Word of the Day – Prefix Special – “haben”

Holen was looking out the window when Sagen entered the bus. „What’s up dude,“ Holen said, „how’s it goin’….?“ „Oh it’s going, alright… can’t complain… working, conjugating… you know, gotta make a living.“  „Yeah… I hear that man….“ Sagen said and took a seat next to Holen and bus continued its way through the traffic. Holen looked out the window into the gray morning. It started raining. „Heard the news?“,  Sagen interrupted the silence. „No, what news“ Holen asked.
„Sad story man… Hören got attached … some noun found him yesterday evening in a sentence far out west… unconscious, with the word stop scratched into his chest …“ Holen suddenly felt awful. Sure, they hadn’t exactly been friends but they had been neighbors for ages. Poor old Hören, he was such a sensitive fellow.  „Is it ok?“ Holen asked. “Well, I guess… woke up in hospital, all confused… the meaning got really messed up man… cops suspect a prefix got it but they haven’t found the end of the sentence yet so they can’t say for sure…“
Holen felt a rising anger. These things have been happening way too often. „Man… I’m tellin you, these prefixes are outta control… and a decent verb can’t walk around outside safely anymore… police should look ’em all up, I say“

Hi everyone and welcome to our German Word of the Day. Prefixes and verbs can be an awful combination and there’s a lot of work to do for us. One option is to look at one prefix at a time and see what it does to different verbs. But today we’ll do something different. We’ll look at one base verb and chek out all its prefix-version. Sounds crazy? Well it is, but we’ll try anyway. So buckle as we head into the land of



Haben appears to be one of the most important verbs imaginable. And some language do fine without it … 

For example Finnish. Finnish does not have the verb haben. Instead of saying„I have 10 Euro“ they say „With me are 10 Euro.“. This pretty cool I think and I was really surprised about that when I started learning Finnish … and speaking of cool … in Finnish human and miracle / wonder are the same word.
But let’s get back to German before you head over to a Finnish learning site :).

So… the haben-prefixes.
I don’t want to talk about haben itself. The only thing I want to mention is this: you can’t haben food or drinks in German.

  • I had a beer.
  • Ich hatte ein Bier.

In German, that means that you had got hold of A beer at some point…. but did you drink it? Sell it? Name it? Put it in your fridge? Also, was it yours? Did you watch after it for someone else? I don’t know. It is just soooo vague …. no I am kidding. Of course people will understand you but this English way of saying “I had food/drink” simply doesn’t translate at all. You will need to use eat or drink in addition. It might sound redundant but hey… it’s German. You have to be specific.

  • I had a pizza.
  • Ich habe eine Pizza gegessen.
  • Let’s go have a beer.
  • Lass uns ein Bier trinken gehen.

Alright… now the haben-prefixes


An alone can mean one of 2 things… either at/on as a local preposition or on as adverb in context of (electric) machinery and devices.

  • Der Flachbildfernseher ist an.
  • The flat screen TV is on.
  • Der Flachbildfernseher ist an der Wand.
  • The flat screen TV is on/at the wall.

Both those meanings also work in combination with haben. So anhaben can either mean to have (switched) on or to have (located) on/at … kind of.  The usage of the switched-on-meaning is pretty easy to comprehend.

  • Ich habe mein Radio an.
  • I have my radio on.
  • Ich habe das Telefon nicht gehört, denn ich hatte laute Musik an.
  • I haven’t heard the phone because I had loud music playing.

This is nothing you need that much. In real life it mostly is used in context of audio-visual media context… so to radios, TVs, news and music.
The opposite of this anhaben is aushaben and aushaben really only means that one thing.. to have (switched) off.

  • Ich war in der Bibliothek und hatte mein Handy aus.
  • I was at the library and I had my phone switched off.

The other anhaben, the one which comes from the atidea of an, could theoretically mean a lot of things but it is really narrow. It means… get ready… to wear … think of it this way: you kind of have the clothes at or on your body like a picture is at the wall.. it is next to with contact.

