Inseparable German Verb Prefixes

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There are three kinds of verb prefixes in German: (1) separable (trennbar), (2) inseparable (untrennbar or nicht trennbar ), and (3) dual prefixes (usually a preposition) that can be both. Separable prefixes are stressed (betont) in their pronunciation; inseparable prefixes are unstressed (unbetont). In this verb prefix chart, we have divided the prefixes into their three categories.

By adding various prefixes to a base verb, German can produce new meanings: kommen >abkommen (digress), ankommen (arrive), bekommen (get), entkommen (escape).

(English does the same thing, using Greek and Latin prefixes: form > deform, inform, perform, etc.)

Knowing the basic meaning of a verb prefix can be helpful in learning German vocabulary, but not all prefixes have a specific meaning, nor does each prefix always have the same meaning. For instance, knowing the meaning of the prefix ver- may or may not help you understand the meaning of verbs like verschlafen (to oversleep) or versprechen (to promise). The prefix meanings can be interesting and helpful, but they are no substitute for learning vocabulary.

Inseparable Prefix Verbs

There are verbs in English that are constructed and used much like German inseparable-prefix verbs: contend, extend, pretend, and intend are all based on the verb "tend." A similar example in German is the verb finden (find). By adding various inseparable prefixes, German alters the meaning of finden to create new meanings: sich befinden (be located), empfinden (feel), or erfinden (invent).

As you can see, many common German verbs are inseparable-prefix verbs.

German verbs with inseparable prefixes do not add the normal past participle prefix ge- in the perfect tenses. Examples: bekommen (to get) hat/hatte bekommenerwarten (to expect, await) hat/hatte erwartetverstehen (to understand) hat/hatte verstanden.

 

Inseparable Prefixes
Untrennbare Präfixe

PrefixMeaningExamples
be-like English be-

makes verb take a direct object (acc.)
s. befinden (be located)
befolgen (follow)
befreunden (befriend)
begegnen (meet)
bekommen (get)
bemerken (notice, remark)
emp-sense, receiveempfangen (receive)
empfehlen (recommend)
empfinden (feel)
ent-away from

English de-/dis-
entarten (degenerate)
entbehren (miss, do without)
entdecken (discover)
entfallen (elude, slip)
entfernen (remove, take out)
entkalken (decalcify)
entkleiden (disrobe, undress)
entkommen (escape, get away)
entlassen (discharge, release)
entstehen (originate, be formed/created)
entwerten (devalue, cancel)
er-fatal, deaderhängen (hang, execute)
erschiessen (shoot dead)
ertrinken (drown)
like English re-s. erinnern (remember)
erkennen (recognize)
erholen (recover, relax)
ge-- -gebrauchen (use, make use of)
gedenken (commemorate, intend)
gefallen (like)
gehören (belong to)
gelangen (arrive at)
geloben (vow)
genesen (recover, recuperate)
gestalten (shape, form)
gestehen (confess)
gewähren (grant, give, offer)
miss-English mis-missachten (disregard, disdain)
missbrauchen (abuse, misuse)
misstrauen (mistrust)
missverstehen (misunderstand)
ver-bad, awry
English mis-
verachten (despise)
verbilden (miseducate)
verderben (go bad, spoil)
s. verfahren (go astray, get lost)
verkommen (go to ruin, become run down)
verschlafen (oversleep)
lose, away/outverdrängen (drive out)
verduften (lose its aroma)
verlassen (leave, abandon)
verlieren (lose)
English for-verbieten (forbid)
vergeben (forgive)
vergessen (forget)
???verbinden (bandage, link, tie)
vergrößern (enlarge)
verhaften (arrest)
versprechen (promise)
voll-*full, completevollenden (complete, finish)
vollführen (execute, perform)
vollstrecken (enforce, execute)
*NOTE: Some verbal expressions with voll treat voll as an adverb rather than a prefix, and are spelled with the adverb voll separated from the verb, even in the infinitive form. Examples include: voll dröhnen (dope/tank up), voll essen (gorge oneself), voll machen (fill [up]).
zer-collapse, shatter, shredzerbrechen (shatter)
zerreissen (rip up, shred)
zerstören (destroy)