Separable verbs

In German you can add a prefix to a simple verb, forming a verb with a new meaning.

Prefix + verb = new verb
ab + fahren = abfahren
zurück + fahren = zurückfahren

Many of these new verbs are separable. This means that for a simple declarative sentence in the present, the original simple verb is conjugated and is the second idea in the sentence. The prefix is at the end of the sentence.

ab|fahren:
Der Zug fährt um 9:45 Uhr ab.

 

In combination with a modal verb, the separable verb is at the end of the sentence in the infinitive. In this case, the prefix is not separated.

um|steigen:
Du musst nicht umsteigen.

 

In the present perfect, a past participle is formed from the separable verb by placing -ge- between the prefix and the verb stem.

weg|fahren:
Ich bin schon seit einigen Jahren nicht mehr weggefahren.

 

You can often tell whether a verb is separable from its prefix.

  • Verbs with the prefixes e.g. ab-, an-, auf-, aus-, ein-, mit-, nach-, weg-, zu- are always separable.
  • By contrast, verbs with the prefixes be-, ent-, er-, ver-, zer- are not separable.
  • Verbs with the prefixes durch-, über-, um-, unter- can be separable or inseparable.

 

You can also recognize separable verbs by their pronunciation. With separable verbs, the prefix is always stressed.

aufstehen: separable

verstehen: not separable

 

Grammatical terms in German:

Das trennbare Verb: Separable verbs have a prefix that can be separated and then comes at the end of the sentence.