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Separable Verbs I: Draw the line between prefixes and core verbs Posted by on Dec 1, 2010 in Grammar, Language

With this post I would like to start a series on German separable verbs. In this introductory post I explain how you can distinguish separable verbs from inseparable verbs.

The main difference between separable and inseparable verbs is that separable verbs consist of two words: a core verb and a semi-prefix, whereas inseparable verbs consist of a core verb and a real prefix. Let’s have a closer look at the some examples in order to explore what I mean by core verb, semi-prefix and real prefix.

Separable verbs

The verbs nehmen (to take), laufen (to walk), and geben (to give) are so called core verbs because they form the basis of separable verbs. In order to modify their meanings you can add the following semi-prefixes to them:

an

auf

ab

This results in the separable verbs below:

annehmen

(to assume; to accept)

aufnehmen

(to gather; to host)

abnehmen

(to take off, to loose weight)

anlaufen

(to start; to put into)

auflaufen

(to go aground)

ablaufen

(to expire)

angeben

(to boast; to state)

aufgeben

(to give up)

abgeben

(to hand in, to emit)

I should mention that the meaning of each separable verb does highly depend on the context in which it is used, thus, I only give the translations, which I consider most common.

I call the prefixes of separable verbs semi-prefixes because these prefixes are indeed independent words in German. That is, they can and do exist as separate words. Consequently, you can isolate them from the core verb when using them in a sentence. These semi-prefixes are always prepositions, adverbs or adjectives. – I will discuss all kinds of semi-prefixes in detail in my following posts.

Inseparable verbs

In comparison to separable verbs, inseparable verbs have real prefixes. That is, these prefixes canNOT and do NOT exist as independent words in German – because they have no meaning. Consequently, you cannot separate them from the core verb when using them in a sentence. Compare these examples:

ver

be

vernehmen

(to question)

benehmen

(to behave)

verlaufen

(to get lost)

sich belaufen

(to tot up)

vergeben

(to allot, to forgive)

begeben

(to betake)

Whenever you come across a verb that contains one of the following prefixes, you may be sure that it is an INSEPARABLE verb:

be- : bekommen (to get), belügen (to lie to), beraten (to advise)

ent- : entgehen (to evade), entstehen (to emerge), entsprechen (to correspond)

er- : erklären (to explain), erhalten (to obtain), erkennen (to realize; to recognize)

ge- : gebrauchen (to apply), gehören (to belong), gefallen (tp please, to like)

miss- : missachten (disregard), misshandeln (to abuse), misstrauen (to distrust)

ver- : verkaufen (to sell), versprechen (to promise; to make a slip of the tongue), versuchen (to try)

zer- : zerbrechen (to shatter), zerstören (to destroy), zerschlagen (to dash to pieces)

To be continued …

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About the Author:Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


Comments:

  1. Fernando Salazar:

    oMg

    Do exist more semi-prefixes than an, auf, ab? Thank you!

  2. Clive Davies:

    Do you have a more common translation for begeben, as betake is not a word that commonly used in modern English?

  3. dipesh:

    very very thankyou.I got some new idea about these german Prefixes

  4. anand:

    Very good and clear explanation Sandra! Much appreciate your efforts to write these posts. I have been learning Deutsche on my own and such reaources are a boon – opens up a new line of understanding altogether. Thanks!

  5. Chris Wilson:

    Just wanted to say thanks for the post. It’s funny how something so short and simple can teach better than a book sometimes. I don’t know why they can’t break it down as simple as you just did as to what I’m really looking at with separable and inseparable verbs.