The perfect participle form of these three all mean "fallen", but I want to know if they have any semantic differences? If so, then how would a simple sentence like he is fallen from ... "Er ist herabgefallen/.../... von ..." be interpreted differently or in some aspect more specifically? like where the direction of the fall is from and is heading.

I found herabgefallen from the book Bahnwaerter Thiel. It is from this sentence: "Im Verlaufe von zehn Jahren, war er zweimal krank gewesen; das einer Mal infolge eines vom Tender einer Maschine waehrend des Vorbeifahrens herabgefallenen Stueckes Kohle, ..." For ten years, he was only sick twice; one time because of a piece of coal fallen from a passing tender car of an engine, ...

  • 2
    These are the perfect participles of the verbs herabfallen, abfallen and fallen. It makes no sense the discuss the meanings of the participles. Look up the verbs in a dictionary before asking about them here.
    – RHa
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 17:32
  • Although I think that the meaning of the infinitives was implied in the question, why do you think it does not make sense to discuss the meaning of participles? Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 17:40
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    I can't believe that I have to explain that the meanings of the participles are derived from the infinitive in a straightforward manner. It's the infinitives which are listed in a dictionary, and if one looks up the infinitives in a good dictionary one can see that their respective meanings differ.
    – RHa
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 18:41
  • 1
    Welcome to German.SE. Please take note of the hint from Rha and consider rewriting your question with the infinitives. Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 7:28
  • There is no good dictionary I could find on the internet that would give their different meanings in neither inf. or par. form. I made this post in the middle of the night as well as creating this account. I read it in the par. form in the book and I intended to use it in par. form as well, so I didn't take the time to consider asking it in their inf. form. It made sense to me at the time and I'm sorry it didn't make sense to you. I will change them to inf. form nonetheless. @RHa Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 12:32

2 Answers 2


I want to know if they have any semantic differences?

Yes they have. Your words are the past form, let's look at the present.

  • herabfallen (or herunterfallen, runterfallen) = to fall down with focus on down, although I have no plausible idea where else it could fall from :-)
  • abfallen = to fall off
  • fallen = to fall (in general)

An object that is abgefallen has fallen off from something, that means it was connected to something and now got loose and gravity took its chance to move it away. No long way is implied to fall, it could just have loosened and now is 1 mm below its original place.

The object that has abgefallen (has loosened) can now herabfallen (fall down) because it's no longer held in place.
For the piece of coal the word abfallen can not really be used because it actually was somewhere above on the coal wagon but not fixed to other coal or the wagon.

fallen in general is to fall in any variation. The piece of coal falls ... it's moving downward without anything said about why and where from.
fallen is also used in context of a person or animal that stumbles and now drops down.
How did you break your leg? Ich bin gestolpert und gefallen.
In everyday's language one would say hingefallen.

  • somewhere above on the coal wagon but not fixed to other coal or the wagon --- Since it is a tender wagon with a heap of coal, I think fall down off from is OK. Like snow, down from off a roof. Der ganze Schnee is vom Dach herabgefallen. (Well, herabgerutscht). Herabgefallen explains exactly how it happened.
    – user41814
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 20:14
  • @rastafile Yes you are right with herabfallen, but please note that in the cited phrase I referred to von ... abfallen, not von .. herabfallen. Perhaps my usage of falling off (from) was not the best choice. I wanted to bring out that in German abfallen is used for something that was fixed/mounted and isn't any more.
    – puck
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 4:59
  • when things fall down from a higher level in respect to my position, it is "herabfallen, herunterfallen". When stuff falls down to a lower level it is "hinabfallen, hinunterfallen".
    – Blue Box
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 10:56

To add to puck's answer:

herabfallen is sometimes used metaphorically. Examples given in the Duden are:

  • "die Sonnenstrahlen fielen auf ihr helles Haar herab"
  • "Finsternis, Nacht fällt auf die Stadt herab"

Which means

  • "Sunshine fell down on her hair"
  • "Darkness, the night falls down on the city"


Could also be used with only using fallen I guess, but herabfallen sounds older and might even sound off to some.

  • to enrich your answer with figurativly use, you might add sth like: "die Last fällt von mir ab" / "das fällt von meinen Schultern (ab)". Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 7:43

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