Sooner or later, a German learner will stumble upon German verbs with prefixes. Some are separable (the prefix is cut off the main verb and sent to the end of the clause or sentence) and some are inseparable (the prefix does not get removed from the main verb. As a result, the meaning of the main verb changes, sometimes quite dramatically. One such example is the verb “nehmen” (to take)

German Phrases with nehmen
“Nehmen” has a number of different variations, but also be mindful of its conjugation. It is a (highly) irregular verb, meaning there are spelling changes in all tenses. 

Here are some phrases and expressions (not in alphabetical order) that use “nehmen” in German:

1. annehmen

There are different things we can “annehmen” in German. It can mean “to assume”, for example a German might say “Ich nehme an, du kommt morgen mit?” (I’m assuming you’re coming along tomorrow?”. But it can also mean “to accept”. You can annehmen a job offer or a gift: “Ich nehme das Angebot gerne an.” (I gladly accept the offer.)

2. aufnehmen

“Aufnehmen”, too, as several translation. It can ben to record something: “Nimmt jemand das Spiel auf?” (Is someone recording the game?), but it can also mean to accept, take in or welcome someone. For example, if someone needs a place to stay, you could stay “Wir nehmen ihn für eine Weile auf.” (We are taking him in for a while.)

3. ernst nehmen

Just like the direct translation, “ernst nehmen” means “to take seriously”. Whatever you are “ernst nehmen” is usually in the accusative, so be careful when making your sentences: “Ich nehme dich sehr ernst!” (I take you very seriously), or “Er nimmt die Situation nicht ernst.” (He is not taking the situation seriously.) Both “you” and “the situation” are in the accusative. 

4. mitnehmen

For this example, the direct translation does the trick: “to take with”. One could also say “to take along”. For example, a German, when asking you for a ride, might say “Kannst du mich mitnehmen?” (Can you take me with/along?) Or, when going on a trip our outing, they might say “Wollen wir einen Rucksack mitnehmen?” (Do we want to bring a rucksack?)

5. teilnehmen

If there is a workshop, or some kind of participatory event, you will most likely have “Teilnehmer”, or people who “teilnehmen”. Literally they “take part”, but we would more likely say “participate”. A German might tell you “Ich habe an einem Workshop teilgenommen.” (I have participated in a workshop.) or a teacher might comment: “Ihre Tochter/Ihr Sohn nimmt gut am Unterricht teil.” (Your daughter/son participates well in class.

6.  unternehmen 

When a German asks you “Wollen wir etwas unternehmen?”, they are asking you whether you want to do something for fun, or if you want to hang out. Literally it means “to undertake”, as in “to undertake an adventure”. But you can also “unternehmen etwas gegen”, which means you did something about or against something . “Ich habe etwas gegen die Ungeziefer in meiner Wohnung unternommen.” (I’ve done something about/against the vermin at my appartment.” 

7. zunehmen / abnehmen

Some of us will “zunehmen” a little bit over the holidays” and will make “abnehmen” their  New Year’s resolution. “zunahmen” means “to put on weight”. For example, someone might say “Ich habe 3 Kilo zugenommen.” (I have put on 3 kilos) The opposite of “zunehmen” is “abnehmen”, which can mean “to lose weight.” Ich mache eine Diät. Ich will 10 Kilo abnehmen.” (I’m making a diet – checkout our article on “machen” – I want to lose 10 kilos. “Abnehmen” however, can also simply mean to take something off someone’s hand. “Kann ich dir etwas abnehmen?” (Can I take something off you/your hands?)

8. vornehmen

“vornehmen” has a few translations, but probably one of the most common uses of “vornehmen” is “sich etwas vornehmen”, which is an accusative reflexive verb, which means “to intend / mean / plan to do something”. For example, someone might ask you “Was hast du heute Abend vor?” (What are you planning on doing this evening?) But you can also “vornehmen” someone, which means you will see or tend to them first. For example, “Ich nehme den zweiten Kunden vor.” (I’m seeing the second client first.)

9. drannehmen

To “drannehmen” someone means “to give them their/a turn” or to ask/question them. For example, a teacher might “drannehmen” a student to ask them questions. Or, if you are waiting in line with a few other people, when it’s your turn you could say “Ich wurde drangenommen.” (I was being given my turn

10. wegnehmen

When you “wegnehmen” something from someone else, you might want to give it back to them. “wegnehmen” means “to take away” or simply “to take”. One could say, for example “Die Mutter hat ihrem Kind das Iphone weggenommen.” (The mother took away her child’s Iphone). 

11. benehmen

“benehmen” is an example of an inseparable prefix word. You might hear a parent tell their kid to “benehmen” in public. “Benimm dich!” (Behave!). It can mean “behave” or simply “to act”. If someone is disgrunteld about someone elses behavior, they might say “Du benimmst dich wie ein…” (You are acting like a… ) 

12. übernehmen

When someone tells you that they feel comfortable to “übernehmen” something, that means they are ok with taking something on. A clinic might “übernehmen” a new patient, or a business owner might want to “übernehmen” another business. It can be translated with “to take on”, or “to assume (a role), or even “to agree to pay”. For example, you might hear someone say “Florian hat die ganze Rechnung übernommen.” (Florian has agreed to pay the whole bill.) or “Sara hat den Laden ihres Vaters übernommen.” (Sara has taken over the shop of her father.)

Have you heard any other expressions with “nehmen”? Feel free to share! 

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