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Separable and inseparable verbs

In German, there are so many verbs which are formed by adding some prefixes to base verbs.

These prefixes are

ab-, an-, be-, ent-, ver-, zer-, unter, durch-, über-, um-, wider-, wieder-, unter-, durch-, über-, um-,wider-, wieder-

As stated such verbs are very common. These prefixes add some certain meanings to the meaning of the base verbs. Although this is not always true, most of the cases, it is practical to be aware of the meanings of some prefixes which correspond to the prefixes given above. These meanings are summarized below along with some examples.

Ab: This prefix indicates that something is separated from a location.

Examples: abfliegen (to take off), abreisen (to leave), abschicken (send off)

An: This prefix shows very often that something is fixed to a location.

Examples: anbinden (to tie up), anheften (to pin), anhängen (to attach)

Be: This prefix makes the base verb take an object. Examples: befragen (to examine), befolgen (to obey), befehlen (to order)  

Ent: It shows that something is separated from something. Therefore it can be translated as “without” most of the time.

Examples: entgiften (to detox), entwaffnen (to disarm)

Ver: can have various meanings. A common meaning is to make a sort of mistake. For example;

  • sich verhören: to get lost
  • sich vertippen

Zer: this prefix usually indicates some kind of damage, in any case it is a sign of a negative action. For example,

  • zerstören: to destroy
  • zerbrechen: to break into pieces

Unter-: As a preposition unter means under. As a prefix, the meaning is closer to that. It describes an action that shows something is put underneath of something else. For example, “unterlegen” means to put underneath.

Wieder-: This corresponds to English prefix “re-“. It means “again”.

wiederbekommen (to get back), wiedergeben (to return)

The verbs including such prefixes are furthermore divided into separable verbs and inseparable verbs. While some of the prefixes are only separable or inseparable, there are some prefixes which can be either.


Separable verbs

These verbs are formed by the following prefixes which are always separable.

Ab-, an-, auf-, aus-, ein-, fort-, mit-, nach-, vor-, weg-, zu-, zurück-, zusammen-

Inseparable verbs

These verbs are formed by the following prefixes which are always inseparable.

Be-, ent-, er-, ge-, ver-, zer-

Separable or Inseparable verbs

These are the trickiest. unter-, durch-, über-, um-, wider-, wieder-

Sometimes, it can be really difficult to guess if a verb formed by the following verb is separable or inseparable. The rule decide on this is the following. If the stress of the verb is in the second part but in the prefix, then the verb is inseparable. For instance, the stress of the verb durchschauen is in the part “schauen”. Therefore, this verb is inseparable. Of course, to be able to apply this rule you need to be sure about the pronunciation of the verb. Otherwise, it turns out to be more difficult than memorizing if a certain verb is inseparable or separable. Probably, a better idea is to allow yourself enough time to learn if a verb is separable or inseparable.

Grammar Notes

It’s very important to be aware of this classification of German verbs because grammatically they will differ from the verbs without prefixes. How?

For example, let’s say “I’m sleeping”

  • Ich schlafe

Let’s now say “I’m falling into sleep”

  • Ich schlafe ein.

In the above sentence, ein and schafe (conjugated in the first person singular) are written separately. Also, the infinitive form is einschlafen but while conjugating the prefix comes in the end. This will be always the rule in the present tense, in the other tenses there will be some changes but we will cover these points in the lessons related to those tenses, not here.

Note also that, when conjugating the separable verbs in the present tense, the part without the prefix, i.e. the base verb, is conjugated only and just in the way, you learned in the lesson on the present tense in German.

Let’s take an example of an inseparable verb now. For instance, “verstehen”. This verb means to understand. “I understand” in German is simply

  • Ich verstehe

As you see, as the name suggests, the inseparable verbs are not separated when conjugating, hence for the conjugation in present tense, you will follow the rules which apply to other base verbs in present tense as well.


Did you know that some German inseparable verbs do not have any base verb anymore? Here are some examples:

gelingen: to succeed

verlieren: to lose

gewinnen: to win


Separable or InSeparable?