Verbs with Inseparable Prefixes:

be- emp- ent- er- ge- hinter- miss- wider- ver- zer-

Other Topics

Using "Ge-" to Create
  Collective Nouns

The Prefix "un-"

Separable Prefixes

Prefixes That Are Either
  Separable or
  Inseparable:
  durch-, über-, um-,
  unter-, voll-, wieder-

Nouns Derived from
  Verbs with Separable or
  Inseparable Prefixes

Adjectives and Adverbs
  Derived from Verbs
  with Separable or
  Inseparable Prefixes

Word-Formation

Grammar Review Home

Dartmouth German
    Studies Department

We have seen in the general description of word formation how certain inseparable prefixes can be combined with the verb "sprechen" to produce new words: "besprechen", "entsprechen", "widersprechen", "versprechen".


Characteristics of Verbs with Inseparable Prefixes


  • As the term "inseparable" indicates, the inseparable prefix, in contrast to a separable one, remains attached to the stem in all forms of the conjugation, including the finite form:
  • besprechen - to discuss
    Wir besprechen die Situation.  We're discussing the situation.

  • The prefix does not affect the verb's conjugation.
  • Wir besprachen die Situation.   Wir haben die Situation besprochen.

  • With some verbs, the original form has been forgotten, and only the verb with the inseparable prefix remains:
  •   It Happened in Broad Daylight (film title) [Note: the most recent spelling reform permits 3 l's: "helllichten"]

    geschehen (geschah, ist geschehen [geschieht]) to happen
    Es geschieht oft.  It happens often.
    Es geschah am helllichten Tag.  It happened in broad daylight.

  • In the past participle, the prefix replaces the "ge-":
  • beantworten  to answer (a question)
    Du hast hat die Frage richtig beantwortet.  You answered the question correctly.

  • If the verb is in the form of an infinitive with "zu", the "zu" comes before the whole verb:
  • erklären  to explain
    Sie hat versucht, mir die Geschichte zu erklären.  She tried to explain the story to me.


  • When spoken, the prefix is unstressed (normally, the first syllable of the stem receives the stress: "beÁCHTen"

  • Verbs with prefixes (separable or inseparable), can often become nouns or adjectives and adverbs through the use of suffixes, e.g., "die Befreiung" (liberation); "der Entwurf" (design; sketch); "unwiderstehlich" (irresistible).

  • Creating collective nouns with "Ge-"

  • In many cases, a verb with a prefix can have two forms: one in which the prefix is separable, and one in which it is inseparable. The distinction is discussed below, under Prefixes that Are Either Separable or Inseparable".


    The inseparable prefix "be-":

      As in English (e.g. to belittle, besmirch, beknight, beget, bespeak, etc.), "be-" makes a verb directly transitive. Some examples (with just some of the usual meanings):

      beachten - to pay attention to; to respect, heed
      Bitte beachten Sie die allgemeinen Hinweise.  Please pay attention to the general instructions.

      beabsichtigen  to intend
      Ich habe nicht beabsichtigt, dich zu beleidigen.  I didn't intend to insult you.

      bearbeiten  to work on; to rework
      Sie muss ihren Aufsatz weiter bearbeiten.  She has to work further on her essay.
      Er hat die Geschichte für die Bühne bearbeitet.  He reworked the story for the stage.

      beantworten  to answer (a question) [= antworten auf]
      Der Politiker hat meine Frage nicht beantwortet.  The politician didn't answer my question.

      bedecken  to cover
      Jemand hat die Leiche mit einem Tuch bedeckt.  Someone covered the corpse with a cloth.

      bedeuten  to mean, to signify
      Was soll das bedeuten?  What's that supposed to mean?

      bedrohen  to threaten
      Sie hat mich mit einem Messer bedroht.  She threatened me with a knife.

      beflecken  to sully; to taint; to stain
      Der Skandal hat seinen guten Ruf befleckt.  The scandal sullied his good reputation.
      Das Hemd war mit Blut befleckt.  The shirt was stained with blood.

      befragen  to query; to question (someone)
      Wir haben verschiedene Passanten befragt.  We questioned various passers-by.

