Each of the following can mean “to move [house]” in German, depending on where you’re moving from/to: umziehen, ausziehen, wegziehen, and einziehen; and one of them can also mean “to get naked”. Which one of the above should you use for what context, and how exactly do you say “to get undressed”? That’s what we’re going to learn today!
A quick note to avoid confusion…
Today we’re just talking about all the different ways to say that you’re moving house in German, that is moving from one house/apartment to another, not “to move” in general. “Bewegen” is how you say that a person or object is generally moving from one point to another, e.g. “Du bewegst dich nicht vom Fleck!” = “You don’t move from that spot!”. We will not be talking about “bewegen” today, just the various “ziehen” words that indicate someone is packing up their things and changing the location where they live.
First, some background: what does ziehen mean?
Ziehen is a common German word that, very broadly, means to pull or extract.
The very first thing I like to do when looking up a new foreign word is to search Google Images on that specific country’s Google page, e.g. for Spanish I’ll search Google.es/imghp, for German: Google.de/imghp, French: Google.fr/imghp, etc. This will very frequently tell you what the word means (or at least give you a good idea), and it’ll do it in a very visual and therefore memorable way, much more memorable than merely reading a definition in a dictionary. Plus, if you find an image that represents it well, you can put that into Anki instead of merely the English translation of it (much preferable, again for memory purposes). The more abstract the meaning of the word, the less well this works (e.g. the image search results for words that mean things like “collusion” or “nevertheless” probably won’t yield useful results, whereas those for more concrete concepts like “traffic jam” or “beer stein” probably will). The better something can be represented by physical objects, the more likely you are to find a useful picture because it’s likely that somebody has taken a picture of said physical objects at some point.
The entire top of the Google Germany Image Search results page gives us a very clear picture of what this word means:
So ziehen definitely means “to pull” (if you’re a clever little monkey you’ve also correctly guessed that “drücken” means “to push”), and note that it also can be used when we would use the word “haul” (yes, now it starts to make a bit of sense). Right. So what about all these prefixes the Germans love sticking to various words that (drastically, often times) change their meaning? Well, let’s quickly have a look and then you see if you can guess the meanings of some of our ziehen-words:
- um – around. Basically, it means “around”. The dictionary will tell you it also means “about”, but that’s in the sense of “in the general vicinity” (in other words just “around” again). It’s never used to indicate the subject at hand, e.g. “that’s what I’m talking about” (for that you use über), so it doesn’t mean “about” in that sense.
- weg – away.
- aus – out/out of, from, or off (in the sense of taking one thing off of another).
- ein – in/into.
Again, our ziehen-words are: umziehen, einziehen, ausziehen, and wegziehen. What do you think each of them means?
The meaning of the prefix (um, ein, aus, etc.) doesn’t always help you determine the meaning of the word, but it very frequently does. That is, if you know what the prefix (e.g. “aus”) means as well as what the word it’s attached to (“ziehen”) means, very often that will tell you what the whole word (“ausziehen”) means.
Your best bet: umziehen
This just generally means “to move”, as in “to move house”. It makes sense when you understand that “um” merely means “around” in general, so you’re saying “to move around” or “to move in general” (literally “to haul around”, as in to haul around your stuff – remember that “ziehen” means to pull or haul). If you just want to say “to move house” in general, like “We’re moving soon”, use “umziehen”. If you want to specify that you’re moving in, out, or away, then stay tuned because, not surprisingly, the Germans have words for each of those specific situations.
The picture at the top of this post was one of the top image search results on Google.de for “umziehen”, it’s an ad for a moving service.
Ausziehen: to move out…or take off your clothes
Again, the clever ones here have already got an inkling of why this might mean “to get naked”: stop and think about what it literally means (remember, “aus” means “out from” or “off of”).
So you’re pulling (ziehen) out (aus) – no, not that! That’s “rausziehen“… We’re getting salacious enough here, ok? Let’s just stick to “ausziehen” for now. It means to pull or haul from/out, and since “ziehen” is already the verb used to indicate that you’re moving house, when you want to say that you’re “moving out”, you use “ausziehen”.
Can you see how it can mean to take one’s clothes off?
Sure, you’re pulling (ziehen) yourself out of (aus) the clothes. Simple.
Now, the nice thing is that it only means to get undressed when it’s reflexive, that is when you see one of the reflexive pronouns (sich, mich, dich, etc.) in there somewhere. Otherwise “ausziehen” by itself only means “to move out”…but remember not to say one when you mean the other.
In the picture on the left (one of the top results when I searched on Google.de for images about “ausziehen”), “sich” means “oneself”, so it’s saying “to undress oneself”.
Note how the verb functions: you pull yourself out of the clothes, hence why it’s reflexive (that is, you need “mich/dich/sich” to stand in for the person who is being pulled out of the clothes).
Well, “weg” means “away”, “gone” or “gone away from”, so what do you think “wegziehen” means? Right, to move away. The implication is that you will no longer be in the general vicinity (same city/town generally), e.g. “Die meisten Kinder ziehen weg, wenn sie heiraten.” = “Most kids move away when they get married.”
One of the top image search results for this phrase was the image you see on the left, the cover of a book entitled “Moving away to the USA”. So in this instance it’s used to describe people moving from Germany to the U.S., very much “away” then.
“Ein”, as a prefix, means “in” or “into” (can be a bit confusing because there’s another word, also “ein”, that means “one”). Guess what “einziehen” means.
I told you this works most of the time. Yes, it means to move in.
Image results on Google.de for “einziehen” yielded lots of photos of people doing home improvement type activities. I thought this was the funniest one.
Oh, and it can also mean to suck in your belly (it literally means “to pull in”, so…there you go).
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Thanks for taking the time to read this and there will be plenty more good stuff to come (trying to turn out a new post every week or two).