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While reading a graded reader for German learners (Momente in München) I ran across the expression "Ran an die Arbeit" and wanted to understand why it means "Get to work"?

I searched in several places and realized that I didn't know what 'ran' meant here. Was it a verb? A verb prefix? To my surprise, I received no help when looking up 'ran' in Linguee, google translate, deepL or leo.org. The free dictionary defines 'ran' as 'come on, go it" which doesn't make much sense (especially the "go it" part). But it made me think 'ran' is perhaps an interjection that is used idiomatically like "come on" sometimes is in English. That's the best I can figure so far.

A search for "ran an" at Tatoeba.org gives several examples. Here are some simple ones with their translations. Some of them seem to fit the "come on" translation, but not all.

Nun mal ran an die Arbeit (Now let's get down to work)
Ran an den Speck! (Go ahead! Don't be shy!)
Geh nicht an dieses Telefon ran! (Don't pick up that phone)
Tom lässt keinen an sich ran (Tom is very private)

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It's short for heran. Same as raus, rein, rauf, runter, rüber.

Nun (gehen wir) mal (he)ran an die Arbeit.

(Geh) (he)ran an den Speck!

These use an implicit gehen as another complication.

Geh nicht an dieses Telefon (he)ran!

Nobody would use heran in this example though, as rangehen has become a verb on its own, meaning to pick up a phone. You could say

Geh nicht ran!

and everyone understands it as they should not pick up the phone. Your example has an additional an dieses Telefon which I understand as a pointer to a certain telephone. Pick up the other ones as much as you want to. Just not that red one. Putin is on that line. Okay?

There's another verb herangehen which means to approach.

An diese Sache gehst du besser anders (he)ran.

In this example, heran is idiomatic but you will sometimes hear ran, too.

Tom lässt keinen an sich (he)ran.

Again, ranlassen has become a verb on its own, meaning to get in touch. Unlike rangehen/herangehen, heranlassen means the same as ranlassen. So you can use both ran and heran in this example.

  • What a great answer! These are the kind of things that are very difficult for a learner pick up, but your explanations are quite helpful. Vielen Dank! – Tony M Sep 19 at 21:50
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    related: "Ich komm nicht dran!" (I cannot get at it/cannot reach it or it's never my turn) is contracted in a similar fashion from daran, cf. "Drum und Dran" – dlatikay Sep 20 at 10:15

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