Links to Topics Covered on the Subject of Word Formation:

Examples of Vocabulary
  Items Derived from the
  Verb "sprechen"


Creating Nouns with

Creating Adjectives and
  Adverbs with Suffixes

Separable Prefixes

Inseparable Prefixes

Prefixes that Are
  Either Separable
  or Inseparable

Adjectives and Adverbs
  Derived from Verbs
  with Separable or
  Inseparable Prefixes

Nouns Derived from
  Verbs with Separable
  or Inseparable Prefixes

Deriving Nouns from
  Strong Verbs

Compound Words

Adjectival Nouns

Foreign Words

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Dartmouth German
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[This notice contains many vocabulary items constructed by the methods discussed here.]

Word Formation in German:

While the German language has always been particularly willing to borrow from other languages to build its vocabulary, one of its glories is its ability to create new words by combining elements from within its own repertoire.

As Mark Twain wrote in his Notebooks & Journals, "The German language is a dozen fragments of words flung into an octagonal cylinder - take a good look at them before you begin to turn the machine, for you will never see them in their simplicity again - never never any more. Turn! - up spring your fragmental elements with Ver's & Be's & Ge's & Er's & lein's & chen's & ung's & heit's & keit's & zu's & a thousand other flashing and blazing prefixes, affixes & interjections broidered on them or hung to them. - Turn & turn! The combinations will be infinite, & bewilderingly enchanting & magnificent - but these, also, like the original fragments you shall see but once, then lose them forever. The patterns in this linguistic kaleidoscope are never repeated."

And indeed, whether starting with a verb, a noun, or an adjective, German can add prefixes, suffixes, or other entities to achieve both different parts of speech and new concepts. Many of the derived forms are not found in the dictionary, but their meaning is apparent to anyone acquainted with basic rules of word creation.

This does not, however, mean that beginning German-speakers can confidently coin their own words. The rules of word-formation also reflect historical arcana, arbitrary conventions, and other kinds of developments that mark human language. But anyone can recognize the ways in which many thousands of vocabulary items have come into being and thus learn how to understand them more easily.

Example: Derivations of other words from the verb "sprechen":

To see some of the possibilities, consider as an example the strong verb "sprechen" and its most common meaning, "to speak."

  Speak languages.

"Sprechen" as a basis for certain nouns:

There are seven basic ways in which we can turn the verb "sprechen" into a noun:

While "sprechen" does not offer this option, a number of verbs can also be converted to nouns by adding the suffix "-ung" to the stem. The result is a feminine noun that indicates an instance of the verb: "wandern" (to hike) becomes "die Wanderung" (hike); "trennen" (to separate) becomes "die Trennung" (separation). See more about "-ung" below, as well as in the section on "-ung" in the general discussion of suffixes.

Variations on "sprechen" as a basis for other verbs:

Inseparable prefixes:

    We can also create other verbs by affixing a prefix to "sprechen". Here are some examples that employ "inseparable prefixes." As the name indicates, "inseparable prefixes" are a fixed part of the new verb. (Link here to a general discussion of inseparable prefixes):

    "besprechen" (to discuss); "entsprechen" (to correspond to; to be consistent with); "widersprechen" (to contradict); "versprechen" (to promise); "sich versprechen" (to misspeak)

    As is always in the case with verb prefixes, the basic conjugation stays the same as that of the original verb. However, an inseparable prefix replaces the "ge-" of the past participle:

    Infinitive Preterite Past Participle 3rd-Person Sing.
    sprechen sprach gesprochen spricht
    besprechen besprach besprochen bespricht
    entsprechen entsprach entsprochen entspricht
    widersprechen widersprach widersprochen widerspricht
    versprechen versprach versprochen verspricht

    Examples of their use - all of these prefixes are discussed in greater length in the general section on (inseparable prefixes).

    Wir haben die Situation genau besprochen.  We discussed the situation thoroughly.
    [As in English (e.g. to belittle, besmirch, beknight, beget, bespeak, etc.),
    "be-" makes a verb directly transitive.]

    Das entspricht meinen Vorstellungen.  That corresponds to what I imagine.
    ["ent-" often has the meaning of the English "dis-" ("entdecken"  to discover;
    "entkleiden"  disrobe) or "away from" ("entfernen"  to remove),
    "entlassen"  to discharge; to lay off)
    - but neither of those meanings seems to apply here.]

