Prefix Verbs Explained – “vorgehen”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: April 7, 2022

vorgeheHello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of the acclaimed HBO series Prefix Verbs of Thrones, this time with a look at the meaning of



Gehen means to go, and vor is all about the idea of ahead, forward. So it would make a lot of sense if vorgehen meant to go forward.
Does it?
Well, it’s like Maria’s relationship status on Facebook.
So let’s take a look, shall we :)

Vorgehen, to some extent, does mean what the combination of the parts would suggest. For one thing, it can be used in the literal sense of going to the front though nach vorne gehen,which is more proper.

  • Der Schauspieler geht vor/nach vorne  zur Bühne.
  • The actor goes forward to the stage.

Then, it can be used in the sense of to come first, but only in a few contexts.

  • Sicherheit geht vor.
  • Safety first.

And vorgehen can also mean to go ahead.

  • Der Gang sieht gruselig aus. Geh du vor.
  • The hallway looks creepy. You go ahead.
  • Du kannst schon mal vorgehen. Ich komm gleich.
  • You can go ahead. I’ll be right there.

But  ONLY in the literal sense of walking ahead and in case of a watch, being fast.

  • “Hey, wie spät ist es?” (among buddies, don’t ask strangers that way)
    “Kurz nach 6. Aber meine Uhr geht ein paar Minuten vor.”
  • “Hey what’s the time?”
    “A bit past 6. But my watch is a few minutes fast/”ahead”.

Vorgehen does absolutely NOT mean to go ahead in phrasings like this one.

  • “Can I ask you something?”
    “Sure, go ahead.”
  • “Kann ich dich was fragen?”
    “Klar, (mach ruhig). (“klar” alone is enough here)
    “Klar, geh vor.”…. SUPER CONFUSING!!!

The translation for that depends on context and sometimes it’s actually best to just skip it entirely in German. But vorgehen doesn’t work AT ALL. It wouldn’t even be understandable because it would sound like the person should literally walk somewhere.

  • Oh no, my boss is calling. I have to take this. You go ahead and eat so it doesn’t get cold. (at a restaurant)
  • Oh nein, mein Chef ruft an. Ich muss rangehen. Aber iss du mal schon, wird doch sonst kalt. (I used super idiomatic language here, don’t do a word for word analysis)
  • … rangehen. Geh du vor und iss….. NOPE!!!

So, vorgehen does NOT mean to go ahead in the sense of proceeding.
And now guess what vorgehen is actually kind of the exact copy of… exactly: proceeding.
God, German. You suck.
But seriously…  proceed  literally means “to go forward”. “Cedere” , which is also part of words like concede or precede or recession, is Latin for “to go (away)”  and pro is actually a brother vor and for and can just like them express forwardness.

Now, that doesn’t mean that vorgehen is a good translation for to proceed. Usually it isn’t because whenever proceed has a focus on continuation, vorgehen doesn’t fit anymore.
But the idea of some sort of process is part of all the more abstract uses of vorgehen.
First up, vorgehen is a somewhat technical sounding option for taking action in a planned manner.

  • Wie wollen wir vorgehen?
  • How should we go about it/(start and) proceed?
    What steps of action should we take?
  • Der Politiker hat das Vorgehen der Polizei kritisiert.
  • The politician has criticized the course of action/actions/approach of the police.
  • Thomas geht gerichtlich gegen seine Ex-Firma vor.
  • Thomas takes legal action against his former company.

It can be also used in a more general sense of stuff going on, which is also a kind of process.

  • Was geht hier vor? Warum sind alle nackt?
  • What’s going on here? Why is everyone naked?

It’s not like German has enough words for stuff happening already (passieren, geschehen, sich ereignen, los sein). What makes this one useful is it’s “inner” version.  Stuff happening in your mind or soul.

  • Ich würde manchmal echt gerne wissen, was in deinem Kopf vorgeht. (usually in a negative context)
  • Sometimes, I’d really like to know what you are thinking/what’s going on in your head.
  • Thomas hat oft keine Ahnung, was in Maria vorgeht.
  • Often Thomas has no clue as to what is moving Maria/what’s going on in Maria’s head/heart.

Note that it’s not a pure thought process. It’s about emotions. But yeah, this one is worth adding to your active vocabulary.
Last but not least, there’s the noun der Vorgang and this is as close to process as it gets.

  • Der Loginvorgang konnte nicht abgeschlossen werden.
  • The login-procedure could not be completed.
  • Um den Vorgang abschließend bearbeiten zu können, benötigen wir von Ihnen folgende Unterlagen: [insert long list here]
  • To uhm…  process the case conclusively … be able… uh… we need the following underlyin… uhm wait, Unterlagen means documents… what the hell…

God, this language must be awful for a learner :).
Vorgang fits right in there, because it’s pretty stiff sounding but you’ll definitely come across it if you ever make contact with German bureaucracy.
We’re almost done but of course when looking at prefix verbs we need to look at one particular variation of it. If you’ve read a few entries in this series you know that I’m talking about the r-version.
For verbs with vor- that’s always going to be a her-version.


Hervor, basically combining here and forth, expresses the idea of coming out from under something or behind something. Like, the sun can come “hervor” from behind the clouds. And hervorkommen is actually much more common, but hervorgehen is about the same idea. It can mean to come from or to say but these translations are really not telling you very much about the actual use, so let’s just look at some examples.

  • Aus dem Jazzhaus-Wohnprojekt sind viele bekannte Künstler hervorgegangen.
  • Many famous artists came from/have their roots at the Jazzhouse-living-project.
  • Aus der Statistik geht klar hervor, dass politisch Konservative eine 10 mal höhere Wahrscheinlichkeit haben, ein lebendes Einhorn zu sehen als der Gesamtdurchschnitt, Punkt.
  • The statistic clearly says/shows that politically conservative people are 10 times more likely to see a living unicorn than the overall average. Period.
    (average: zero sightings in 500 attempts, conservative: zero sightings in 1.000 attempts, conservative need more trials to see no unicorns so chance to see not “none” is greater than for average #myheadhurts #spicerfacts)

It sounds a bit high brow and it’s nothing for day to day conversation. But at least the last use, as to say to show, is one of those drivel words that’ll give the person reviewing your B2-exam a proper hard-o… uhm… I mean, they’ll like it very, very much (phew, that was close).

All  right, and I think that’s it. This was our look at the various meanings of vorgehen, not the most common verb ever, but I’m sure you’ll see it around.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you have a fun bureaucracy story about a Vorgang, just leave a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.
Oh, and leave a like if you enjoyed… it’s like Youtube now here :).

** vorgehen – fact sheet **


– go to the front (quite colloquial)
– go ahead (literally walking with a head start)
– to take action in a planned manner
– take legal action (gerichtlich gegen jemanden vorgehen)
– to go on (limited to a few phrasings)
– go on in someone’s mind/soul (in jemandem vorgehen)
– be fast (only for a watch)


ging vor 
form of sein + vorgegangen

related words:

das Vorgehen – the course of action
die Vorgehensweise – the way of going about something

der Vorgang – the process, the procedure, the proceedings,; very common in bureaucracy
hervorgehen aus: come from (in sense of emerging), say/show (for texts and images)

Further reading:


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