  • Ich habe ein T-Shirt und eine Hose an.
  • I am wearing a T-Shirt and a pair of pants.
  • Was hast du an?
  • What are you wearing?
  • Ich hatte meine neuen Schuhe an.
  • I was wearing my new shoes.

Note that anhaben only means to wear when something is already being worn.. you have it on you…  it doesn’t work in situation when you are not wearing it yet:

  • I can’t decide what to wear.
  • Ich kann mich nicht entscheiden, was ich anhabe… is wrong.

This makes no sense in German because you can see what you “have on”…  otherwise it wouldn’t be anhaben. It sounds like this

  • I can’t decide what to have on me later … that doesn’t  work in English either.

So… whenever you use to wear but you’re talking about the future in a way you should say anziehen.

  • I have nothing I could wear for such an occasion.
  • Ich habe nichts, was ich zu solch einem Anlass anziehen könnte.

Now, there is also the word tragen in German which means to carry and also to wear. I’d say tragen sounds a bit more formal and fancy. Works fine for Vanity Fair.

  • Die Kanzlerin trägt ein elegantes, schnelles, sparsames Kleid von Mercedes.
  • The chancellor is wearing an elegant, fast and fuel efficient dress of Mer… hold on… I think I just confused something

So… you can use tragen if you really want to but in daily talk of every day people, anhaben is DEFINITELY the way to go … except for hats and scarfs…. … … oh be patient, you’ll find out.


Auf has 2 meanings… of course. The first one is local and means on (top of) and the second meaning is open, mostly in context of doors, windows or venues (not so much for boxes, wallets or minds).

  • Der Supermarkt ist auf.
  • The super market is open.
  • Der Supermarkt ist auf dem Berg.
  • The super market is on the mountain.

What about offen, you ask… doesn’t that mean open too? Well, it does and whenever you talk about a fixed state of a door or a store you can use offen instead of auf. However, for the action of opening, auf is the only way.

  • Ich mache das Fenster auf.

You can’t say

  • Ich mache das Fenster offenvery wrong

Anyway… so… auf has 2 meanings and it comes as no surprise that aufhaben also has 2.
The first one is to be open in context with stores and other venues.

  • Der Supermarkt hat heute bis um 8 auf.
  • The supermarket is open till 8 today.
  • Weißt du, ob die Bar noch aufhat?
  • Do you know if the bar is still open?

These phrasings are incredibly common and I would always prefer them over a version with sein.

  • Der Supermarkt ist heute bis um 8 auf.

I think aufhaben just sounds more proactive… like work is being put into being open.
The opposite of this aufhaben is zuhaben and zuhaben really only means to be closed.

  • Der Supermarkt hat schon zu.
  • The supermarket is already closed.

Again, I would prefer this over the sein-version.

  • Der Supermarkt ist schon zu.

Alright… the other meaning of aufhaben, the on-top-of-one is again….  … to wear… for things like caps and hats… like… you don’t have it on you but on top of you :)

  • Ich habe ein Basecap auf.
  • I am wearing a baseball cap.
  • Die Frau hatte eine Perücke auf.
  • The woman was wearing a wig.

Again you can also use tragen but especially for basecap it doesn’t really match up.
Finally, there is a sort of niche-meaning for aufhaben.

  • Ich habe Hausaufgaben auf.

That means nothing different than that you have homework. The auf just emphasizes that they are yours to make… in daily school talk people even sometimes skip the Hausaufgaben completely.

  • Na, was hast du in Mathe auf?

However.. this is really limited to school homework and you may forget about it … now.


Um usually means around and so umhaben means to have around… hmmm what could it be? I mean it can’t be to wear agai… what? … oh it IS to wear… what… oh like for scarfs and stuff like that…. I see, I see

  • Ich habe einen Schal um.
  • I am wearing a scarf.
  • Marie hatte eine Kette um.
  • I was wearing a necklace.

