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I'd like to know:

  • What's the difference?
  • Which one needs akkusativ-object?
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1 Answer

up vote 24 down vote accepted

kaufen

Same as buy in English. Works for pretty much every situation, from chewing gum to real estate to bribery ;)

Needs an accusative object, e.g.

  • Ich kaufe einen Apfel.
  • Er hat ein Auto gekauft.

einkaufen

This leans more towards shopping ("einkaufen gehen" = "to go shopping"). As a noun it is also often used in the context of a corporate purchasing department ("die Einkaufsabteilung", "Sie arbeitet im Einkauf.").

Can be used with an accusative object:

  • Ich habe Hundefutter eingekauft.

Note that "einkaufen" doesn't need an accusative object:

  • Ich gehe heute auf dem Bauernmarkt einkaufen.

Another meaning of "einkaufen" can be to pay money to attain a certain status that is usually inherited or achieved through merit, e.g. to acquire an aristocratic title:

  • Er hat sich in in den Adel eingekauft.

aufkaufen

Similar to English usage ("to buy up something").

Needs accusative object in most cases:

  • Der Sammler hat alle verbleibenden Exemplare dieser Ausgabe aufgekauft.

Is also used in the context of company acquisitions. The company being bought is usually the subject and the passive form is being used:

  • Skype wurde von Microsoft aufgekauft.

ankaufen

Usually used in the sense of someone offering money for certain (used) items, e.g. (dental/jewelry) gold ("Goldankauf") or used cars ("Ankauf von Gebrauchtwagen").

Needs an accusative object:

  • Der Gebrauchtwagenhändler kauft gebrauchte Autos an.
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very good information and cleverly styled, +1 for that. The only thing I'd like to reassure myself of: "Ich gehe auf dem Bauernmarkt einkaufen" versus "Ich gehe auf den Bauernmarkt einkaufen"? The first one is if you're already there, the second if you plan to go. I think you wanted to use the second although both are correct :) –  Samuel Herzog Jun 21 '11 at 0:39
2  
In this particular example, both have about the same meaning and neither indicates that the speaker is already there. The second has a tiny bit more of an emphasis on the place / direction. It is possible to entirely omit "einkaufen" and it would still be a perfectly correct sentence (though it would leave us guessing what the speaker is planning to do at the farmer's market): "Ich gehe auf den Bauermarkt." –  puzzle Jun 21 '11 at 1:25
    
That last one should have been spelled "Bauernmarkt" (with an 'n'). Don't want anyone to learn an incorrect spelling here ;) –  puzzle Jun 21 '11 at 20:41
    
great thing i misspelled it too :D –  Samuel Herzog Jun 21 '11 at 22:12
    
"Ich gehe auf dem Bauernmarkt" would also be correct. Slightly strange-sounding, but (IMO) correct. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 22 '11 at 12:13
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