Learn German Easily

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German Prefix | Separable Verbs

Sometimes you can separate the German prefix from a verb. These verbs are called „trennbare Verben“ (separable verbs). There are many verbs of this kind and they always confuse students.

German Prefix

Separable Verbs | German Prefix + Verb

The German verbs with prefixes are very confusing for many students. As always, I try to explain this topic as easily as possible.

Let me explain it using the verb „stehen“ (to stand).

Example sentence:

Wir stehen vor dem Spiegel.
(We’re standing in front of the mirror.)

Note:
If you add a prefix, the meaning of the verb changes!

For example:
stehen (to stand)
aufstehen (to get up, to stand up)
anstehen (to stand in line, to queue)
durchstehen (to stand something (difficult situation etc.))

If you conjugate the separable verbs (ich stehe auf, du stehst auf, er steht auf etc.), then the German prefixes are separated and go to the end of the main clause.

Ich stehe früh auf.
(I get up early)

Du stehst nicht gerne früh auf.
(You don’t like getting up early)

Er steht jeden Tag um 5 Uhr auf.
(
He gets up at 5 o’clock every day)

Separable verbs and the future tense

As you already know, we form the future tense with the auxiliary verb „werden„.

Present tense: Ich stehe früh auf.
=> Future tense: Ich werde früh aufstehen.

Did you notice what changed?

1) Only the auxiliary verb „werden“ is conjugated.
2) The separable prefixe is added again.
3) The full verb is back in the basic form.
4) The full verb gets at the end of the main clause.

German Prefixes and the conjunction „dass“

It is also important that you know how the separable verbs behave when you are using the conjunction „dass“ (that).

For example:

Du stehst nicht gerne früh auf.
Ich weiß, dass du nicht gerne früh aufstehst.
(
I know that you don’t like getting up early)

Note:

1) The separable prefix is added again.
2) The verb remains conjugated.
3) The verb goes at the end of the subordinate clause.

Not-separable verbs

In addition to the separable verbs, there are also non-separable verbs. That means, there are prefixes that are attached to a verb, but never get separated from the verb – for example the German verb „bestehen“.

stehen = to stand
bestehen = to pass (exam)

Du bestehst dein Examen ganz sicher.
Nicht: Du stehst dein Examen ganz sicher be.

The German prefix be- always stays attached to the verb and never gets separated from the verb.

Du wirst dein Examen ganz sicher bestehen.
(You’ll pass your exam for sure)

Ich bin mir sicher, dass du dein Examen bestehst.

Distinction between separable and non-separable verbs

In the case of separable verbs, the prefix is emphasized (aufstehen). The stress is on the prefix.

In the case of non-separable verbs, the word stem is usually emphasized (bestehen). The stress is on the word stem).

The following prefixes belong to the separable verbs:

auf / an / ab / aus / bei / ein / los / mit / nach / hin / her / vor / weg / zurück / zu

For example: aufstehen, anfangen, abgehen, etc

These prefixes are belong to the non-separable verbs:

be / er / emp(f) / ge / ent / miss / ver / zer

For example: bestehen, erfinden, empfangen etc.

And these prefixes can belong to separable or non-separable verbs:

um / über / unter / durch / hinter

umschauen (separable)
Er schaut sich um.

umarmen (non-separable).
Er umarmt seine Frau.

You can also read this article in German on my website Leicht-Deutsch-Lernen: Trennbare Verben – Zusammengesetzte Verben.

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