German Separable and Inseparable Verbs

In German, many prefixes can be added to many verbs in order to change its meaning. These prefixes can be classified as either separable or inseparable, which means that the prefix will or will not be separated from the verb when using it in context (conjugations or other grammatical structures necessitating a separation). 

For a more detailed explanation, let‘s take an example: betreffen (to concern/affect) and eintreffen (to arrive). Although the two share the same stem (treffen), not only do they differ in meaning but also in grammatical usage. The prefix “be-” is inseparable, whereas the prefix “ein-” is separable. When the verbs are grammatically modified, for example to conjugate, betreffen will remain unseparated, and eintreffen will separate. Here are a couple examples.

  1. Das neue Gesetz betrifft kleine Unternehmen. (The new law affects small businesses.)
  2. Der Zug trifft um 14 Uhr ein. (The train arrives at 2:00pm.)

More information about the conjugation of these verbs will be found in Conjugating Verbs.

Some of the most common prefixes will be discussed below, sorted by separable and inseparable.   

Table of Separable Prefixes

Separable Prefixes
PrefixCommonly Means…Example
abaway (from)abfahren (to drive away)
anto, toward, begin, atanfahren (to drive up to)
aufon, open, up, outaufbauen (to build up)
ausout, outward, extend, completelyausbauen (to build out/extend)
auseinanderapartauseinanderfallen (to fall apart)
beiwithbeifügen (to include with)
datheredableiben (to stay there)
dabeitheredabeisein (to be present)
durchthrough, complete (a process)durchfahren (to drive through)
einin, intoeinfahren (to drive into)
entgegenagainstentgegenwirken (to work against/counteract)
entlangalongentlangfahren (to drive along)
fernfar, remotefernbedienen (to control by remote control)
festfirmfesthalten (to hold firmly)
fortonwardfortfahren (to continue onward)
freifreefreikommen (to get free/escape)
gegenüberoppositegegenüberstehen (to stand opposite to)
gleichsamegleichbleiben (to remain the same)
heim(to) homeheimkehren (to return home)
hinterherfollowhinterherkommen (to follow)
hinzuaddhinzufügen (to add in)
hochupwardshochklettern (to climb up)
losawaylosfahren (to drive away)
mitalong withmitarbeiten (to work together)
nachfollownachziehen (to follow suit)
niederdownniederbrennen (to burn down)
umaround, down, overumkreisen (to circle around)
vorbeforevorspielen (to play before an audience)
voranaheadvorankommen (to make progress)
vorausin advancevoraussagen (to predict)
vorbeibyvorbeifahren (to drive by)
wegawaywegfahren (to drive away)
weiterfurther, onwardweitermachen (to continue)
wiederagainwiedersehen (to see/meet again)
zuto, closedzukommen (to come up to)
zurechtproperlysich zurechtkommen (to manage/ find one’s way)
zurückback, returnzurückfahren (to drive back)
zusammentogetherzusammenarbeiten (to work together)
Hin und Her … Two “Prefixes of Prefixes”
herused in conjunction with many prefixes to indicate a motion towards the subject
hinused in conjunction with many prefixes to indicate a motion away from the subject
herabdown fromherabrennen (to run down)
herantowardsheranfahren (to drive towards)
heraufup fromheraufklettern (to climb up)
herausout fromherausrennen (to run out)
hereinintohereinfliegen (to fly into)
herübertowardsherüberkommen (to come over towards)
herumaroundherumwandern (to wander around)
herunterdownherunterrollen (to roll down)
hervorout fromhervorkrabbeln (to crawl out from)
hinabdown fromhinabrennen (to run down)
hinaufup tohinausrennen (to rush out)
hinausaway fromhinausrennen (to rush out)
hineinin, intohineinfliegen (to fly into)
hinunterdownhinunterrollen (to roll down)
hinwegbeyondhinwegsehen (to look beyond)

Table of Inseparable Prefixes

Inseparable Prefixes
PrefixCommonly Means…Example
be(used to target an object)malen (to paint) > bemalen (to paint something)
entgoing away, removalentfernen (to remove)
emp(precedes verbs with “f” beginnings)empfehlen (to recommend)
er(gives idea of completion)trinken (to drink) > ertrinken (to drown)
gegefallen (to please)
missfailuremissfallen (to not please)
vergoing away, (idea of completion), warninggeben (to give) > vergeben (to go away)
zerinto pieces, fully destroyzerschlagen (to shatter)

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