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The German Prefix ‘Ur’ Posted by on Apr 10, 2019 in Language

Guten Tag! Today we’re going to look at the German prefix ur. This is a very interesting prefix, because it is used only to talk about ‘original’, ‘primitive’, and ‘earliest’ things. Let’s get into it.

The prefix ur is pronounced ooh-ah – exactly how you’d pronounce the German word for clock, die Uhr (but note the difference in spelling).

Putting the prefix ur before a word tells us that this is the earliest or original of something. Here are some German words that use the prefix ur, and their meanings:

uralt (ur + alt)
Very old, ancient.
Usually refers to objects, buildings etc. but, just like in English, it can also be used as an insult: “Diese Frau ist uralt!” – “This woman is ancient!”

der Urtext (Ur + Text)
Original version of a text.

der Urahn (Ur + Ahn)
Ancestor, forefather

die Urbevölkerung (Ur + Bevölkerung)
Indigenous people, indigenous population.

der Ursprung (Ur + Sprung)
Origin. Related: the verb ursprünglich means ‘originally’.

die Ursache (Ur + Sache)
Cause.

der Urwald (ur + Wald)
Jungle/primeval forest.

urgermanisch (ur + germanisch)
Proto-Germanic.

die Urgroßmutter (ur + Großmutter)
Great-grandmother (also: Uroma, where ‘die Oma’ is a less formal way of saying grandmother in German)

der Urgroßvater (ur + Großvater)
Great-grandfather (also: Uropa, where ‘der Opa’ is a less formal way of saying grandfather in German)

die Urzeit (ur + Zeit)
Prehistoric times.
Take care not to confuse this with the very similar word die Uhrzeit, which means ‘time/time of day’.

der Urmensch (ur + Mensch)
Prehistoric man

urig
authentic, original

die Urheimat (ur + Heimat)
Original homeland of speakers of a proto-language. Compare with the word Heimat by reading this post!

The English language also uses the German ur prefix in the same way (to talk about the earliest, primitive version of something), but in English der Bindestrich (hyphen) is often used to separate the prefix from the noun. For example, Ur-civilisation: the beginning of civilisation.

I hope this has been helpful. Can you think of any other German words that use the prefix ur?

Bis bald (see you soon)!

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About the Author: Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze and I live in the UK. I'm half English and half German, and love writing about German language and culture. I also work as a group fitness instructor.


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