German separable verbs: List and translations

German, with its unique grammatical structure and specific rules, presents a fascinating challenge for language learners. In this article you will learn one of the most important and fascinating aspects of German: separable verbs. Discover the mystery behind these compound verbs and how to master them.

What exactly are separable verbs in German?

Naming separable verbs in German can be frightening, especially for those who are approaching this language for the first time. But if we were to say compound verbs, it would sound simpler, wouldn't it, because we have to start from that basis: separable verbs in German are a type of compound verbs that are made up of two elements:

  1. The base verb, also known as an inseparable verb since it is a single word that cannot be broken down;
  2. The particle that modifies the meaning of the initial verb and is separated from the verb itself when conjugated.

* Remember that, if the verb is reflexive, the reflexive pronoun is also in its composition as an extra particle.

Let us move on to exemplify these verbs: Morgen fange ich meinen neuen Job an (tomorrow I will start my new job).

In this sentence, "anfangen" (to start) is conjugated in the present indicative (ich fange) and the separable prefix "an" has been moved to the end of the sentence.

So, how are separable verbs used in German? Let's get to know the rule:

  • As for the affirmative form, we put the main verb in second position and the prefix at the end of the sentence: -Ich rufe Vera an. → I call Vera.
  • In the interrogative sentence, the prefix always remains at the end of the sentence, while the verb is placed at the beginning, immediately after the subject. This is also the case with classical verbs: -Siehst du oft fern? → Do you watch television often?
  • Finally, as for the imperative form, the verb is always placed at the beginning, while the prefix at the end: Ruf Vera an! → Call Vera!

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Difference between separable and inseparable verbs

In German there are separable and inseparable verbs and the main difference between the two is how they behave in the context of sentences and tenses.

  • In separable verbs, the prefix is separated from the verb when used in certain verb constructions, such as subordinate clauses, the present infinitive, the present participle, and the imperative. When the verb is conjugated in the present, past or future tense, the prefix is separated from the verb and moved to the end of the sentence. For example: infinitive "anrufen" (to call) → present indicative "ich rufe an" (I call ), where "an" is the separable prefix that goes to the end of the sentence.
  • In inseparable verbs, the prefix remains attached to the verb in all verb forms and is not separated from it. These verbs retain the prefix even when conjugated in the present, past or future tense (e.g.: infinitive "bezahlen" (to pay) → present indicative "ich bezahle" - payment), without separation of the prefix.

In summary, the main difference is that separable verbs have a prefix that separates them from the verb in some situations, while inseparable verbs keep the prefix attached to the verb in all verb forms.

German separable verbs: list, prefixes and translation

The prefixes of the separable verbs in German are different, because each of them indicates a specific meaning and modifies the verb, giving it a different nuance.

Knowing them all by heart is not strictly necessary, but since many of these verbs are very common, we recommend that you learn them little by little.

The most effective way to memorize the entire list of separable verbs in German is to divide them into groups, starting with the type of prefix they have:

Separable verbs in AN-

One of the most widespread particles is AN-, which means "to begin, to start, to initiate".

Verbs that feature the particle 'AN'- are:

Anfangen= to begin
Ankommen= to arrive (from kommen, to come)
Anhaben= to wear, to put on (from haben, to have)
Anmachen= to light (from machen, to make)
Ansehen= to look at
Anrufen= to call on the phone (from rufen, to call)
Anpassen= to adapt
Anbieten= offer
Anwenden= to apply
Anbrennen= to burn, to burn oneself
sich anziehen= to dress
Anvertrauen= to trust
Anzuwenden= to ignite
Anprobieren= to try on
Anmelden= to register

Separable verbs in AUF-

Let us now look at verbs with the particle AUF-, whose meaning is "up, upwards":

The verbs in 'AUF'- are:

Aufstehen= to rise (from stehen, to stand up).
Aufhören= to stop, to finish
Aufmachen= to open
Aufnehmen= to accept
Aufpassen= to pay attention, to observe
Aufklären= to clarify, to explain
Aufbauen= to build, to assemble
aufräumen= to arrange, to clean
Aufgeben= to surrender
Aufladen= to carry
Aufhaben= to have to do (haben, to make)

