Prefix Verbs Explained – “unterstellen”

unterstellen-runterstellen-Hello everyone,

and welcome to another episode of Prefix Verbs Explained. Today’s verb will help you unfairly accuse people of stuff and take shelter from rain. Yup, I’d say that sounds just like the average meaning span of a German prefix verb :).
So let’s take a look at:


Stellen is to put. Well, actually stellen is a specific kind of putting and and there’s also setzen and legen but for today  to put is good enough. You can also combine stellen with a self reference. Literally, that would be “to put oneself” and that’s used as to stand in sense of getting into the state of standing.

  • Ich stelle mich auf den Tisch.
  • I stand up on the table.


Now, let’s get to the prefix unter, the sister of under, and that is simple and not so simple.
What’s simple about it? Well, unlike many prefixes it can only add one notion to a verb:  below-ness. And what’s not so simple? Well, unter doesn’t have two meanings, but it does have two grammars.  Ugh.  Unter is one of those that can be separable and inseparable.

the separable unterstellen

Like all separable verbs it has the stress on the prefix. So it’s


In combination with a self reference, this is what you want to do if you’re outside and it starts pouring like crazy…

  • “Mist… es fängt an zu regnen. Komm, wir stellen uns in der alten, verlassenen Scheune unter.”
  • “Shit… it’s starting to rain. Let’s take shelter inside the old abandoned barn.”
    Lit.: …. let’s “put ourselves under in the old barn. 
  • “Du bist ja klatschnass! Warum hast du dich nicht irgendwo untergestellt?”
    Hab’ ich. A…. aber di… die… die Scheune… ein Monster!!!”
  • “Damn, you’re soaking wet! Why didn’t you take shelter somewhere?”
    I did. B… but… th … the .. the BARN… a monster!!!”

Though rain (or snow or hail) is pretty much the only context for this unterstellen, it’s definitely a useful word, at least in Germany because it rains a lot here. Especially last bummer .. I mean summer. Last summer was soooo rainy, it made me want to pack up my stuff and move elsewhere.
And that actually brings us right to the next meaning of  unterstellen. Wow, what a transition.
So, if you want to travel for a while you might be faced with the question what to do with your stuff. Be it your furniture, or just some boxes with things that are precious to you, or your plants…  what you could do is unterstellen them at a friend’s place.
I guess, to park is a good translation. Parking some of your stuff in some location other than your home.

  • Kann ich ein paar Sachen bei dir im Keller unterstellen?
  • Can I store/park/leave some things in your basement for a while?
  • Wir haben unsere Campingsachen bei Freunden an der Ostsee untergestellt.
  • We have stored our camping stuff at friend’s who live at the Baltic Sea.

It’s not for small things like a DVD or a book, and not for living things like a cat. Well, okay I’ve seen examples where people use it for horses but I’d suppose that most of you won’t need that.
Hey, did someone just say suppose?  Because what a coincidence – that leads us to the non-separable unterstellen. Damn,  this transition workshop I went to last weekend was really worth the 10.000 dollars :).

the non-separable unterstellen

It’s not immediately obvious but suppose is actually a literal translation for unterstellen.  Sub(sup) is Latin for under and pose comes from the Latin word for to put. And just like suppose, unterstellen is neither for real things nor for real putting. But the meanings of the two are different. Suppose is about making assumptions. Unterstellen combines making assumptions with making accusations.
It’s range is from insinuation to direct accusation and unlike beschuldigen (to accuse), it has a vibe of unfair, unjust. 

  • Er unterstellt mir, das Bier getrunken zu haben.
  • He unfairly accuses me of having drunk the beer.
    (By using unterstellen I’m expressing that I didn’t do it. At least
    that’s what I want people to think, anyway)
  • Mein Chef hat Thomas unterstellt, das Projekt mit Absicht zu verzögern.
  • My boss (unfairlyaccused Thomas of stalling the project on purpose./My boss has imputed that Thomas is stalling….
  • Ich unterstelle jetzt mal, dass du das nicht wusstest.
  • I’ll assume/impute that you didn’t know about it.
  • “Du hast den Kaffee alle gemacht.”
    “Das ist eine Unterstellung.”
  • “You finished up the coffee.”
    “That’s an insinuation/false accusation/false assumption/supposition.”

