Anmachen, aufmachen, zumachen, ausmachen? What the hell?

The words anmachen, aufmachen, zumachen and ausmachen even confuse German native speakers when having to write them down all together. The problem with those words is obviously that they look quite similar, but there is a way to tell them apart. Let me show you how you can do it as well.


Meaning and Use

Let’s jump straight into the use and meaning of the words. Firstly, we want to pair them. Anmachen is the opposite of ausmachen, aufmachen is the opposite of zumachen.

anmachen ≠ ausmachen

aufmachen ≠ zumachen


Anmachen and ausmachen


Here are some example sentences which will help you find out the meaning quite easily:

Ich mache das Radio an. (I turn the radio on.)

Ich mache das Radio aus. (I turn the radio off.)

Ich mache die Tür auf. (I open the door.)

Ich mache die Tür zu. (I close the door.)

As you can see, the first pair (anmachen ≠ ausmachen) is used for turning or switching off something, a machine or a device, something that runs on electricity. They are used to describe the action of starting or cutting off some electric current.

Machst du bitte das Licht an? (Can you turn on the light ?)

Er machte den Fernseher aus. (He switched off the TV.)

Wir machten den Computer an. (We turned the computer on.)

Dann machten wir den Computer wieder aus. (Then we turned the computer off again.)


Similar to switching or turning a light on and off, you can also brighten up the room with a candle. Simply use anmachen and ausmachen for lightening a candle as well.

Sie machen die Kerze an. (They light the candle.) Also: Sie zünden die Kerze an.


Anmachen and ausmachen also works for starting and putting out a fire.

Ich mache das Feuer aus. (I’m putting out the fire.)


Even more meanings

The different meaning between the two pairs becomes even more obvious when you look at the other meanings of the first two anmachen ≠ ausmachen (to turn on/off).


  • to turn on, a person in a sexual way. (Das macht sie an.)
  • to hit on s.o. (Er machte sie an.)
  • to dress, a salad. (Kannst du bitte den Salat anmachen?)


As you can see, you use anmachen mostely the same way you use to turn on/off in English. Every time you spark up a thing or a person, you want to use anmachen (or its opposite ausmachen).


  • to put out, a candle or a fire (Sie machten die Kerze und das Feuer aus.)
  • to make a difference (Ja, es macht etwas aus. Das andere Sofa war viel billiger.)


Aufmachen and zumachen


The second pair (aufmachen ≠ zumachen) is used when the opening-up and cutting-off action doesn’t involve any electricity. When a window, a box, a bag or a book is closed or a door is opened. You might stop something by doing this, but instead of cutting off electric flow, you cut off a sight when the door or the box is being closed or you stop the wind from blowing through the window by closing it.


The grammar you should know


How to memorise the anmachen, ausmachen, zumachen und ausmachen

Most of the time it helps, to put things in the right drawer or box in your head to be able to find them easily when you need them. This is what we want to do with these four verbs as well. Let’s find the right boxes for our new friends.


Separable prefixes and varieties of machen

First of all, anmachen ≠ ausmachen, zumachen ≠ aufmachen are varieties of machen (to do/to make). By adding the prefixes an-, aus-, zu- and auf- new words with different meanings are formed.

Anmachen ≠ ausmachen, zumachen ≠ aufmachen are also separable verbs, which means we separate them in the present and past tense.

Ich mache das Auto auf. (present tense/ I open the car.)

Du machtest das Auto auf. (past tense/ You opened the car.)


The prefixes stay with the verb in the infinitive form, present participle and past participle.

aufmachen (infinitive) and zumachen (infinitive)

aufmachend (present participle), same for zumachen: Das Auto aufmachend, sah ich die Tasche. (Opening the car, I saw the bag.)

aufgemacht (past participle), same for zumachen: Sie hatte das Auto aufgemacht. (She had opened the car.)

The prefix also rejoins the verb at the end of the clause in a so called subordinate clause.

Ich will, dass er das Auto aufmacht. (I want him to open the car.)


Let’s sum it up

So, this is it. What you should keep in mind is this:

  • Think in pairs (anmachen ≠ ausmachen) (zumachen ≠ aufmachen)
  • Is the object to be ‘sparked up’?
  • If so, use anmachen ≠ ausmachen.
  • If not, use zumachen ≠ aufmachen.
  • Remember: they are separable verbs (Ich mache das Licht an./Er macht die Tür auf.)


Do you have a different way to memorise the four words. I’d love to hear about it in the comments.



6 replies on “Anmachen, aufmachen, zumachen, ausmachen? What the hell?

  • Mila

    Thanks a lot, but I should said: Vielen Dank!
    Im not an English speaker at all and for me ” sparked up ” caused a big trouble.

    Best regards


  • Eman

    Das war nützlich..Vielen Dank!

    Ich denke man kann auch die Bedeutung von den “Präfix” an sich suchen auf, an usw dann macht das was im Kopf an:D also to light, meine ich , vom Verstehen. oder man sagt es nicht so?

    • Anja Mueller

      Hallo Eman, Ja das ist auch eine gute Idee! Viele Vorsilben (Präfixe) haben eine ähnliche Bedeutung. Danke für die Erinnerung. Vielleicht schreibe ich auch noch einen Post darüber. Das ist eine gute Idee! Vielen herzlichen herzlichen Dank für deinen Kommentar, hat mich wirklich gefreut 😀

  • LD

    Luft-> auf Ich mache das Fenster auf. -> air-open the window

    Raus-> aus ich mache das Radio aus. -> turn off the radio


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