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Separable verbs in AUS-

Then there are the separable verbs in German with the particle 'AUS-', meaning "outside":

  • Aussehen= to seem (from sehen, to see).
  • Ausruhen = to rest
  • Ausgehen= to go out (from gehen, to go)
  • Ausräumen= to clean up, to empty out
  • Ausgeben= to spend
  • Ausbleiben= to stay out
  • Auswählen= to choose

Separable verbs in EIN-

We continue with verbs with the prefix 'EIN-', which we can translate in the opposite way to the previous one: "inside, inward".

  • Einladen= to invite (from laden, to carry)
  • Einschlafen= to fall asleep
  • Einsteigen= to go up (inside)
  • Einteilen= to divide (from teilen, to divide)
  • Einräumen= to keep
  • Einführen= to introduce/implement
  • Einnehmen= to take (food, medicine) or earn (money)
  • Einkaufen= to shop

Verbs separable with other prefixes

In addition to the most common prefixes mentioned above, there are other separable verbal prefixes in German:

  1. FERN (far): fernsehen (to watch television)
  2. VOR (before, before): vorhaben (to intend), vorlesen (to read aloud)
  3. WEITER (to continue): weitergehen (to continue)
  4. ZU (closed, downward): zubereiten (to prepare, cook), zuhoren (to listen), zumachen (to close)
  5. ZURUCK : (to return): zuruckfahren (to return), zuruckkommen (to return)

German separable verbs: examples of usage

To learn these verbs, we recommend that you practice them in context, together with a sentence that will help you memorize their meaning and, above all, their behavior as separable verbs (where the particle is placed, etc.). Here are some other separable verbs that are widely used in German:

  • Ankommen: Ich komme morgen in Berlin an. → Arriving: I will arrive in Berlin tomorrow.
  • Aufstehen: Am Montag stehe ich früh auf. → Get up: I get up early on Monday.
  • Aussehen: Sie sieht heute sehr schön aus. → Verse: You look very beautiful today.
  • Einschlafen: Gestern bin ich früh eingeschlafen. → Conciliate sleep: Yesterday I went to bed early.
  • Einkaufen: Am Samstag kaufe ich im Supermarkt ein. → Go shopping: On Saturday I'm going shopping at the supermarket.
  • Mitkommen: Möchtest du mitkommen? → Come with: Do you want to come with me?
  • Vorstellen: Ich möchte dir meinen Bruder vorstellen. → Introduce: I would like to introduce you to my brother.
  • Mitmachen: Machst du beim Wettbewerb mit? → Participate: Are you taking part in the competition?
  • Umbauen: Wir möchten unser Haus umbauen. → Renovate: We want to renovate our house.
  • Einladen: Hast du Lust, morgen zum Essen einzuladen? → Invite: Do you want to invite for dinner tomorrow?
  • Aussteigen: Er ist am Bahnhof ausgestiegen. → Get off: He got off at the station.
  • Zurückkommen: Wann kommst du aus dem Urlaub zurück? → Zurückkommen: When will you be back from vacation?
  • Umsteigen: In Munich müssen wir umsteigen. → Change: In Munich we have to change trains.

Learn and practice verbs in context

In conclusion, German separable verbs, although they may seem intimidating at first, are an essential and dynamic part of learning German. By understanding their structure and function, you will not only enrich your vocabulary but also improve your ability to express yourself in a more precise and nuanced way. These verbs, with their prefixes that alter the meaning of the base verb, offer a window into the flexibility and richness of German.

A very useful exercise you can do to further train your ability to recognize and conjugate separable verbs in German is to create your own examples. Take the separable verb you are interested in, invent a sentence built around it and then check that you have treated it in the right way, following the conjugation rules. In this way you help your memory in many different ways: first by forcing yourself to create a sentence, then by writing it down, then by revising it and finally by rereading it. You will see that, in this way, learning German separable and inseparable verbs will be very easy!