    Warum musst du mir immer widersprechen?  Why do you always have to contradict me?
    ["wider-" means "against".]

    Er versprach mir, sein Bestes zu tun.  He promised me to do his best.

    Als ich das sagte, habe ich mich versprochen.  When I said that, I misspoke.
    ["ver-" has a great many possible functions. Here is a general discussion of "ver-".

    When a verb has the prefix "ver-" and is reflexive, it can mean to make a mistake during that activity:

    Er hat sich verlaufen.  He got lost [walking]
    Sie hat sich verfahren.  She got lost lost [driving]
    Ich habe mich bei der Addition verrechnet.  I miscalculated in my addition.

Separable prefixes:

    Separable prefixes form a much larger set of possibilities. These elements provide either a more precise, or a significantly different meaning of the modified verb. Thus they serve as the "verb complement". Link here to a fuller discussion of separable prefixes.

    English has an analogous, but less frequently applied concept. Consider, for example, what happens when "up" is added to a verb like "to cut" or "to grow": "I cut it" -> "I cut it up"; "She grew" -> "She grew up."

    Most, but not all, separable prefixes are derived from prepositions and retain much of the meaning that they had in that form. As with inseparable prefixes, the conjugation of the original verb remains the same, but, as their name would imply, separable prefixes can be detached. (There is a fuller discussion in the general section on separable prefixes. The following illustrates only separable prefixes that are combined with the verb "sprechen"):

    Take the example of "durchsprechen". While the prefix "durch-" can have various definitions, here it takes on the meaning of entering a process with purpose and coming out the other end. Hence "durchsprechen" means: to talk through; to talk over; to talk out; to argue something out:

    In the verb's infinitive form, the prefix is attached: "durchsprechen".

    In the finite form, the prefix separates from the stem verb and goes to the end of the clause, the position of the verb complement: "Er spricht die Lage mit mir durch" (He talks over the situation with me).

    In the past participle, the prefix is attached, but, in contrast to inseparable prefixes, it does not replace the "ge-": "durchgesprochen".

    If the verb is in the form of an infinitive with "zu", the "zu" comes between the prefix and the original verb: "Er versucht, die Lage mit mir durchzusprechen" (He tries to talk over the situation with me).

Further examples of separable prefixes that can be added to the base verb "sprechen":

    absprechen - to arrange (through discussion); jemandem etwas absprechen to deny someone something
    Wir haben einen neuen Termin abgesprochen. We have agreed on a new due date. Du kannst deinem Kind nichts absprechen. You aren't able to deny your child anything.

    ansprechen - to address; to accost; to approach (to initiate a conversation with)
    Er spricht jeden Passanten an.  He addresses (accosts; approaches) every passer-by.

    aussprechen - to pronounce; to vocalize
    Sie spricht das deutsche "r" falsch aus.  She pronounces the German "r" wrongly.

    einsprechen ("ein-" can mean: to zero in on; to home in on)
    Um die Lautstärke zu checken, spricht er das Mikrofon ein.  To check the volume, he tests the microphone by speaking into it.

    fernsprechen - to telephone (now replaced by "telefonieren" and "anrufen," this word still occasionally shows up in the noun form, "Fernsprecher" [telephone])

    lossprechen - to absolve; to begin to speak
    Ich spreche dich von deinem Versprechen los.  I absolve you from your promise.
    Sprechen Sie los! "Fire away [with what you have to say]!

    mitsprechen - to speak along (with); to join in speaking
    Ich lese die Verbformen vor, und du kannst sie mitsprechen.  I'll read the verb forms aloud, and you can say them along with me.

    nachsprechen - to repeat after
    Ich lese die Verbformen vor, und du kannst sie nachsprechen.  I'll read the verb forms aloud, and you can say them after me.

    vorsprechen - to call on Sie möchte mal bei ihm vorsprechen.  She'd like to call on him sometime.

    There is some disagreement as to whether "dagegensprechen" (to contradict) and "dazwischensprechen" (to interrupt) are verbs with separable prefixes or set "verbal ideas" to be written as two words: "dagegen sprechen" and "dazwischen sprechen." A similar debate exists between "kennenlernen" and "kennen lernen." Other than in the orthography, the distinction is inconsequential.

