I recently happended to find more and more expressions like:

Der Sommer, die Pause, der Krieg ist vorbei.
Ich habe das Buch fertig gelesen.
Sie ist mit den Hausaufgaben fertig.

When I read these sentences I understand their meaning, but I cannot comprehend the difference between vorbei and fertig. When I write or talk, I'm not sure of which one I should pick.
Can I use them in the same way? Are they maybe synonymous? How would you translate them in English? I usually think of finished, but is it quite accurate?

  • You need to be careful with "fertig", because it also has the sense of "Achtung, fertig, los", where it means "ready to go": "I've finished my preparations, now the action can start". It can also have a sense of being not only finished, but exhausted. Oct 8, 2021 at 7:42

7 Answers 7


When in doubt, think of this:

  • vorbei (over) considers the passed time:

Die Ferien sind vorbei.

  • fertig (done / finished) focuses on the state:

Ich bin fertig mit der Arbeit.


The words are not synonymous. Hence, you cannot interchange the two words in any of your sentences. Explanations have already been given in the other answers.

I just want to add that you can often replace the words but then you change the meaning significantly. Stephie's and Emanuel's answers give some nice examples but they didn't mention it.

Example 1:

Die Arbeit ist fertig. (Wir können das Produkt an den Kunden ausliefern.)
Die Arbeit ist vorbei. (Ich geh jetzt nach Hause und leg mich auf die Couch.)

The first sentence conveys that you finished your work (~task, project, ...). You can deliver your product to the customer.
The second one, in contrast, refers to the working time and that it is over. (~Feierabend). You didn't finish your project and you'll continue on that the next day, but for today you won't do anything more. You'll relax instead.

Example 2:

Das Essen ist fertig. (Du kannst essen kommen.)
Das Essen ist vorbei. (Du bist zu spät.)

The first sentence conveys that you prepared the food. You can eat now.
The second one, however, refers to the mealtime and that it is over. Everyone else has already eaten and you are too late.

  • Indeed, as in the first example, "fertig" often indicates not only that something is complete, but that something else is now ready to start. Oct 8, 2021 at 7:44

I think these English translations are fairly accurate:

vorbei = over

fertig = finished

Where "fertig" typically refers to something someone does and "vorbei" to something that just happens.

  • 1
    There's also a synonym for vorbei, and it is vorüber.
    – Liglo App
    Nov 30, 2014 at 18:26

Think of "vorbei" as "passing by in front of you". So the core is "passed" and it expresses that something is in the... past.

Der Krieg ist vorbei.
The war "is past"

"Fertig" is related to English "fare" and originally meant "to be ready to head out". It is not about something being past but about having reached the state in which it is supposed to be.

Das Essen ist fertig.
Food's ready.

You can pretty much never interchange the two.


Vorbei: If something is vorbei, its existence is completed.

Fertig: If something is fertig, its coming into existence is completed.

For example, if the something is a meal (=Speise), it is fertig when the cooking and serving is finished. It is vorbei when the eating is finished.

So, fertig when ready to happen, vorbei when happened already.

  • 1
    Can existence be completed? The idea is correct, but I think the wording is not. How about considering it.
    – Em1
    Sep 29, 2016 at 7:30
  • @Em1: Of course it can. Why not? Oct 1, 2016 at 2:09

Both "vorbei" and "fertig" can be translated as "done."

But "vorbei" means "done" in the sense that enough time has elapsed. "Der Sommer is vorbei." That is a passive construct.

"Fertig" means something like "ready," insofar as the preparation is complete. "Das Essen ist fertig." That is an active construct.


"Vorbei" : Completed, and because of that, no longer relevant to the present state of things.

"Fertig" : Completed, and because of that, relevant to the present state of things.

What is vorbei can have resulted in something else being fertig: Die Bauarbeiten sind vorbei, das Haus ist fertig.

BTW, one purported etymology of "fertig" suggests it means "clear/ready for travel" (Fahrt).

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