What is the difference between abnehmen and abheben in the following two sentences:

Ich rufe dauernd an, aber keiner hebt ab.


Nimmst du mal bitte ab, ich kann grad nicht.

Is there any general rule to be able to choose a specific verb among many which have (in specific context) similar meanings?

  • 2
    Please Note: The meaning of these two verbs is highly context specific. Your examples in the context of handling telephone / video calls sjhow up mostly congruent / equvalent. There may be other cases when the meaning isn't remotely equivalent: I.e. abnehmen => loosing weight vs. abheben => lift off (an aeronautic vehicle) vs. draw (money from an account). [] Sep 17, 2020 at 16:24

1 Answer 1


A differentiation is not by definition, duden.de uses it both ways:

  • abnehmen, first meaning:
    • niemand nahm [den Hörer] ab (nahm das Telefongespräch entgegen)

  • abheben, meaning 1.a
    • den Deckel, den Hörer abheben

Ich nehme nicht ab. - vs. - ich hebe nicht ab. (while phone is ringing)

Da nimmt keiner ab. - vs. Da hebt keiner ab. (while phone is ringing)

Works both ways. Just with your example "Nimmst Du mal bitte ab..." it is also implied to receive the call and talk.

Thus I would use abheben (as well as rangehen(Duden, meaning c)) in context with a telephone more often that I started the call and the receiver needs to react and pick up the phone to receive my call.

The other way round abnehmen I would use more often when someone else is calling and I should pick up the phone. It is similiar to annehmen which means I take the call. This refers to the times when a switchboard operator(wiki) was necessary to establish the call: the operator would ask me "if I take the call?" and I still could say "no, I don't take the call".

  • Die Argumentation, dass das Verb davon abhängt, ob Du oder ein anderer den Hörer abhebt oder -nimmt erscheint mir unlogisch und ohne Beispiel in der Sprache. Ich vermute, dass Du Deine Unsicherheit darüber implizit dadurch ausdrückst, dass Du ein unverbindliches "I would use" benutzt, um diese fragile Begründung zu äußern. Sep 18, 2020 at 20:13

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