I would like to ask if there's a difference between "laufen" and "ablaufen" in the following context:

DWDS: Dieser Film läuft die dritte Woche. /// Der Hauptfilm läuft schon.

DWDS: Der Film / Das (Fernseh‑)Spiel läuft ab.

Also here:

DWDS: Der Faden läuft von der Spule.

DWDS: Der Faden läuft (von der Spule) ab.

Note: if the hyperlinks are not working or not leading to the exact sentence, it's meaning number 4 of "laufen" and meaning number 5 of "ablaufen"

Vielen Dank

  • Did you read the dictionary entries that you link to? They explain the difference quite well.
    – user52445
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 9:24
  • @user52445 yeah but I'm sill not sure ... Is "laufen" used when a movie is played on TV or in the cinema, whereas "ablaufen" is used when the movie is on a tape or CD? Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 10:16

2 Answers 2


I wouldn't use "ablaufen" for a film, except in a very technical sense.

Most of the time, it's just "laufen":

Läuft der Film schon? (In both senses: Läuft der Film schon in den Kinos in Deutschland? Läuft die Verstellung um 19:30 h schon?)
Der Film "Metropolis" läuft mittwochs um 19:30 h im Metropol-Kino.
Bitte lassen Sie Ihre Handys aus, während der Film läuft.

You can use "ablaufen" in a narrow mechanical sense with actual film, saying that it is being spooled off from one reel.

Der Film läuft von der vorderen Spule ab, läuft durch den Projektor, und wird auf die hintere Spule aufgerollt.

However, you can also just trust in the preposition "von" to convey that:

Der Film läuft von der vorderen Spule durch den Projektor auf die hintere Spule.

"Ablaufen" is also often used in the sense of "to proceed" for events that follow a plan or all kinds of processes, but I wouldn't normally use it in that way for a film:

"Wie läuft der erste Schultag ab?"
Die Hochzeit lief anfangs noch ab wie geplant. Aber dann ...

Your second example is again a technical one, the thread is running off the spool. You can use either "laufen" or "ablaufen" for this. "Ablaufen" just puts a bit more emphasis on the fact that the thread is coming off the spool or that is starts at the spool. Your example sentences both work, and to me there is no semantic difference between them.

There's a lot of other uses of "ablaufen", as you have seen in DWDS.

  • Thanks for your answer. If I want to say I'm having trouble playing a movie on my TV or computer, can I say: "Dieser Film lässt sich nicht laufen"?? Or "lässt sich nicht ablaufen" ?? Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 14:13
  • 1
    No, because for use with "lässt sich", you need a verb that takes the film as an object, for example abspielen ("Ich spiele einen Film ab.") "Laufen" has the film as a subject ("Der Film läuft"). You can say "Der Film lässt sich nicht abspielen." or "Der Film läuft nicht." In English, acidentally, you can say "The movie doesn't play." as well as "I can't play the movie" => "The movie can't be played.", but in German, you need two different verbs for that.
    – HalvarF
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 14:35
  • 1
    @KeNSmilePachI You could say "Dieser Film lässt sich nicht abspielen."
    – Bodo
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 16:56
  • "laufen" or "ablaufen" is something the film does. "spielen" or "abspielen" is something you do to the film. Therefore "der Film läßt sich nicht abspielen", meaning "der Film kann nicht (ab)laufen" (on this particular mechanism).
    – bakunin
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 9:40

The most prominent use for ablaufen is

Vor seinem inneren Auge lief ein Film ab.

which means, one has an expectation, what would happen now, an vividly imagines it, so ablaufen also addresses the part of "setting in motion"

For summarizing the current offerings of a cinema, laufen is the verb to use.

Yor additional question in the comment would likely be something like:

Die DVD/ Der Film lässt sich nicht abspielen.

Ablaufen is not used reflexively and therefore sich can't be integrated easily.

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