For instance, when I say:

Ihr habt alles mit angehört, was wir eben besprochen haben?

I've always just put this down to just because, but what is the function of the adverb (not the preposition) "mit" used with "anhören"?

Here I'm talking specifically about when "anhören" is used in the sense of "overhear", as opposed to "listen to".

The separated prefix "hören ... mit" of "mithören" is one thing (nothing uncanny about it), while the structure "mit anhören" has me puzzled. Why keep "mit"?

  • I think the mit is a short form of miteinander. They have listened the talk together at the same time.That is not related to "mithören". The opposite would be listen individually to a recording of the talk. Another form would be "Ihre ward mit dabei, als wir das eben besprochen haben." This emphasis this being apparent while talking than it was in the original sentnce.
    – harper
    Jul 10, 2019 at 12:59

3 Answers 3


The word mit can exist as preposition,

Ich fahre mit dem Auto. Ich werde mit dem Auto fahren.
I drive by car. I will drive by car.
literal: I drive with the car. I will drive with the car.

as adverb,

Das Hemd gehört mit in die Wäsche. Das Hemd wird mit in die Wäsche gehören.
The shirt also belongs in the laundry. The shirt will also belong in the laundry.
literal: The shirt cobelongs in the laundry. The shirt will cobelong in the laundry.

and as prefix of a separable verb

Ich fahre mit wenn ich Zeit habe. Ich werde mitfahren wenn ich Zeit habe.
(Sorry, I have no Idea how to properly translate this into valid English)
literal: I coride when I have time. I will coride when I have time.

(Instead of "co-ride" maybe also "co-go" or "co-drive")

In the examples above I use the prefix co- in the sense of "worker and co-worker" or "driver and co-driver."

The prefixes of separable verbs are closely related to adverbs, and when those verbs are split in their parts, it is often hard to tell if it is an adverb or a split-off prefix. And also the meaning in both functions is almost identical. Both, the adverb "mit" and the prefix "mit" mean:

to do something together with someone else

Here is a simple example:
If you walk, it is

Du gehst. = You walk.

If I walk, you have

Ich gehe. = I walk.


Du gehst und ich gehe.
You walk and I walk.

But if you deside where to go to, and I accompany you, i.e. I walk on your side and you decide where to got to, then it is:

Du gehst und ich gehe mit.
You walk and I co-walk.

This construction doesn't exist in proper English, so I use this co- prefix to express what is meant in German. And this co- prefix works for both, the adverb mit and the separable prefix mit.


This verb means:

  • to listen (to hear something and pay attention to it with the intention to hear it)
  • to overhear (to hear something by accident, without having wanted to hear it)

But there is also a third possibility: You didn't want to hear it (i.e. it was not your intention to listen), so you overheard he conversation. But after you heard a few words you became curious and payed attention, so you turned from overhearing to listening. In German all of those is:

ein Gespräch anhören
to overhear or listen to a conversation

When two people chat in a room, and when there is a third person in the room who can hear the conversation, you can say:

Walter hört das Gespräch von Erich und Brigitte an.
1. Walter listens to the conversation of Erich and Brigitte.
1. Walter overhears the conversation of Erich and Brigitte.

In English you have to make a difference, if Walter is listening intentionally, or if he is overhearing the conversation by accident. In German you don't make this difference. Without context it is to listen, i.e. to pay attention to the conversation, but without initial intention. If you want to clarify the difference, you have to tell it explicitly in a separate sentence.

When Erich talks to Brigitte, Brigitte is listening. And when Brigitte talks, Erich is listening. These two persons are the main-listeners. And if another person joins the club of listeners, then this person is co-listening or co-overhearing.(remember: both is the same word in German: anhören)

So, when you realize that Lisa and Sandra also overhear this conversation, then they co-overheard the conversation:

Lisa und Sandra hören das Gespräch mit an. Sie werden das Gespräch mit anhören.
Lisa and Sandra co-overhear the conversation. They will co-overhear the conversation.

  • I can not fix the bold font of literally on the phone. Sorry. I think your last is misleading. Anhören always is intentional per se. If it's not, you just use hören or mit anhören, e.g. "Als ich gestern in die Küche gehen wollte, habe ich gehört, wie Brigitte gebeichtet hat Markus zu betrügen". "Ich hatte meine Kopfhörer vergessen, ich musste die ganze Fahrt lang mit anhören, wie ein Mädel ihren Freund angeschrien hat". Jul 11, 2019 at 6:53
  • 1
    @infinitezero: It is ok to edit someone else's answer to correct typos or bad style. Such edits are welcome, please don't stop correcting typos and bad style! But do not delete those parts of another persons posting, that was written intentionally for didactic reasons. If you think my answer is wrong or bad, feel free to write a better answer. But never change the content and meaning of other postings! Jul 12, 2019 at 9:13
  • I wouldn't add anything to your answer. Just remove the whole "co-thing" routine. I find it confusing and on top of that, the construction you're looking for exists in English. "I come with you" literally means "Ich komme mit Dir". Just in German it is possible to leave out the object. I think that would help a lot. Also, the same example in two tenses doesn't really add any insight. Why is it there? Jul 12, 2019 at 9:23
  • 1
    @infinitezero: I repeat: Never add something that was not there, but also do NEVER delete anything that the author wrote intentionally, even if you think it's wrong. Do correct typos, do correct grammatical errors. But never add new ideas or delete ideas you don't like. If you don't like the answer: Vote it down. If you think you can do it better: Write a better answer. If something is unclear to you: Write a comment and ask. But do never change anything that changes the ideas of the posting. Jul 12, 2019 at 13:33

In my opinion, mit ansehen, anhören can be seen as idiomatic expressions talking about witnessing something.

Viele Menschen sahen mit an, wie Notre-Dame brannte.
Many people witnessed Notre Dame burning.

Die Reisenden mußten aussteigen, nachdem eine Frau ein verdächtiges Gespräch dreier Männer mit angehört hatte.
Travellers had to get off after a woman had witnessed a suspicious conversation between three men.

This seems to be the correct reading when these verbs occur with müssen and nicht können:

Stell dir vor, du mußt mit ansehen, wie …
Imagine having to witness how …

Ihre Streitereien kann ich nicht länger mit anhören.
I can't bear listening to their quarrels any longer.

But of course there are also cases with a non-idiomatic reading where mit just signifies accompaniment.

Als wir auf Wohnungssuche waren, hat mein Vater hat sich alle Wohnungen mit angesehen.
When we were looking for a flat, my father used to look at all the flats with us.

The meaning to witness also surfaces in miterleben.

Wir treten in ein Zeitalter ein, in dem wir miterleben, wie etliche Menschen wirtschaftlich überflüssig werden.
We are entering an age in which we are witnessing how many people are becoming economically superfluous.

Very curious is mitbekommen.

Wieso hat niemand etwas mitbekommen?
Why didn't anyone notice?

  • I agree, "mit anhören" is a sort of idiomatic mixture of "mithören" and "anhören"
    – PiedPiper
    Jul 11, 2019 at 11:15

"anhören" does not contain the connotation of the adverb "mit". Even if you want use it in the sense of "overhear", in German you need to add "mit" if you want to keep the meaning that the listener is inside a group of other people also listening.

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