4/99 – Separable verbs

4 – Why are verbs split? – Motaz Mohammed from Palestine

Right, very cruel! In German, there are lots of verbs which can be split, called “separable verbs” and “trennbare Verben” in German. These verbs consist of two parts: a verb and a prefix. Most prefixes are prepositions, but they are occasionally adverbs, nouns, or adjectives. The prefix adds a sense to the verb or often changes the meaning of it completely. This is why to many learners of German, they mean a stumbling block and cause confusion or panic.

First of all, here are some examples:

Ich fahre.=I travel/drive. – Ich fahre um 8 ab.=I depart at 8.
stehe im Zimmer.=I’m standing in the room. – Ich stehe auf.=I get up (out of bed).
mache Sport.=I do sports. – Ich mache mit!=I participate!
Ich höre Musik.=I listen to music. – Ich höre jetzt auf. = I stop/finish now.

But “why do Germans split verbs?”, Motaz Mohammed asked. The “why” is to be searched in language history. It is a heritage of our ancestors. They developed this grammatical phenomenon as splitting the verbs made sense to them and we still use them today.

Not only German language uses separable verbs. Also Dutch uses them.
And think of phrasal verbs in English, it is a similar occurence. In English, you add a particle to a verb and change the meaning completely. “I get a piece of cake” and “I get out of the bus” and “I get up at 5.30”. In the latter sentences, the meaning of “get” becomes an absolutely different one compared to the first sentence.
We cannot understand the meaning of the sentences unless we know the meaning of the combination verb
particle. I remember a talk to a collegue from the US some years ago. She was using so many phrasal verbs that I hadn’t studied – I couldn’t understand her too well.
Same for German. The way to understand “trennbare Verben” is to study and recognize them, bit by bit by bit. I created a list of prefixes for you.

Some of the most common prefixes of separable verbs are:
ab-, an-, auf-, aus-, bei-, da-, ein-, her-, hin-, mit-, nach-, vor-, zu-, weg-

abfahren: Der Zug fährt um 8:57 Uhr ab. – The train departs at 8:57.
annehmen: Ich nehme an, dass Lina zum Kurs kommt. – I suppose that Lina is coming to the course.
aufnehmen: Der Polizist nimmt das Gespräch auf. – The policemen is recording the conversation.
aussuchen: Such dir etwas Schönes zum Geburtstag aus. – Choose something nice for your Birthday.
einladen: Ich lade ihn auch zum Geburtstag ein. – I invite him to the party, too.
herstellen: Unsere Firma stellt verschiedene Roboter her. – Our company produces different kinds of robots.
hingehen: Heute ist die Konferenz – gehst du auch hin? – Today is the conference – do you go there, too?
mitkommen: Wir fahren am Wochenende nach Holland, kommst du mit? – We go to Holland this weekend, do you join?
nachdenken: Ich denke über das Problem nach. – I’m thinking about the problem.
vorstellen, sich: Ich stelle mir Bungee Jumping aufregend vor. – I imagine that Bungee Jumping must be exciting.
zugeben: Der Dieb gibt zu, dass er das Portemonnaie geklaut hat. – The thief is confessing that he has stolen the wallet.
wegfahren: Am Samstag fahre ich weg, aber am Montag komme ich schon zurück. – I’ll go on Saturday but I’m already coming back on Monday.

Good luck with the separable verbs.

Test yourself and practice with this quiz: https://sprich-mit.com/trennbare-verben-quiz-1/

Foto: http://goo.gl/QqrLrx by Evan-Amos


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