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I wrote a post recently about verbs that change their meanings when you add prefixes to them. These can be very confusing for language learners, as they think they recognise a verb when it actually means something totally different. The post led to a question about whether a particular prefix made the verb separable or inseparable. I thought it’d be good to re-cap German prefixes so you know which prefixes are separable (trennbar) and which ones are inseparable (untrennbar).
First, let’s recap what ‘separable’ and ‘inseparable’ prefixes are.
A separable prefix is one where the prefix separates from the verb when put into a sentence. Take the verb aufhören – to stop (auf + hören). When this verb is in a sentence, you’d say Hör mit diese Blödheit auf – Stop (with) this stupidity. ‘Auf’ is a separable prefix and ‘aufhören’ is a separable verb.
An inseparable prefix is one where the prefix remains fixed to the verb when put into a sentence. Take the example verb zerstören (zer + stören). In a sentence, you would write the whole verb. To quote the Rammstein song, Ich muss zerstören – I need to destroy. ‘Zer’ is an inseparable prefix and zerstören is an inseparable verb.
Now you know what separable and inseparable prefixes are, here is a list of all of the separable and inseparable prefixes, with example verbs.
besuchen – to visit (be + suchen, where suchen on its own means ‘to search’)
empfehlen – to recommend (emp + fehlen, where fehlen on its own means ‘to lack’)
entdecken – to discover (ent + decken, where decken on its own means ‘to cover’)
gefallen – to be pleasing (ge + fallen, where fallen on its own means ‘to fall’. This prefix is usually used in the past participle, or completely changes the root verb when added to it)
ertrinken – to drown (er + trinken, where trinken on its own means ‘to drink’)
missbrauchen – to abuse (miss + brauchen, where brauchen on its own means ‘to need’)
verstehen – to understand (ver + stehen, where stehen on its own means ‘to stand’)
widerstehen – to resist (wider + stehen, where stehen on its own means ‘to stand’)
zerstören – to destroy (zer + stören, where stören on its own means ‘to disturb’)
abnehmen (to remove/take off) “Ich nehme es ab” (I take it off)
anschauen (to look at) “Ich schaue es an” (I look at it)
aufmachen (to open) “Ich mache es auf” (I open it)
ausschalten (to switch off) “Ich schalte das Licht aus” (I turn the light off)
beitreten (to join) “Ich trete bei” (I join)
mitmachen (to join in) “Ich mache mit” (I join in)
nachdenken (to think about) “Ich denke darüber nach” (I think about it)
wegnehmen (to take away) “Ich nehme es weg” (I take it away)
zusammenpassen (to fit together/be suited) “Wir passen gut zusammen” (We suit each other)
zurückgehen (to go back) “Wir gehen zurück” (We go back)
stattfinden (to take place) “Es findet hier statt” (It takes place here)
vorschlagen (to suggest/propose) “Ich schlag dir was vor” (I suggest something to you)
zunehmen (to increase/gain weight) “Ich nehme zu” (I am gaining weight)
I hope this will help you to recognise separable and inseparable verbs/prefixes. Any questions or comments, let me know!