Now… I’ve said it already but I want to mention again that this haben-wearings only work for things being worn… not things that will or should be worn.

  • You should wear a scarf.
  • Du solltest einen Schal ummachen.

You are not wearing the scarf yet, and in order to have it around your neck (umhaben) you first need to… well “make” it around your neck (ummachen.
So… umhaben seems really pretty limited but be aware that within this small range it is THE word.

  • Ich habe einen Schal an… sounds awful
  • Ich trage einen Schal… sounds a bit stiff

Alright… I promise we’re done with to wear now and there is one other really incredibly important word coming up (vorhaben) before we get to that I want to do 2 quick cover ups.


Ab means something along the lines of from, of and up. For abhaben I think the closest is of because abhaben means to get a small piece or share of something… I think most prominently it is used by kids for food.

  • Kann ich was von deinem Kuchen abhaben?
  • Can a have a bit of your cake?

Now, in German just as in English there is this idiom “to get a piece of the cake” and it means to get a share of something.

  • Alle wollen ein grosses Stück vom Kuchen abhaben.
  • Everyone wants to get a piece of the pie.

However, I find that to sound a bit odd since for me the abhaben already includes the idea of a small piece. Together with Stück in there it just seems doubled. But anyway… one last thing… abhaben is basically only used in combination with verbs like wollen (want) or möchten (would like). So you won’t see it as a main verb in a statement.

  • Ich hatte was von seinem Kuchen ab…. this is so weird we could call it wrong
  • I had a piece of his pie.


Now, I can feel your frustration rising. I know how you feel right now about German but I want you to breathe slowly. Don’t freak out. That would not change the fact that auf and drauf are 2 different words with TOTALLY different grammar… drauf is short for darauf and it means on top of it... well… not the actual on top of it as a fixed idiom but this one:

  • The dog is under the table and the cup is on top of it.
  • Der Hund ist unter dem Tisch und die Tasse ist drauf.

So…. based on that draufhaben means to have on to of that and now it would be good to know what that is. Well, in this case that is kind of a persons skill rack… keep breathing slowly… draufhaben means to kick ass or more formal to be really good at something

  • Thomas hat es einfach drauf, Leuten was zu verkaufen.
  • Thomas simply kicks ass at selling things to people.

We use it more for actions than for things.

  • Thomas hat Deutsch echt voll drauf.
  • Thomas is really damn good at German.

Well… it works but I wouldn’t maybe say it.
What you also should know is nichts draufhaben. This is used quite a lot in sense of blows, sucks or can’t do anything.

  • Der Schauspieler hat nichts drauf.
  • The actor is bad.
  • Meine neue Kollegin hat nichts drauf.
  • My new colleague is a fail.

But now let’s get to probably most important one of all haben prefix verbs


Vor means in front of and before… so vorhaben should logically be to have in front of. And it is. Great huh. No surprises here. Just straight forward transla… what?… oh right… the real meaning…. Vorhaben means to plan, to intend or to be up to. You have your plan or your intention in front of you kind of because you visualize it… you also have it before you because it hasn’t happened yet so I think it makes sense that vorhaben would mean that.

  • Ich habe vor, morgen in den Zoo zu gehen.
  • I am planning to go to the zoo tomorrow.
  • Ich hatte nicht vor, heute nochmal rauszugehen
  • I wasn’t planning on going outside again today.

Vorhaben very often comes with a zu-construction but it doesn’t have to.

  • Thomas hat nächste Woche viel vor.
  • Thomas has a lot planned for next week.

Note that it is not to plan in sense of to plot or to design… there planen is the better word.

  • Thomas is planning a show.
  • Thomas hat eine Show vor…. is wrong.
  • Thomas plant eine Show.

Vorhaben is a really really important word in daily talk and we use it for all our plans pretty much. Here are some phrases you can hear a lot.

