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Handout: Separable and Inseparable Prefixes

As you know, German verbs can have separable prefixes. These prefixes change the meaning of the original verb, and make a new word. In the present tense, separable prefixes are separated from the verb and placed at the end of the sentence bracket. The separation rule also applies in the imperative. When used in the infinitive, however (e.g. with a modal auxiliary), separable prefix verbs are not divided. As you will shortly learn, the participle forms in the past tense are also combined.

Hans steht jeden Tag um 9.00 Uhr auf.Hans gets up every day at 9:00.
Hans, steh jetzt auf!Hans, get up now!
Hans muss jeden Tag um 9.00 Uhr aufstehen.Hans has to get up every day at 9:00.


Common separable prefixes. Remember that this list is only a rough guide to the meanings of prefixes, since their use is highly idiomatic.

ab = off, downabholen= to pick up
 abnehmen= to take off
 
an = at, onanfangen= to start, begin
 anrufen= to call, telephone
 anziehen= to put on, dress
 
auf = upaufhören= to stop
 aufräumen= to clean up
 aufstehen= to get up, stand up
 
aus = outausgehen= to go out
 aussehen= to look, appear
 
ein = in, intoeinkaufen= to shop
 einschlafen= to fall asleep
 
fern = farfernsehen= to watch TV
 
fort = awayfortgehen= to leave, go away
 
her = ‘hither’, to hereherholen= to fetch
 herkommen= to come from
 
hin = ‘thither’, to therehinstellen= to place, put
 
mit = with, alongmitbringen= to bring along
 mitkommen= to come along
 mitnehmen= to take along
 
nach = afternachdenken= to think, reflect
 nachfragen= to inquire, ask after
 
um = around, atumsehen= to look around
 
vor = beforevorhaben= to have planned
 vorstellen= to introduce
 
vorbei = by, pastvorbeikommen= to come by
 
weg = awayweggehen= to go away, leave
 wegnehmen= to take away
 
zu = to, closedzuhören= to listen
 zumachen= to close
 
zurück = backzurückgeben= to give back
 zurückkommen= to come back
 
zusammen = togetherzusammenkommen= to come together


Some German verbs have recognizable prefixes that are INSEPARABLE, e.g. they remain with the verb at all times.

Das Feuer zerstört unser Haus.The fire is destroying our house.
Zerstör das Haus!Destroy the house!
Das Feuer kann unser Haus zerstören.The fire can destroy our house.


The meanings of these prefixes are much harder to explain, since they often perform a grammatical function but do not have a direct English cognate. Nonetheless, here’s a short list of common INSEPARABLE prefixes and example verbs.

be = makes a verb transitivebeantworten= to answer (a question)
          or turns action towards objectbesuchen= to visit
 bekommen= to receive, get
 
ent, emp = beginning of actionentgehen= to escape
          or separationempfangen= to receive
 
er = stress on outcomeerleben= to experience
          or accomplishmenterkennen= to recognize
 
ge = result, completeness orgewinnen= to win or gain
          successful actiongebrauchen= to use up, consume
 
miss = same as English ‘mis-’missverstehen= to misunderstand
 missbrauchen= to abuse
 
ver = action of the verb hasverschlafen= to oversleep
          miscarried (BUT NOT ALWAYS!)verlaufen= to go astray
 
zer = asunder, apartzerbrechen= to break into pieces
 zerstören= to destroy


Let’s practice just a little. Form complete German sentences out of the elements.

1.ich / vorbeikommen / heute / um 8 Uhr
 _______________________________________________________________________________________________
2.wann / du / müssen / aufstehen ?
 _______________________________________________________________________________________________
3.wir / gewinnen / das Fußballspiel .
 _______________________________________________________________________________________________
4.Hans, / aufräumen / dein Zimmer!
 _______________________________________________________________________________________________
5.Hans, / besuchen / mich !
 _______________________________________________________________________________________________
6.fernsehen / du / jetzt ?
 _______________________________________________________________________________________________
7.erkennen / du / ihn ?
 _______________________________________________________________________________________________
8.zurückgeben / mir / mein Buch !
 _______________________________________________________________________________________________


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