      befreien  to free, liberate
      In seinem Testament hat Washington die Sklaven befreit, die ihm unmittelbar gehörten.  In his will, Washington freed the slaves that belonged directly to him.

      begehen (beging, begangen)  to commit (an act)
      Sie hat versucht, Selbstmord zu begehen.  She tried to commit suicide.

      begreifen  to comprehend
      Du hast den Hauptpunkt nicht begriffen.  You didn't understand the main point.

      begrüßen   to welcome; to greet
      Der Bürgermeister begrüßt diese Entwicklung.  The mayor welcomes this development.

      beheizen  to heat
      Wir haben die Hütte mit Holz beheizt.  We heated the cabin with wood.

      beherrschen  to control
      Beherrschen Sie sich!  Control yourself!

      bejahen  to affirm; to say yes to; to approve of
      Die Finanzmärkte bejahen den Plan.  The financial markets approve of the plan.

      bekämpfen  to fight against
      Diese Maßnahmen sollen die Arbeitslosigkeit bekämpfen.  These measures are supposed to fight against unemployment.

      beschenken  to give presents to
      Sie haben den Jungen zum Geburtstag reichlich beschenkt.  They gave the boy lots of presents for his birthday.

      beschuldigen  to accuse
      Sein Chef hat ihn beschuldigt, Geld gestohlen zu haben.  His boss accused him of having stolen money.

    See canoonet, which lists 419 examples of verbs with "be-".


    The inseparable prefix "emp-":
    The inseparable prefix "ent-":

    The inseparable prefix "er-":

    The inseparable prefix "ge-":

      The meaning of "ge-" is no longer clear, but it shows up in many verbs, including some whose stem has faded from use:

      gedeihen (gedieh, ist gediehen) to flourish; to prosper
      Unter deiner Obhut gedeihen meine Pflanzen.  My plants have been flourishing under your care.

      gefallen (gefiel, gefallen [gefällt])  to please
      Der neue Wagen gefällt mir.  I like the new car.

      gehorchen  to obey
      Sie müssen dem Bischof gehorchen.  You have to obey the bishop.

      gehören  to belong to
      Alles, was du siehst, gehört mir.  Everything that you see belongs to me.

      gelingen (gelang, gelungen) to succeed
      Endlich ist mir der Versuch gelungen. Finally I succeeded in the attempt.

      genesen (genas, genesen) to recover; to recuperate
      Zuerst muss ich von dieser Krankheit genesen. First I have to recover from this illness.

      geraten (geriet, geraten [gerät])  "to get" (into)
      Wir sind in Schwierigkeiten geraten.  We've gotten into difficulties.
      Das Kind gerät außer Kontrolle.  The child is getting out of control.
      Der Fahrer geriet in Panik.  The driver got into a panic.

      geschehen (geschah, ist geschehen [geschieht]) to happen
      Etwas Furchtbares ist geschehen. Something terrible has happened.

      gewinnen (gewann, gewonnen)  to win; to gain
      Seine Mannschaft gewann das Spiel.  His team won the game.
      Wir haben an Erfahrung gewonnen.  We gained in experience.

      sich gewöhnen an   to get used to
      Du wirst dich an seinen Hund gewöhnen müssen.  You'll have to get used to his dog.


    The inseparable prefix "hinter-":

      "hinter-" means "behind," but it can also indicate some sort of subterfuge:

      hinterbringen (hinterbrachte, hinterbracht)  to inform confidentially
      Ich versuchte, es ihm zu hinterbringen.  I tried to tell him in secret.

      hintergehen (hinterging, hintergangen)  to deceive
      Er hat die Steuerbehörder jahrelang hintergangen.  He cheated the tax authorities for years.

      hinterlassen (hinterließ, hinterlassen [hinterlässt])  to bequeath; to leave behind
      Sie hat ihren Kindern nichts als Schulden hinterlassen.  Sie left her children nothing but debts.