  • Was hast du heute vor?
  • What are you up to today?
  • Hast du heute was vor?
  • Do you have plans for today?
  • Ich hab’ nichts vor.
  • I have no plans.

Or if you want to turn down an invitation…

  • Oh, eigentlich total gerne aber ich hab’ schon was vor.
  • Oh, I really would love to, but I already have plans.

And finally if you really don’t understand why someone does what he or she does… like you get to the kitchen and your flatmate is emptying the fridge and attempting to flip it upside down… you can ask this:

  • Was genau hast du vor????
  • What exactly is your plan????

Alright…. I think we’re done for today. All the verbs we discussed are part of daily talk in German. They may sound a bit clumsy and there are synonyms to all of them but we really like these basic verbs with prefixes like somethingmachen and somethinghaben.
The most important ones are anhaben, aufhaben and especially vorhaben… let me repeat… learn vorhaben!

Now were these all haben-prefixes? No… but the rest is (mostly) easy to grasp and not wroth discussing in detail.

mithaben /beihaben

  • Ich habe mein Handy mit/bei.
  • I have my cellphone with me.
  • Ich habe kein Geld bei /mit. (without bei it means you have no money in general)
  • I have no money on me.


  • Ich habe mein Buch wieder.
  • I have my book back.
  • Ich möchte mein Pferd wiederhaben.
  • I would like to have my horse back.


  • Ich habe das Buch durch.   I’d say, this is just short for :
  • Ich habe das Buch druchgelesen.
  • I am through with the book.


  • Ich habe Pizza über.
  • I am fed up with pizza.. pun intended.


  • Ich habe dich gern.
  • I like you.

I don’t actually think this should be thought of as one verb… it is haben and then gern extra… to me. The only instance where it does make sense is this kind of ironic gernhaben

  • Du kannst mich gernhaben.
  • You can kiss my ass.

Writing it as one word makes sense here because it makes a distinction to

  • Du kannst mich gern haben.
  • You sure/ most certainly can have me.

The first version is for your stupid boss, the second for your sexy boss :).

Alright… this was our German Word of the Day with all the haben prefixes. If you have any questions or suggestions, leave me a comment and also, let me know if you want me to do more posts like this.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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1 year ago

okay but like, now I am confused. How would I use Anhaben in a sentence?

2 years ago

hahahaha I love the intro, so good!

2 years ago

Once again , how to tell the diffrence between
gern haben in pronunciation

2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yes, sorry

2 years ago

Regarding gernhaben or gern haben.
How would you differentiate between the two in pronounction. I cannot wrap my head around this one since 1 word or 2 word versions are almost identical

2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Do you mean, I should change my tone a bit
Like this
Normally – Haben
2nd word – Haaben.

2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel


I think I got. Mabye updating the article with audio would help others in those

Abgaßßstufe Es-Zett!
Abgaßßstufe Es-Zett!
3 years ago

“mit mir ist” a better “finish” für diesen Eintrag: that’s my risty Finnish err Ruosteinen rusty, Finnish
female coworker {Blaukittel}is a
colleague { Büro }

der Versager | die Versagerin pl.: die Versager, die Versagerinnen

incompetent adj. unnfähig

wouldn’t maybe say it.
What you also should know is nichts draufhaben. This is used quite a lot in sense of blows, sucks or can’t do anything.
Der Schauspieler hat nichts drauf.
The actor is bad.
Meine neue Kollegin hat nichts drauf

My new colleague is a fail. is incompetent

fail ist kein Sachwort

3 years ago

Mir ist neulich in einem Video ein Satz aufgefallen.”Ich möchte jetzt erstmal das abgeklärt haben,dass das klar ist”.Ist “abgeklärt” passiv oder adjektiv?Ich bin schon paar mal auf diese komische Ausdrucksweise gestoßen.Z:B ”Das will ich aber erklärt haben”
konnte nirgendwo eine Erklärung dazu finden,ist es eher umgangsprachlich?Was für Verben lassen sich in solcher Struktur mit “haben” kombinieren?
Vielen Dank im Voraus :D

5 years ago

Hello Emanuel. While I was reading this post, I got lost here:

– The dog is under the table and the cup is on top of it.
– Der Hund ist unter dem Tisch und die Tasse ist drauf.

