I was wondering if you could help me of the translation of "vornehmen". I understand the use "sich etwas vornehmen" as "plan on/mean to/intend to do something" which is fine, but it seems that the regular verb takes on a slightly different meaning. Many dictionaries translate it as "make" or "carry out" or "perform". Let me give you a couple examples:

  1. Wir haben einige Änderungen vorgenommen.

  2. Eine Pflicht vornehmen.

  3. Eine Operation vornehmen lassen.

Examples 2 and 3 would suggest that "perform" would be the more appropriate translation, but "perform" would be awkward in example 1. On the other hand, example 1 would suggest that "make" would be appropriate, but this would be be extremely awkward in the other 2.

So, my question is: What do you think is the best translation in English to this very confusing word :)

  • 3
    Hm. Let me give you a counter-example: is a "trunk" the nose of an elephant, a large suitcase, the stem of a tree or the boot of a car?
    – Stephie
    Aug 27, 2017 at 15:47
  • 3
    ...and you forgot to mention "sich jemanden vornehmen", which has yet another meaning.
    – tofro
    Aug 27, 2017 at 16:47

3 Answers 3


As always: it depends. The German word vornehmen has several meanings, exactly like the English word make. The single best translation for all these meanings simply doesn't exist.

  • Absolutely right Roland! Plus, I'd translate it also like "undergo".
    – Sina
    Aug 27, 2017 at 17:05

As one of the other posters pointed out, the literal meaning of "vornehmen" is to take or carry something in front of you.

So a good figurative meaning is "to carry out," as you suggested.

The modifier "sich," as in "sich vornehmen" weakens the construction. The sich "internalizes" the construction (to yourself), and makes it a more passive or "hopeful" thought. That's why "intend" or wish to carry out is a good translation for sich vornehmen.

In your first example, you can "perform" einige Änderungen, but that would be putting it a bit strongly. To "make" changes sounds better, especially in English. In the second and third examples, you want a "stronger" translation (e.g. perform), because of the subject matter (Pflict oder Operation).

The meaning of vornehmen is somewhat contextual, so be prepared to have it represent stronger or weaker versions of "carry out" in different contexts.

  • Thanks a lot for the fantastic answer! So, in essence, vornehmen and ausführen mean the same thing?
    – Mark
    Aug 28, 2017 at 12:33
  • @Mark: I would say so, yes. If you like my answer, you can accept it by clicking on the check mark.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 3, 2017 at 1:12

You can often deconstruct those German verbs with prefixes to guess their meaning.

nehmen means to take something and vor means in front. So, literally, you take something and put it right in front of you. And that's what vornehmen means.

Same for abnehmen, aufnehmen, mitnehmen, übernehmen, entgegennehmen.

Unfortunately, it's not always that simple. While you may guess what übelnehmen means (though übel is not a common prefix), and einnehmen may come to you as soon you realize it's an in in there, hinnehmen, zunehmen, entnehmen, vernehmen and unternehmen will leave you clueless. Their meanings are too obscure to be guessed from the prefix.

So, try to deconstruct but don't be disappointed if it fails. At least you had a better grip on some verbs.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.