    Again: there is a fuller discussion in the general section on inseparable prefixes.

Deriving adjectives and adverbs from "sprechen":

    The present and past participles of verbs can also become adjectives or adverbs. As in English, when an adjective is derived from a past participle, the result indicates that the modified noun is the object of the action: "das gesprochene Wort" (the spoken word); "der abgesprochene Termin" (the agreed-upon date); "das versprochene Geld" (the promised money).

    Alsos in English, when a present participle becomes an adjective, it means that the noun that it modifies is performing that activity German creates a present participle by adding a "-d" to the infinitive form of a verb: "ein sprechendes Pferd" (a talking horse).

Certain suffixes are available to turn "sprechen" into an adjective or adverb via its noun-forms "Sprache". (Link here to a fuller discussion of forming adjectives and adverbs with suffixes).

    "-lich" means "pertaining to":

    Er hat seinen Aufsatz sprachlich verbessert.
    He improved his essay linguistically.

    "-los" means "without" or "-less":

    Ich war auf seinen Besuch so unvorbereitet, dass ich nur sprachlos da stand.
    I was so unprepared for his visit that I just stood there speechless.

    The suffix "-bar", meaning " -able", can be attached to the verb stem to create an adjective or adverb:

    Bevor sie ihren Morgenkaffee trinkt, ist sie nicht ansprechbar.
    Before she drinks her morning coffee, she is unapproachable (she can't be spoken to).

Nouns derived from variations on "sprechen"

(Link here to a fuller discussion of the suffix "-er").

    der Sprecher / die Sprecherin  speaker (der Redner / die Rednerin is more common)
    Die Sprecherin brauchte kein Mikrofon.
    The (female) speaker didn't need a microphone.

    der Fürsprecher / die Fürsprecherin  advocate; intercessor
    Bei der Schulleitung war der Fußballtrainer unser bester Fürsprecher.
    The soccer coach was our best advocate with the school administration.

    der Fernsprecher  telephone
    Heutzutage ist es nicht leicht, einen öffentlichen Fernsprecher zu finden, weil alle Handys haben.
    Nowadays it isn't easy to find a public telephone, since everyone has a cell phone.

    der Lautsprecher  loudspeaker (but a speaker that is part of a sound system is "die Box")
    Die Durchsage kam über einen Lautsprecher.
    The announcement came over a loudspeaker.

Adjectives that have been derived from "sprechen" can in turn go on to become adjectival nouns):

der Sprechende (the man who is speaking); das Gesprochene (that which has been spoken aloud); das Besprochene (that which is or was being discussed); das Versprochene (that which has been promised); das Sprachliche (the linguistic element), etc.

Variations on "die Sprache", using prefixes:

    We saw above that adding an "-e" to the preterite form ("sprach") can create a feminine noun, "die Sprache" (language; manner of speaking). The same goes for some of the other verbs created with separable prefixes:

    die Ansprache  address [speech]
    Zur Begrüßung hat der Schulleiter eine Ansprache gehalten.
    By way of greeting, the school principal gave an address.

    die Aussprache  pronunciation
    Ihre Aussprache war so grässlich, dass ich kein Wort verstanden habe.
    Her pronunciation was so execrable that I didn't understand a word.

    die Mitsprache  "co-determination" (usually: "das Mitspracherecht"  right of co-determination)
    Beim Entwerfen des Lehrplans haben die Schüler kein Mitspracherecht.
    The pupils have no official say in the design of the curriculum.

Variations on "der Spruch", using prefixes:

der Spruch  dictum, judgment [verdict], saying, slogan
Der alte Spruch lautet: Übung macht den Meister.
The old saying goes: practice makes perfect.

der Anspruch  claim, demand; right
Der Finder hat keinen Anspruch auf eine Belohnung.
The finder has no right to a reward.

der Ausspruch  sentence; dictum; statement
Wie so oft der Fall, stammt dieser Ausspruch über den Umweltschutz nicht wirklich von einem Indianerhäuptling.
As is so often the case, this statement about environmental protection did not really originate with an Indian chief.

der Einspruch  appeal, protest
Ich sollte eine Geldstrafe bezahlen, aber ich habe Einspruch erhoben
I'm supposed to pay a fine, but I've submitted an appeal.