On top of what is the cup? The dog or the table?

Thanks in advance. Great blog!

7 years ago

Hi! Thanks for another clarifying post.
I can add, that in Russian we have word for “to have”, but mostly, if you’d use it, it will add some sexual context. So we express it with preposition “у; [u] in latin script”, which means “near”, the result will be “Near me is … (lit.)”. It also for some random purposes needs genitive case.
And, becouse of use this prep. in such way, i believe, we start to use another prep. for “near”, now “y” is a bit archaic, if not used in the meaning “have”.

7 years ago

Hey, thanks for the great article. I always enjoy how detailed you are and how well you can explain/ differentiate word usage differences.
One thing, though, that really bothered me in this article (albeit it seems small) was this translation:

Ich habe ein Basecap auf.
I am wearing a base-cap.

Never in English, ever, would someone call it a “base-cap.” That type of hat is called a “baseball cap.” I’ve spoken English and lived in the US all my life, and I’ve been to dozens of baseball games, and never ever have I heard the word “base-cap.” Trust me, if you said that to any American, you’d get a funny look. Don’t feel too bad, though, you’re not the first German native I’ve heard say this. The word just sounds so English, and probably comes from English, but alas, ’tis not. It’s basically like calling a cell phone a “Handy” in English (which I have heard).

Sorry if I sound mean or picky, but little things like that bother me sometimes. Those kinds of words can be traps.
Anyway, keep up the awesome work on this site :)

Attila the Hungarian
Attila the Hungarian
7 years ago

“To have” is expressed with the verb “to be” in Hungarian too. There are seperate verbs that have only that meaning, but they’re rarely used outside of language textbooks explaning what “to have”, “haben” and all those mean. We don’t say we “have it” – we say that “it is” and put an ending on the thing that we’re talking about. We do distinguish the two concepts, though. Learning the difference between “to be” and “to have”/”sein” or “haben” is not that difficult. Especially compared to all the other stuff that doesn’t even have an equivalent in our language.

8 years ago

Thanks, that makes a lot more sense.

8 years ago

In the sentences “hast du heute was vor.” and “Thomas hat es einfach drauf, Leute was zu verkaufen.” I don’t understand entirely why there is a “was.” Could you explain why? I’ve noticed you use it in a lot of example sentences, and in a lot of the sentences I don’t understand why they are there. Also I love reading your articles, it really helps me advance in german and understand some difficult subjects in the language.

8 years ago

draufhaben: I find that an easy way to remember the meaning of draufhaben is to think of the english expression (which may well come from draufhaben?): ‘to be on top of things’, meaning to master a subject or a situation. Lucius

9 years ago

Hallo Emanuel,

Als eine Schreibenübung muss ich eine nicht so wichtige Frage stellen: Warum behauptest du dass die finnische Sprache kein “haben” hat? Wir haben doch “haben+sein” in ein Wort genial integriert. Denk mal an diese Beispiele:

“Minulla ON kymppi”. Ich HABE zehn Euro.
“Isä ON vanha”. Vater IST alt.

Beide anwenden das Verb “olla” (doch konjugiert), das entweder “sein” oder “haben” bedeutet. Es kommt nur auf die Kontext an, ob “olla” “haben” oder “sein” ist. Ausserdem bedeutet “ihminen” der Mensch, “ihme” denn das Mirakel. Aber jetzt reicht es mit dem freundlichen Klagen. Vielen dank für dein Blog, es hat mir sehr geholfen. Es soll ganz einfach die beste Quelle der deutschen Sprache im Netz sein, davon bin ich ganz sicher. Würdest du einmal ein Buch mit deinem guten humoristischen Stil schreiben, weiss ich zwei Dinge:
1) Es wurde ein ganz enorm Erfolg werden.
2) Ich würde es gerade kaufen.