    The inseparable prefix "miss-":

      "miss-" indicates going wrong:

      missbrauchen  to misuse; to abuse
      Du hast das Vertrauen der Kinder missbraucht.  You abused the children's trust.

      misslingen (misslang, misslungen)  to fail (at), be unsuccessful (in)
      Alles, was ich versuche, misslingt mir.  Everything that I attempt fails.

      missverstehen (missverstand, missverstanden)  to misunderstand
      Sie hat meine gutgemeinte Geste total missverstanden.  She totally misunderstood my well-intended gesture.


    The inseparable prefix "wider-":

      "wider-" conveys the sense of "against" or "back":

      widerlegen  to refute; to disprove
      Ich kann alle deine Argumente leicht widerlegen.  I can easily refute all your arguments.

      widerrufen (widerrief, widerrufen)  to recant; to retract
      Galileo wurde gezwungen, seine Lehre zu widerrufen.  Galileo was forced to recant his teachings.

      widerstehen (widerstand, widerstanden)  to resist; to withstand
      Keine Frau kann meinem Charme widerstehen.  No woman can resist my charm.


    The inseparable prefix "ver-":

    The inseparable prefix "zer-":

      "zer-" dennotes a breaking into pieces:

      zerbrechen (zerbrach, zerbrochen [zerbricht]) to break into pieces; to shatter
      Die Flasche fiel vom Tisch und zerbrach. The bottle fell from the table and shattered.

      zerfließen (zerfloss, zerflossen) to dissolve; to melt away
      Sie ist in Tränen zerflossen. She dissolved into tears.

      zerreißen (zerriss, zerissen) to tear up
      Er hat den Vertrag zerrissen. He tore up the contract.

      zerschlagen (zerschlug, zerschlagen [zerschlägt]) to smash to pieces
      Du hast alle meine Hoffnungen zerschlagen. You have smashed all my hopes.

      zerstören to destroy
      In jeder deutschen Theateraufführung regnet es auf der Bühne und zerstört wenigstens ein Schauspieler die Möbel. In every German theater performance it rains onstage, and at least one actor destroys the furniture.




    Using the Prefix "ge-" to Create Collective Nouns:

      Some examples of collective nouns (Kollektiva), using the suffixe "ge-". Almost all are neuter; in addition to the "Ge-", they often umlaut the stem vowel. Most use a singular form to indicate a set of multiple objects, but some use singular and plural forms ("-e") to indicate one or more objects, or one or more sets. Note that some of these nouns are derived from verbs, others from other nouns:

      Singular Plural Meaning
      das Gebilde die Gebilde formation; structure
      das Gebiss die Gebisse set of teeth; denture
      das Gebüsch die Gebüsche shrubbery; copse
      das Gefecht die Gefechte combat; battle
      das Gefieder plumage
      das Geflügel poultry
      das Gehölz die Gehölze grove; woods
      das Gehör die Gehölze sense of hearing
      das Gelände terrain; tract of land; grounds
       
        Parking bicycles on the grounds of the state library is not allowed. Unlawfully parked bicycles will be removed.
       
      das Gemälde die Gemälde painting
      das Gepäck luggage
      das Geplauder chat; small-talk
      das Geräusch die Geräusche noise; sound
      das Gerede chit-chat; gossip
      das Gerippe die Gerippe skeleton
      der [!] Geruch die Gerüche smell
      der [!] Gesang die Gesänge song, singing
      das Geschenk die Geschenke gift
      das Geschirr crockery; dinnerware
      das Gespräch die Gespräche conversation
      das Gestein die Gesteine rocks; stone
      das Getränk die Getränke beverage
      das Gewächs die Gewächse excrescence; plant; tumor
      das Gewitter die Gewitter thunder-storm


    The Prefix "un-" with Adjectives, Adverbs, and Nouns:
    Prefixes that Are Either Separable or Inseparable

    There are several prefixes that are sometimes separable and sometimes inseparable: "durch-", "über-", "um-", "unter-", "voll-", "wieder-". While not always predictable, it is generally true that when these prefixes are inseparable, their meaning is more likely - but only more likely - to be both transitive and figurative (As a comparison, note the distinction in English between "stepping over the line" and "overstepping the line.").

    Take for example "übersetzen," which as a separable verb means to ferry across (to set across), but as an inseparable verb means to translate:

    Charons Aufgabe ist es, die toten Seelen überzusetzen.
    Charon's task is to ferry the dead souls across.