Widerspruch  contradiction; objection Ein gerechter Krieg ist ein Widerspruch in sich.
A just war is a contradiction in terms (oxymoron).

Das Urteil wurde ohne Widerspruch bestätigt.
The judgment was affirmed without opposition.

Variations on "sprechen", using prefixes and the suffix "-ung" (Link here to
a fuller discussion of the suffix "-ung").

    die Entsprechung  analogy; equivalent
    Gibt es eine englische Entsprechung dieses deutschen Sprichwortes?
    Is there an English equivalent to this German proverb?

    die Besprechung  discussion; conference; meeting
    Heute muss ich an einer wichtigen Besprechung teilnehmen.
    Today I have to take part in an important meeting.

    die Versprechung  a (usually vain or empty) promise
    Er hat sie mit leeren Versprechungen hintergangen.
    He deceived her with empty promises.

More on nouns derived from strong verbs:

    Here are many of the nouns that are derived from strong verbs, together with their most common meanings (in a couple of cases, the primary word does not produce a noun, so a variation is listed). Note that the nouns in this category are masculine and tend to form the plural with an umlaut and "-e". Note that this list is organized according to the strong verb patterns.

    Verb Noun Plural Meaning
    brennen der Brand die Brände fire
    fallen der Fall die Fälle fall; case
    fangen der Fang die Fänge catch
    gehen der Gang die Gänge gait; passageway
    hängen der Hang die Hänge slope
    raten der Rat die Räte council
     [but also] der Rat die Ratschläge advice; piece of advice
    schlafen der Schlaf  [no plural] sleep
    schlagen der Schlag die Schläge blow
    stehen der Stand die Stände stand; class; condition
    stehlen der Diebstahl die Diebstähle theft
    zwingen der Zwang die Zwänge compulsion
    graben der Graben die Graben ditch
     [but also] das Grab die Gräber grave
     [but also] die Grube die Gruben pit
    beginnen der Beginn  [no plural] beginning
    gewinnen der Gewinn die Gewinne profit; gain
    betrügen der Betrug die Betrüge deceit; deception
    finden der Fund die Funde discovery; trove
    fliegen der Flug die Flüge flight
    schließen der Schluss die Schlüsse conclusion
     [but also] das [!] Schloss die Schlösser lock; castle
    springen der Sprung die Sprünge leap; crack
    schwingen der Schwung die Schwünge momentum; vim
    verlieren der Verlust die Verluste loss
    werfen der Wurf die Würfe throw
    wachsen der Wuchs die Wüchse figure; growth
    ziehen der Zug die Züge train; pull; draft
    biegen der Bogen die Bogen/Bögen bow; bend; arch
    stoßen der Stoß die Stöße blow; impact; jar
    beißen der Biss die Bisse bite
    greifen der Griff die Griffe grip; handle
    kneifen der Kniff die Kniffe pinch
    pfeifen der Pfiff die Pfiffe [sound made by a] whistle
    reißen der Riss die Risse rip
    scheißen der Schiss  [no plural] shit
     [but also] die Scheiße  [no plural] shit
    schießen der Schuss die Schüsse rip
    schleifen der Schliff die Schliffe polish
    schneiden der Schnitt die Schnitte cut
    schreiten der Schritt die Schritte step
    streichen der Strich die Striche stripe; stroke
    beweisen der Beweis die Beweise proof
    scheinen der Schein  [no plural] shine; appearance
    schreien der Schrei die Schreie shout; scream
    streiten der Streit die Streite quarrel; fight
    scheiden der Abschied die Abschiede farewell
    treiben der Trieb die Triebe drive

Certain nouns from weak verbs have the same pattern:

    tauschen der Tausch die Tausche exchange

Examples of feminine nouns derived from strong verbs:

    waschen die Wäsche  [no plural] laundry; linens
    lügen die Lüge die Lügen lie
    nehmen die Einnahme die Einnahmen revenue

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

    ankommen die Ankunft die Ankünfte arrival
    fahren die Fahrt die Fahrten drive; trip
    können die Kunst die Künste art; craft
    laden die Last die Lasten burden
    machen [!] die Macht die Mächte power; might
    tun die Tat die Taten deed