Danke noch mal aus Finnland,


9 years ago

I see! danke schön :D

9 years ago

Halo, I really like your blog, you brought those words to live. Thank you :)
I want ask one question, you mentioned in school, we can say: Ich habe Hausaufgaben auf.
Can we also say: ich habe eine Präsentation auf?
They are also something we have to do (unwillingly, ha)

2 years ago
Reply to  Elle

Ja, wir würden das sagen, auch wenn es vielleicht nicht 100 prozentig korrekt ist.


[…] The most recent entry discusses another reason why German is easy in many ways: prefixes. Whereas in many languages there are certainly plenty of verbs that are related, the tendency for agglutination (that is, adding prefixes and suffixes to existing words to alter their meanings) in German means that once you learn the base word, it’s very easy to learn what all the agglutinated forms will mean. […]

9 years ago

Indeed… they should look ’em up, defibrillate ’em, sedate ’em, then kick ’em in the nuts!

As usual, another excellent post. Really informative and helpful.

I found interesting the fact that Finns don’t “have” that verb. What is their reaction when they face all this?

In my spanish mind “tener” has only one meaning, and english expanded the use of it, but german takes it to a whole new level. But these are the things that make this language so interesting to me. I also like the way it sounds. Most people look at me and say WTF??? they’re angry all the time… and I say: if your only reference are WW2 movies then yes… try to listen to a normal conversation for a change!

By the way… you can’t have drinks/food in spanish either, it would raise the same questions. It’s not one of those weird things of the german language ;)

Viele Grüße

9 years ago
Reply to  JEAP

I don’t think the Russians usually say “have” in the sense of “I have no money”, or “I’ll have a cup of coffee”. But that doesn’t mean they can’t say what they want. When I first began studying German (as a dumb kid), and learned they don’t say “I’m going” but rather, “ich gehe or ich fahre”, I thought this meant they simply couldn’t say “going” and therefore, their language wasn’t as sophisticated as English. By now of course, I realize that every language develops through usage and that has nothing to do with a lack of vocabulary. If you try to translate Chinese word for word it looks very strange, but it works just great for millions of Chinese speakers. Try “horse on.” Doesn’t make much sense at all, but to a Chinese speaker it means “right away”. Go figure.

9 years ago
Reply to  cmalbrecht

Yeah, I know, just like Emmanuel(?) said, they have their own way to say that. But not having the concept in one word can make it harder to learn it…or easier, I don’t know, I just wonder how it is. And “have” can be really broad, attach a prefix to it (in german of course) and it means something completely different.

German and english have many verbs that kind of wrap up concepts that in spanish are described. So, when some people are faced with one simple word it can be a bit confusing, and for some it takes some time to digest. It seems like it should be simpler, but it isn’t, at least not all the time.

Hey, it’s nice to finally see some healthy discussion in this place :)

9 years ago
Reply to  JEAP

I’ve always been fascinated by languages, their differences and the words or expressions they share. I feel that, in many ways, Spanish and English syntax and idioms are a lot closer that those of many languages. Of course there are literally thousands of language about which I know nothing at all.

9 years ago
Reply to  cmalbrecht

Interestingly enough in Ireland we would (very very rarely) say ‘Horse on there boy’ which would mean ‘ I leave now’. Love this blog by the way, fantastic articles

9 years ago

This is great, real good. Been using Tell Me More which is really great except for explaining why words go where they go, I hope you keep this up, seems like a great place to come to and I hope I can ask questions in the future! :)

9 years ago

Thanks. Lots of good stuff here they don’t teach in the grammar books.