Native English speaker here, trying to learn more German by reading Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen, and I came across this sentence:

Als Mr. und Mrs. Dursley an dem trüben und grauen Dienstag, an dem unsere Geschichte beginnt, die Augen aufschlugen, war an dem wolkenverhangenen Himmel draußen kein Vorzeichen der merkwürdigen und geheimnisvollen Dinge zu erkennen, die bald überall im Land geschehen sollten.

I'm thrown off by the phrase "die Augen aufschlugen", although I know by context and from reading the English it means basically, "to wake up, to open one's eyes".

I've done a search of PONS, LEO and dict.cc online dictionaries, and found out that (auf)schlagen typically means something like "to hit, serve, pitch".

I'm wondering if this might be a colloquial/ugs. in German, since the literal meaning of the verb doesn't seem to fit the context very well. Is this an idiomatic phrase in German? What kind of extra meaning does the verb aufschlagen add to the phrase, as opposed to, for example, aufwachen?

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    You can also: "ein Buch aufschlagen" (to open a book). Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 20:02
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    You didn't look far enough - dict.cc has "Augen aufschlagen" about 75% down.
    – tofro
    Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 20:03
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    If you can read books in German, you can use a German dictionary. meaning #4
    – Carsten S
    Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 20:15
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    @Carsten, your condescension isn't appreciated. Your link, however, is. I've never heard of or used DWDS before, so I'll be sure to check there from now on, in addition to the others.
    – M. Layton
    Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 20:26
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    You could also give the Duden a try. It is still the most popular German dictionary. Although mainly focused on grammar and spelling, it also lists briefly different meanings of a word. For aufschlagen it distinguishes not less than 13 variants. Yours is #7: duden.de/rechtschreibung/aufschlagen#Bedeutung7
    – Matthias
    Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 21:50

4 Answers 4


I'm wondering if this might be a colloquial/ugs. in German

No, on the contrary it is rather a bit elevated and poetic style, particularly when the intended meaning is "to wake up" and not a more general "to open one's eyes".

What kind of extra meaning does the verb aufschlagen add to the phrase, as opposed to, for example, aufwachen?

I can see two advantages of Augen aufschlagen compared to aufwachen in this phrase which make it (well, in my opinion at least) the better choice here from a literary point of view:

  1. It avoids the stylistic problem of putting three verbs aside ("... Geschichte beginnt, aufwachten, war an ..."). The middle one would make a single-word sub-clause, which is not so nice to read.
  2. It matches the content that follows, which is about something that the Dursleys could (more exactly: could not) see: "war an dem wolkenverhangenen Himmel draußen kein Vorzeichen der merkwürdigen und geheimnisvollen Dinge zu erkennen". So by choosing Augen aufschlugen the translator links the Dursleys to the events that are about to happen. He creates the impression of the Dursleys looking into that cloudy sky.
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    Wobei es den Augenaufschlag, wenn auch nicht im hiesigen Kontext, als Flirtsignal gibt. Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 23:16

Aufschlagen in the sense of opening originates from books with a clasp where you literally had to hit the book for the clasp to open. From there the use of aufschlagen was transferred to other things that can be opened.

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    Interesting. Could you link a reference regarding this usage transfer?
    – Arsak
    Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 21:03
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    I cannot seem to find a a link about the usage transfer at the moment. I had been told of the connection by a librarian (difficult to link here^^) but I'll keep looking. Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 21:37
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    I promise to upvote, if you link to a reliable source! Just ping me as a reminder! - Even though it would be nice to try to actually answer the question, too. ;) Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 9:56
  • "Schlag das Buch auf!" will be a commonly found phrase; everyone will understand to open the book, not impact something with it. Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 11:04
  • It could be also used for a chest or something as a synonym for ‚aufklappen‘.
    – Kinaeh
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 11:30

It is not used in the colloquial sense, but it has an important use for narration. I would not say it is not only "elevated" or "poetic" as Matthias suggests, it simply indicates a sudden awakening after a unspecified time has passed and/or something unusual and important has happened.

Plötzlich war da ein Zaun, ein Aufprall, er spürte noch, wie er vom Fahrrad flog...dann wurde es schwarz. Als er die Augen aufschlug, sah er eine hellblau gefärbte Decke und es roch nach Krankenhaus.

Die letzte, große Prüfung. Sie entspannte sich noch ein wenig auf der Bank und genoß die Sonne des Mittags auf dem Gesicht. Als sie die Augen aufschlug, sah sie einen dunklen, klaren Himmel...Hatte sie etwa verschlafen?!

You never use it in normal talk or as polite suggestion/imperative, e.g. "Er/sie hat die Augen aufgeschlagen/Schlagen Sie bitte die Augen auf". If it is used for addressing, it is in the best case sarcastic or teasing, but otherwise it indicates trouble, e.g. "Schlag gefälligst die Augen auf, wenn ich mit Dir rede!"


These online dictionaries are incomplete. If you consult an etymological dictionary, e.g. Kluge writes about "schlagen" that while it has the meaning of "to hit" (from middle- and old high german, 8th century) it and its predecessors (old-nordic slagr, old-english slege, old-high-german slag, middle-high-german slac, slag) also have several special meanings.

All of these special meanings are only losely connected to the primary meaning and often appear in compound words or with prefixes. For example "Schlag" (noun) can mean a hit, but it can also mean a type of something, with the link being that it was used to denote a group of trees designated to be cut down together. For prefixes, "verschlagen" (adj.) means to be tricky, shifty.

"aufschlagen" is simply one of these special meanings. My old hardcover Kluge does not contain its context, and I don't want to post guesswork.

In summary: It is a special meaning of the word, with no ready-to-find reasoning. You will just have to learn it by heart. Even as a native german speaker I cannot give you an easy explanation.

  • Also: "Zuschlag","Abschlag" meaning a surcharge or a discount. "zuschlagen", "draufschlagen" can mean adding a surcharge ... or seizing an opportunity (colloq. zuschlagen), or acknowledging a winning bid in an auction (Zuschlag) ... or throwing the first punch in a fight (zuschlagen), battering an opponent (draufschlagen), impacting something (aufschlagen).... Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 11:10
  • @rackandboneman "zuschlagen" in the sense of "seizing an opportunity" veeery probably is a boxing or at least general fighting metaphor. The winning bid of an auction is often announced with a gavel. - Most of your examples are just variations of actually hitting something. - Only "Zuschlag" and "Abschlag" are not immediately obvious as derived from "schlagen" in its literal sense... Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 8:25
  • You have a point. Luckily, it is only the table that is hit with a gavel. Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 8:48

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