Easy Learning German

Verb prefixes in the present tense - Easy Learning Grammar German

What is a phrasal verb?
In English, words such as up or down can be used with verbs to create new verbs with an entirely different meaning. These are called phrasal verbs.
get → get up → get down
put → put up → put down
shut → shut up → shut down
  • In German there is a similar system, but the words are put before the infinitive and joined to it:
zu (meaning to) + geben (meaning to give) = zugeben (meaning to admit)an (meaning on, to, by) + ziehen (meaning to pull) = anziehen (meaning to put on or to attract)
  • Prefixes can be found in strong, weak and mixed verbs. Some prefixes are always joined to the verb and never separated from it – these are called inseparable prefixes. However, the majority are separated from the verb in certain tenses and forms, and come at the end of the sentence. They are called separable prefixes.

1 Inseparable prefixes

  • There are eight inseparable prefixes in German, highlighted in the table of common inseparable verbs below:
Inseparable VerbMeaningInseparable VerbMeaningInseparable VerbMeaningInseparable VerbMeaning
beschreibento describeenttäuschento disappointgehörento belongverlierento lose
empfangento receiveerhaltento preservemisstrauento mistrustzerlegento dismantle
  • Note that when you pronounce an inseparable verb, the stress is NEVER on the inseparable prefix:
erhaltenverlierenempfangenvergessen
Das darf ich wirklich nicht vergessen.I really mustn’t forget that.

2 Separable prefixes

  • There are many separable prefixes in German and some of them are highlighted in the table below which shows a selection of the most common separable verbs:
Separable VerbMeaningSeparable VerbMeaning
abfahrento leavemitmachento join in
ankommento arrivenachgebento give way/in
aufstehento get upvorziehento prefer
ausgehento go outweglaufento run away
einsteigento get onzuschauento watch
feststellento establish/seezurechtkommento manage
freihaltento keep freezurückkehrento return
herkommento come (here)zusammenpassento be well-suited;
hinlegento put downto go well together
Der Zug fährt in zehn Minuten ab.The train is leaving in ten minutes.
Ich stehe jeden Morgen früh auf.I get up early every morning.
Sie gibt niemals nach.She’ll never give in.

3 Word order with separable prefixes

  • In tenses consisting of one verb part only, for example the present and the imperfect, the separable prefix is placed at the end of the main clause.
Der Bus kam immer spät an.The bus was always late.
  • For more information on Separable prefixes in the perfect tense, see The perfect tense.
  • In subordinate clauses, the prefix is attached to the verb, which is then placed at the end of the subordinate clause.
Weil der Bus spät ankam, verpasste sie den Zug.Because the bus arrived late, she missed the train.
  • For more information on Subordinate clauses, see Word order.
  • In infinitive phrases using zu, the zu is inserted between the verb and its prefix to form one word.
Um rechtzeitig aufzustehen, muss ich den Wecker stellen.In order to get up on time I’ll have to set the alarm.

4 Verb combinations

  • Below you will see some other types of word which can be combined with verbs. These combinations are mostly written as two separate words and behave like separable verbs:
  • Noun + verb combinations
Ski fahrento ski
Ich fahre gern Ski.I like skiing
Schlittschuh laufento ice-skate
Im Winter kann man Schlittschuh laufen.You can ice-skate in winter.
  • Infinitive + verb combinations
kennenlernento meet or to get to know
Meine Mutter möchte dich kennenlernen.My mother wants to meet you.
Er lernt sie nie richtig kennen.He’ll never get to know her properly.
sitzen bleibento remain seated
Bleiben Sie bitte sitzen.Please remain seated.
spazieren gehento go for a walk
Er geht jeden Tag spazieren.He goes for a walk every day.
  • Other adjective + verb combinations
bekannt machento announce
Die Regierung will das morgen bekannt machen.The government plans to announce it tomorrow.
  • Some adverb + verb combinations
kaputt machento break
Mach mir bloß mein Fahrrad nicht kaputt!Don’t you dare break my bike!
  • Verb combinations with -seits
abseitsstehento stand apart
Sie steht immer abseits von den anderen.She always stands apart from the others.
  • Prefix combinations with sein
auf seinto be open or to be up
Das Fenster ist auf.The window is open.
Die Geschäfte sind am Sonntag nicht auf.The shops are closed on Sundays.
Sie ist noch nicht auf.She isn’t up yet.
zu seinto be shut
Das Fenster ist zu.The window is shut.
  • Note that auf (meaning open) is another word for geöffnet and zu (meaning shut or closed) is another word for geschlossen.
Key points
  • Prefixes can be found in strong, weak and mixed verbs.
  • Eight prefixes are inseparable and are never separated from the verb.
  • Most prefixes are separable and are separated from the verb in certain tenses and forms and come at the end of the sentence.

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