The Many Meanings of the German Verb 'lassen'

German Vocabulary: Expressions with the Verb 'lassen'

An Overview of the German Verb lassen

Principal Parts: lassen, ließ, gelassen

The German verb lassen is a very useful irregular (strong) verb with the basic meaning of "to allow" or "to let." But it has many other meanings and is used often in everyday German.

Common Verb Combinations

The verb lassen is also found in several common verbal phrases. Under the new spelling rules, they are written as two words, although the old combined spelling is still accepted.

A few examples: fallen lassen to drop, fahren lassen to abandon / give up (hope), stehen lassen to leave (standing). Also, see the idiomatic expressions section.

Below we examine this extremely versatile verb, which can have over a dozen different meanings in English (and German), depending on the context. However, one can reduce these many meanings of lassen into seven basic categories: (1) to allow / let, (2) to get / have done, (3) to cause / make, (4) to leave (behind), (5) a suggestion ("Let's do something."), (6) to cease / quit / stop (doing something), and (7) to be possible (reflexive, sich). The various specific meanings listed below will generally fall into one of these seven main categories. Each meaning has one or more German synonyms listed along with the English meaning. (Also see the full conjugation of lassen.)

lassen (erlauben, zulassen)

English Meaning: to allow, let

Examples: Sie lässt ihren Hund auf dem Bett schlafen.

(She lets her dog sleep on the bed.) Das lasse ich mit mir nicht machen. (I won't stand for / put up with that. Lit., "I won't allow that with me.")

lassen (veranlassen, helping verb, modal verb)

English Meaning: to get / have done

Examples: Sie lassen sich scheiden. (They're getting a divorce.) Er hat sich die Haare schneiden lassen.

(He got a haircut.) Lassen Sie Herrn Schmidt hereinkommen. (Please send Mr. Schmidt in.)

lassen (vorschlagen)

English Meaning: to let (let me, let's)

Examples: Lass uns gehen. (Let's go.) Lass ihn das machen. (Have / Let him do that.)

lassen (aufhören, unterlassen)

English Meaning: to stop, refrain from (doing something)

Examples: Lassen Sie das! (Stop doing that! Leave that alone!) Er konnte es einfach nicht lassen. (He just couldn't resist it.) Sie kann das Rauchen nicht lassen. (She can't quit / give up smoking.)

lassen (stehen lassen, zurücklassen)

English Meaning: to leave (sth somewhere)

Examples: Bitte lass den Koffer stehen. (Please leave the suitcase [standing] where it is.) Lassen Sie sie nicht draußen warten. (Don't leave them waiting outside.)

lassen (übriglassen)

English Meaning: to leave (behind, over)

Example: Die Diebe haben ihnen nichts gelassen. (The thieves cleaned them out / left them with nothing.)

lassen (nicht ​stören)

English Meaning: to leave alone, leave in peace

Example: Lass mich in Ruhe! (Leave me alone!)

lassen (bewegen)

English Meaning: to put, place, run (water)

Examples: Hast du ihm Wasser in die Wanne gelassen? (Did you run his bath water?) Wir lassen das Boot zu Wasser.

(We're putting out the boat / putting the boat into the water.)

lassen (zugestehen)

English Meaning: to grant, admit

Example: Das muss ich dir lassen. (I'll have to grant you that.)

lassen (verlieren)

English Meaning: to lose

Example: Er hat sein Leben dafür gelassen. (He laid down his life for that.)

lassen (möglich sein, reflexive)

English Meaning: to be possible

Examples: Hier lässt sich gut leben. (One can live well here.) Das Fenster lässt sich nicht öffnen. (The window won't open. The window can't be opened.) Das lässt sich nicht leicht beweisen. (That won't be easy to prove.)

lassen (verursachen)

English Meaning: to cause, make (sb do sth)

Example: Die Explosion ließ ihn hochfahren. (The explosion made him jump.)

Idioms and Expressions with lassen

blau anlaufen lassen
to temper (metal)

sich blicken lassen
to show one's face

einen lassen
to cut one, let one rip (vulgar)

die Kirche im Dorf lassen
to not get carried away, not over-do it ("leave the church in the village")

jdn im Stich lassen
to leave sb holding the bag, leave sb in the lurch

keine grauen Haare darüber wachsen lassen
to not lose any sleep over sth

kein gutes Haar an jdm/etw lassen
to pick sb/sth apart / to pieces

Compound Verbs Based on lassen

ablassen (sep.) to drain, empty, let out​​
anlassen (sep.) to start (motor), leave on (clothes)
auslassen (sep.) to omit, leave out; vent, let out
belassen (insep.) to leave (in place), leave at that (dabei)
entlassen (insep.) to discharge, dismiss, lay off
überlassen (insep.) to hand over, turn over to
unterlassen (insep.) to omit, not do, refrain from doing
verlassen (insep.) to abandon, leave behind
zerlassen (insep.) to melt, dissolve (cooking)
zulassen (insep.) to grant, permit

Further Resources:

German Verbs

German Verb Prefixes

English-German Idioms

German-English Idioms