    Viele Menschen haben versucht, Goethes "Faust" zu übersetzen.
    Many people have tried to translate Goethe's Faust.

    Remember that in pronumciation, the separable prefix is stressed: "ÜBERsetzen". When the prefix is inseparable, it is not stressed: "überSETZen."

      Other examples:

      "durch-" means "through:"

      Wir sind durch die Eisschicht durchgebrochen.
      We broke through the layer of ice.

      Das Flugzeug hat die Schallmauer durchbrochen.
      The plane broke through the sound barrier

      Die Nachricht ist uns zu spät durchgedrungen.
      The news reached us too late.

      Die Sonne hat den Nebel endlich durchdrungen.
      The sun has finally made its way through the mist.

      Der Zug fährt hier durch.
      The train passes through here.

      Wir haben das Land nur durchfahren.
      We only drove through the country.

      Weil die Ausstellung uninterssant war, bin ich nur schnell durchgelaufen.
      Because the exhibit was uninteresting, I just ran through quickly.

      Er hat alle Abteilungen durchlaufen.
      He worked his way through all of the departments.

      Sie hat ihm die Kehle durchgeschnitten.
      She slit his throat.

      Das Boot durchschneidet die Wellen.
      The boat cuts through the waves.

      "über-" is most often inseparable, meaning either "over," "past," "too much," or "fail to." When a separable prefix, it means "over" or "across":

      Ein Betrunkener hat meinen Hund überfahren.
      A drunk ran over my dog.

      Die Fähre hat ihn und seinen Wagen übergefahren.
      The ferry conveyed him and his car.

      Die Armee hat die Stadt überfallen.
      The army descended on the city.

      Viele Menschen kennen den mittleren Westen nicht und überfliegen ihn nur.
      Many people don't know the Midwest and just fly over it.

      Meine Dankbarkeit fließt über.
      My gratitude is overflowing.

      Ein Streifenwagen hat ihn ins Krankenhaus übergeführt.
      A squad car took him to the hospital.

      Das Feuer griff auf das Nachbarhaus über.
      The fire lept over to the neighboring house.

      Sie hat meine Antwort überhört.
      She failed to hear my answer.

      Er übergab der Universität seine ganze Büchersammlung.
      He gave over his whole book collection to the university.

      Nach so viel Wein musste ich mich übergeben.
      After all that wine I had to throw up.

      Wir wurden von einem schnelleren Wagen überholt.
      We were passed by a faster car.

      Das Boot kippte über.
      The boat tipped over.

      Weniger Flieger haben den Krieg überlebt.
      Few pilots survived the war.

      Du kannst bei mir übernachten.
      You can spend the night at my place.

      Dein Freund ist so schüchtern, dass er leicht zu übersehen ist.
      Your friend is so shy that he's easy to overlook.

      Wie immer übertreibst du.
      As always, you exaggerate.

      Der plötzliche Übergriff hat uns überwältigt.
      The sudden assault overwhelmed us.

      "um-" is more often separable. It denotes change, as well as meaning "around," "down," and "over."

      Wir bauen um.
      We're remodeling.

      Denken wir alles wieder um.
      Let's rethink everything.

      Bei dem Verkehr möchte ich München lieber umfahren.
      With this traffic I'd rather make a detour around Munich.

      Sie hofft, dieses Problem zu umgehen.
      She hopes to avoid this problem.

      Du gehst sehr sanft mir um.
      You're treating me very gently.

      Dieser Film wirft dich einfach um.
      This movie will just bowl you over.


      The playing of children in the underground garage or near the entrance/exit is strictly forbidden.

      "unter-" is almost always inseparable. It has a number of meanings, including "below," "beneath," or "down," but it can also convey omission or that something is forbidden.

      Die Frau behauptet, ihr Mann unterbricht sie dauernd.
      The woman claims her husband continually interrupts her.

      Daran geht die Welt nicht unter.
      The world won't go under because of that.

      Jeden Abend geht er in die Kneipe und unterhält sich mit seinen Freunden.
      Every evening he goes to the bar and talks with his friends.

      Ich unterschreibe jede Petition.
      I'll sign any petition.

