral communication. Deutsch ist ein Minenfeld!

Jo Alex Sg
Jo Alex Sg

Amerikanerin, of course, that is one of the alternatives for a better English syntactic structure. However, there´s another one which would be even closer to the German sentence: “Maria is angry because I´ve said that food-blogger is not a profession.” (And he is right but it certainly is an occupation, lol).

Jo Alex Sg
Jo Alex Sg

Errata: “… it is certainly an occupation” instead of ” … it certainly is an occupation”, sorry for that, folks.


ich liebe den neuen Fertigknopf, vielen dank!


“Lose” in English is pronounced as though the s is a z. (Looze)
“Loose” is pronounced with the normal light s sound as in “sock” or “cats”


Wayne, above. No such word in English as “losen” In your example, it would be “The president called on the people to LOOSEN up a bit.” (I think you just forgot the second “O”.
example: I must LOOSEN my belt because I have eaten too much
example 2: Because I have eaten too much, I must LOSE some weight.


I’ve never written in the comment section even though I’ve been a member for half a year now, and I just have to say that it’s posts like these that boost my understanding of the language, of the essence of words (the etymology helps me particularly a lot as I learned Greek for Hermeneutics). Just the little comments like where you explained what “ab” means in conjunction with “rufen”, gave me a ride on a rainbow into the world of all the “ab” verbs and suddenly I understood what they all had in common.

I gotta ask: is there any post that I haven’t stumbled upon where you go over the “Lokaladverbien”, examples of which you touched lightly on (hineinrufen, hervorrufen). And if there isn’t, by GOD help me out with them making a post, man! As a native Spanish speaker, those things are waaaaay too confusing.


Max Raabe’s accent really puzzles me. He pronounces the R from the tip of his tongue, not from the bottom of his throat, as “standard German” is supposed to sound… that makes him sound Swiss or Bavarian… where is this accent from?