I hope you got some impression of how people use this verb.

Now, the non-separable unterstellen actually has a second meaning… putting under in context of chains of command or hierarchies. But you’ll most likely only see the ge-form of that.

  • Der Geschäftsführer des Vereins ist dem Präsidenten unterstellt.
  • The executive secretary of the club is subordinate to/reports to the president.

And now that we know what kinds of abstract things you can do with the idea of putting under, let’s now get to the verb that you need if you actually want to put something under something…


Unterstellen is one of those verbs where the r-version and the dr-version have a bit of a different focus. And that’s kind of cool because it’s actually good chance to learn (or review) something about the different focus of dr- and r- in general. Gotta love German.

German® – because even letters have a different focus.

R- has a focus on movement, change of locationDr- is more about a fixed location. These notions are not super fixed and they don’t always come to bear. But in case of unter, they do. And not only in combination with a verb.

runter expresses the idea of downward,
drunter expresses the idea of below/under something 

And these totally show in the verbs. Runterstellen is focused on putting something downward. That can be in the turbo literal sense of putting down an object but by far the more common use is in sense of “putting down” some sort of intensity.

  • Ich habe die Pflanze vom Fensterbrett runtergestellt, damit sie nicht in der prallen Sonne steht.
  • I put the plant down from the window sill so as to not have it sit in the blazing sun.
    (it doesn’t really matter, where exactly I put the plant)
  • Wo kann ich die Stream-Quali runterstellen?
  • Where can I lower the quality/resolution of the stream?
  • Maria ist sauer, weil Thomas immer vergisst, die Heizung (he)runterzustellen, wenn er das Haus verlässt.
  • Maria is angry because Thomas always forgets to turn down the heater when leaving.

Especially in context of computers (for lowering FPS, bit rate, brightness or other stuff) runterstellen is like THE word and I was surprised to see that it’s not listed in or or Duden.
Now, would drunterstellen work in that context, too? The answer is a clear no, because drunter- implies that you literally put something under something and that wouldn’t make sense for a heater or the brightness of your screen.
Anyway,  drunterstellen is used in context of putting something under something.

  • Hey Schatz, das Waschbecken in der Küche tropft. Ich hab’ jetzt erst mal einen Eimer druntergestellt. Bitte vergiss nicht, den mal auszuleeren.
  • Hey honey, the drain pipe under the kitchen sink is dripping. I’ve put a bucket under it for now. Please don’t forget to empty it every now and then.
  • “Kann ich bei dir ein paar Kisten unterstellen?”
    “Ja, mein Bett ist ziemlich hoch. Da können wir die drunterstellen.”
  • “Could I park a few boxes at your place?”
    “Yeah, my bed is pretty high. We can put them under there.”

And I think that’s it for today. This was our look at unterstellen. Check out the fact sheet for a short overview and if you have any questions about all of the or the all that  r-, dr-, dar-stuff just leave me a comment.
I hope you enjoyed it and see you next time.

** unterstellen – fact sheet **

meanings – separable (UNTER-stellen)

– to take shelter (from rain)
(sich unterstellen.. always with a self reference)
– to store (heavy) stuff somewhere (usually at a friend’s place)
(etwas unterstellen)

meanings – non-separable (unterSTELLen)

– to accuse (unfairly, to impute)
(jemandem etwas unterstellen, jemandem unterstellen, dass…)

spoken past:
form of haben + unterstellt (nonseparable)
form of haben + untergestellt (separable)

related words:
die Unterstellung – imputation, supposition
unterstellt – subordinate
runterstellen – put downward (especially context of computers)
drunterstellen – put something under something else

5 3 votes
Article Rating