      Wir haben uns in einer Scheune untergestellt.
      We took shelter in a barn.

      Unterlassen Sie das Umhergehen.
      Refrain from walking around.


      Church Service. We ask that you refrain from walking around and viewing [the church]

    Man unterstellt mir eine böse Absicht.
    They're insinuating that I have bad intentions.

    Die Polizei untersucht den Fall gerade.
    The police are just now investigating the case.

    Er ist untergetaucht.
    He went into hiding.


      Helene Jacobs, the resistance fighter against National Socialism, lived in this house from 1935 until her death. She concealed Jews in her apartment who had gone into hiding and helped them to flee. She was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison by the Nazi judicial system. [Note the use here of "ver-," as well as "untergetaucht"]

      "voll-" usually denotes "full" or "complete."

      Der starke Glaube vollbringt Wunder.
      A strong faith achieves miracles.

      Sie hat ihr erstes Lebensjahr vollendet.
      She has completed her first year of life.

      Wie haben die Gießkanne vollgegefüllt.
      We filled the watering can.

      Man soll eine Zecke entfernen, bevor sie sich vollsaugt.
      You should get rid of a tick before it drinks its fill.

      Wir haben im Dorf vollgetankt.
      We filled the tank in the village.

      "wieder-" is separable, with one exception (You can find separable samples here.):

      Das Kind wiederholt alles, was du sagst.
      The child repeats everything you say.


      Nouns Derived from Verbs with Separable or Inseparable Prefixes:

      Like any other verbs, those with separable or inseparable prefixes can become other parts of speech. Nouns with these prefixes are formed as one would imagine:

        1. By converting the infinitive into a neuter noun, which is equivalent to an English gerund and indicates the act that the verb denotes. It has no plural form.

        "das Aufgeben" (giving up; handing in); "das Wiedersehen" (reunion).

        2. By converting adjectives that have been derived from these verbs into adjectival nouns ).

        "der/die Angestellte" (employee); "der/die AuserwŠhlte" (the chosen one); "der/die Erwachsene"" (grown-up.

        3. By adding an "-er" or an "-erin" to the stem to indicate a male or female who performs the action: "der Vorarbeiter / die Vorarbeiterin" (foreman / forewoman). In certain cases, the "-er" can also indicate an instrument: "der Fernseher" (television). The plural of these "-er" nouns is the same as the singular: "die Vorarbeiter", "die Fernseher", etc. The plural of the feminine form is of course "-erinnen": "die Vorarbeiterinnen."

        4. By adding an "-e" to the present or preterite form to create a feminine noun. The plural adds an "-n". Here is more on the suffix "-e" ).

        "die Fehlanzeige" (indication error); "die Hingabe" (devotion; abandonment); "die Zunahme" (increase; gain).

        5. By making a noun (without suffix) from the verb (i.e. prefix + stem), often from an old form of the preterite. Most of these nouns are masculine. Those derived from a strong verbs usually add an umlaut. Here is more on this phenomenon).

        Verb Noun Plural Meaning
        angreifen der Angriff die Angriffe attack
        anziehen der Anzug die Anzüge suit
        aufbauen der Aufbau die Aufbauten buildup; construction
        aufschwingen der Aufschwung die Aufschwünge [economic] recovery
       
        Your economic recovery starts with a conversation.
      You'll learn in a consultation at the Deutsche Bank how you can personally profit from the economic recovery in Germany.
       
        ausbrechen der Ausbruch die Ausbrüche outbreak
        beweisen der Beweis die Beweise proof
        durchbrechen der Durchbruch die Durchbrüche break-through
        fehlschlagen der Fehlschlag die Fehlschläge failure
        überhängen der Überhang die Überhänge overhang; backlog
        umbrechen der Umbruch die Umbrüche upheaval
        umsetzen der Umsatz die Umsätze total revenue; total sales
        umtauschen der Umtausch die Umtausche exchange

          A similar pattern can produce feminine nouns:

          "die Auswahl" (selection); "die Einfuhr" (import); "die Heimkehr" (return home); "die Türklingel" (doorbell); "die Umschau" (survey).

