Last Updated on May 30, 2023
Separable verbs in German are not so difficult, but they require constant attention, even for those who already speak German well and this makes the rule difficult. In addition to the basic rule, let’s also consider how (in)separable verbs combinations with noun, pronoun, adjective are written (Rad fahren, kennenlernen, leidtun, wieder sehen / wiedersehen, etc.).
Negation in German
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About myself in German – sich vorstellen
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Difference between beginnen and anfagen and starten
Use: difference between benutzen and verwenden, nutzen, gebrauchen, anwenden and other posts about #synonyms
What are separable verbs in German anyway? Why we speak about it? In German, many prefixes are separated from verbs and live their own life in a sentence: they can be at the end of a sentence or separated from the verb stem by other prefixes.
Separable verbs in German – three main groups
(Non) separable verbs can have:
always separable prefixes
always inseparable prefixes
prefixes, that can be separable and inseparable depending on the meaning of the verb
Always inseparable prefixes
These are 9 prefixes:
Inseparable prefixes are always unstressed. When forming participles, the prefix ge- is not added to them (entdecken – entdeckt).
Inseparable and separable prefixes depending on the meaning of the verb
Six prefixes create problems for us: they can be either separable or inseparable. The consolation is that these words, with a few exceptions, are not very common.
There is no regular pattern, except for emphasis, i.e. inseparable prefixes are always unstressed. True, for this you will also have to learn the emphasis. Separable verbs often have a literal meaning, but also not always.
Inseparable prefixes, unstressed
umfahren (um die Stadt, go round)
umfahren (crash into)
wiederholen (take again)
I can also suggest focusing on “sounds good – does not sound good”: “queren durch” sounds crazy, but “setzen durch” seems to be ok. But in the case of umfahren, this will not help you.
It is clear that some verbs appear in pairs, and some exist in one option.
The conclusion is only this: memorize with forms! This is much more important in German than in English. That is why I introduced a graph with grammatical forms into the Anki decks.
Anki decks and how to use them – #Anki
All other prefixes are always separable.
ab, an, auf, aus
ein, empor, entgegen
fest, fort, frei
her, hin, hoch
zu, zurück, zusammen
If prefixes came from prepositions, then they will always be prefixes.
But if these were adverbs (for example, zusammen), then this may not be a prefix, but an independent adverb, and then it will be separate all the time. Read more about this further.
Verbs formed by combining with other parts of speech behave in a similar way (fernsehen, stattfinden, leidtun, kennenlernen), which we also discuss further.
When is a prefix separated in a sentence, and when is it not?
Prefix is separated:
- simple sentence in the present tense – the prefix goes to the end
- simple sentence in the Präteritum – the prefix goes to the end
- when forming Perfect forms (participles)
- when forming sentences with zu
Prefix is not separated
- in the subordinate clause – prefix goes back together with the verb (in the present tense or preterite)
- in infinitive
If one verb has separable prefixe and inseparable prefixe at the same time, the Perfect is formed without ge-, in contrast to verbs with separable prefixe. However, in the sentence, the separable prefix will be separated. (vorbestellen – bestellte vor – haben vorbestellt)
Verbs and noun, pronoun or adjective – separable or not?
In German, there are fixed combinations of the verb and other parts of speech that behave like separable verbs. After the spelling reform, their orthography changed.
For all such combinations, the rule applies: when turning into nouns (from become acquainted to acquaintance), they are written with a capital letter and together (kennen lernen – das Kennenlernen)
All combinations with the verb sein are written separately.
Rad fahren or radfahren
noun + verb
As a general rule, separate
But sometimes the noun loses its independence (in German they write “turns pale”) – and then it goes together:
Kennen lernen or kennenlernen
verb + verb
The general rule is to write separately. In the case of kennenlernen, they are saved as a second equal option together.
In the case of combinations with the verbs bleiben or lassen, a continuous spelling is possible. This gives the verb its own meaning.
sitzenbleiben (stay for a second year)
liegenlassen (leave without attention)
sitzenlassen (leave with nothing)
Schief gehen or schiefgehen
adjective + verb
If the adjective is used in a literal sense, then it is written separably. If a new meaning is formed, then it is written together – that is, as separable verbs. You can check yourself by substituting the words sehr, ganz to the adjective or putting it in a comparative degree.
Das war mir schwergefallen (it was difficult for me)
Das Paket fiel schwer zu Boden (the parcel fell hard on the floor) = ganz schwer
There are many similar verbs.
Wieder sehen or wiedersehen
adverb + verb
It depends on what is emphasized and whether a new meaning is formed.
Wir werden uns bestimmt wieder sehen. (We will definitely see you again – emphasis on both words)
Wir sehen uns morgen wieder. (see you tomorrow – emphasis only on wieder, this is a separable prefix that is always stressed)
Ich wurde reingelegt (they made a fool out of me)
Die Polster wurde rein gelegt. (the lining was placed inside)
Zusammen is written separately if it means “with each other” or “at the same time”, in other cases – together.
Wir wollen jetzt zusammen rechnen (with each other).
Die Summen werden zusammengerechnet.
Sie sind zusammen gekommen. (at the same time)
Viel Geld bei der Sammlung zusammengekommen (come together)