My friend was asked whether he wanted to travel home with his colleagues on the train and he responded:

Nein, fahrt schon mal vor!

I know that vorfahren is a separable verb to mean "to ride along" but when I looked at the definition of "schon mal" or "schon einmal" I found it meant "ever / before / already" which made no sense.

Is there a reasonable definition of "schon mal"?

  • 1
    The meaning in context is ride ahead already (at least roughly). Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 21:32
  • 2
    Additional information. There is a difference between "vorfahren" (Harry fahr den Wagen vor = Harry drive the car "to the front" - this relates to the location - not the last parking lot but bring the car to where we are so we can leave immediately) and "vor fahren" in your example. Here it means "drive before me" with a chronological relation. It says you can start your trip now - I'll start mine late, after you.
    – puck
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 5:14
  • Possible duplicate of schonmal vs. schon mal
    – äüö
    Commented Feb 14, 2019 at 8:35
  • @äüö: the "duplicate" is about the spelling. not the meaning. Answers there will not help here. It merits an own question.
    – Takkat
    Commented Feb 14, 2019 at 8:43
  • @puck Right. The distinction between vorfahren and vor fahren becomes clearer when one knows that in the latter vor is the shortened form of the adverb voraus. Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 9:21

2 Answers 2


There are two main usage cases of schon mal

  1. Referring to the past, as you mentioned in the question, as ever/before/already/sometimes (and short for "schon einmal")

    Warst du schon mal in China?
    Das kommt schon mal vor

  2. Referring to the present and immediate future the use is more colloquial. It usually means something like "go ahead", "go on", "in the meantime" or "meanwhile"

    Geh schon mal vor, ich komme nach
    Das Essen ist gleich fertig, decke schon mal den Tisch

You example could be translated as "No, go ahead" or "No, don't wait for me"

The spelling "schon mal" is preferred over "schonmal". This is discussed here: schonmal-vs.-schon-mal


I'm not that good in German but I guess "this time rather". That translates to in meaning : I could go with my colleague but this time I would rather take the train.

  • 1
    You've misunderstood the sentence
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 22:21
  • I see. I thought the subject of fahrt was 'Ich' not 'Du'. :)
    – Chan Kim
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 0:58
  • but I think your answers "go ahead", "go on", "in the meantime" or "meanwhile" are almost sound like my answer "this time rather". just my feeling.
    – Chan Kim
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 1:00
  • "This time I would rather take the train" is your mistake. Presumably all the colleagues take the same train line, so the example becomes "No, go ahead" implying "This time I'd rather take a later train". The implicit subject of fahrt is ihr because it's an imperative plural
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 11:47

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