          As well as a few neuter ones:

          "das Versteck" (hiding place); "das Vorspiel" (prelude).

          And here are some that are feminine and add "-t" or "-st":

          "die Ausfahrt" (exit); "die Zusammenkunft " (meeting; gathering).

          But also: "der [!] Verdienst" (remuneration; merit).

        6. Adding the Suffix "-ung":

          The suffix "-ung" is frequently used to create a noun (always feminine) by attaching it to a verb stem. The effect is similar to the English gerund created with "-ing" or the noun formed with the suffix "-tion". The resulting noun can dennote an activity, an instance of that activity, a state of being or a thing that is brought about by that activity, or an entity within which that activity takes place Here is more on the use of "-ung").

        Verb Noun Meaning
        abtreiben die Abtreibung abortion
        aufregen die Aufregung excitement
        herausfordern die Herausforderung challenge
        hinzufügen die Hinzufügung addition
        hochrechnen die Hochrechnung extrapolation; projected forecast
        nachahmen die Nachahmung imitation
        niederlassen die Niederlassung branch office; place of business
        weiterentwickeln die Weiterentwicklung further development

        7. In many cases, the verb from which the noun is derived is rarely used. Here are some examples with the prefix "fehl-" (but note "der Fehlschlag" above):

        die Fehlgeburt miscarriage
        der Fehlgriff mistake; wrong choice
        die Fehlinformation piece of wrong information
        die Fehlinterpretation false interpretation
        die Fehlinvestition bad investment
        die Fehlkonstruktion badly-designed construction
        der Fehlpass bad pass (in sports)
        die Fehlplanung bad planning
        der Fehlstart false start (in track)
        der Fehltritt false step
        das Fehlurteil wrong verdict or judgement
        die Fehlzündung misfire

      Adjectives and Adverbs Derived from Verbs with Separable or Inseparable Prefixes:

        Like any other verbs, those with separable or inseparable prefixes can become adjectives or adverbs. First of all, their participial forms function like any other.

        A few examples of adjectives or adverbs formed from present participles (with separable or inseparable prefixes):

          We've moved! You can reach us now at Budapester Straße 35, 10787 Berlin. We have extended opening hours for you there: Monday through Thursday from 9 - 6, Friday 9 - 1
        "andauern" (to last; to continue): Frag doch nicht andauernd!  Don't keep constantly asking!

        "alleinerziehen" (to raise [a child] alone):  eine alleinerziehende Mutter  a single mother

        "entgegenkommen" (to accommodate):  Sie waren sehr entgegenkommend.  You were very accommodating.

        "beiliegen" (to be enclosed [along with]):  der beiliegende Brief  the enclosed letter

        Examples of adjectives or adverbs formed from past participles (with separable or inseparable prefixes):

        "aufschließen" (to unlock; to open up):  eine aufgeschlossene Politikerin  an open-minded politician

        "erweitern" (to extend):  erweiterte Öffnungszeiten  extended opening hours

        "hochkrempeln" (to roll up [a sleeve]):  hochgekrempelte Ärmel  rolled-up sleeves

        "voraussehen" (to foresee):  Es gab unvorausgesehene Konsequenzen  There were unforeseen consequences.

        "vollenden" (to complete):  ein vollendetes Manuskript  a completed manuscript

        "zusteigen" (to board [after the trip started]):  zugestiegene Fahrgäste  passengers who have just boarded

      Adjectives or adverbs are also often constructed with a suffix. Here is some general information about that process.

      Some examples:

      "anschaulich" (colorful; graphic; vivid) "bespielbar" (playable); "bestechlich" (bribable; corruptible); "enthaltsam" (abstemious); "erholsam" (restorative); "feinfühlig" (sensitive; of delicate feeling); "nebensächlich" (secondary; negligible); "unglaublich" (unbelievable); "verdaulich" (digestible); "unentbehrlich" (indispensable); "unerklärlich" (inexplicable); "unnachahmlich" (inimitable); "unzertrennlich" (inseparable); "unaufhaltsam" (inexorable); "verantwortungslos" (irresponsible); "vertrauenswürdig" (trustworthy).

      Return to the general description of word formation

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