How To Use German Verbs with Separable Prepositional Prefixes

How To Use German Verbs with Separable Prepositional Prefixes
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What to Expect

Introduce the German students to the concept of separable prefix verbs by reviewing the English phrasal verb. Phrasal verbs are an

English verb form that consist of a verb followed by one or more prepositions. For example, the verb-preposition combinations throw up and lay in on are phrasal verbs that mean vomit and criticize. Phrasal verbs are both periphrastic—phrases of two or more words that perform a single function—and idiomatic—meanings derived from the whole phrasal verb, not the individual parts. Depending on the type of phrasal verb, the preposition may also separate from the verb as in look up the information and look the information up. Students should be familiar with phrasal verbs because of the strong similarities between English phrasal verbs and German separable prefix verbs.

Separable Prefixes

After reviewing phrasal verbs in English, introduce the German verb form of separable prefix verbs to the students. Explain that German verbs with separable prefixes consist of a prepositional* prefix attached to the front of a verb. For example, the following German verbs are separable prefix verbs:

  • ankommen – to arrive
  • ausgehen – to go out
  • einladen – to invite
  • mitfahren – to travel with
  • zusammenkommen – to meet

Show the students that verbs with separable prefixes are a simple verb with a prefix. For example:

  • an + kommen = ankommen
  • aus + gehen = ausgehen
  • ein + laden = einladen
  • mit + fahren = mitfahren
  • zusammen + kommen = zusammenkommen

Just as English phrasal verbs combine an existing verb with and existing preposition to create a new verb with a new meaning, German separable prefix verbs combine an existing prepositional suffix with an existing verb to also create a new verb with a new meaning.

*Note that most separable prefixes are prepositions but that some are adverbs, other verbs, archaic prepositional phrases, and motion words.


Next teach the conjugation of German separable prefix verbs. To conjugate a German verb with a separable prefix, remove the prefix and conjugate the verb into any tense, aspect, mood, voice, person, and number. Then move the prepositional prefix to the end of the clause. For example, the simple present tense conjugations of the verb ankommen “to arrive” are as follows:

  • ich komme an
  • du kommst an
  • er/sie/es kommt an
  • wir kommen an
  • ihr kommt an
  • Sie kommen an
  • sie kommen an

For verb conjugations in which the head of the verb phrase is in the form of a past participle, place the ge- affix between the separable prepositional prefix and the verb. For example, the present perfect conjugations of the verb ankommen are as follows:

  • ich bin angekommen
  • du bist angekommen
  • er/sie/es ist angekommen
  • wir sind angekommen
  • ihr seid angekommen
  • Sie sind angekommen
  • Sie sind angekommen

Students again do not need to learn new conjugations for each new separable prefix verb because the conjugations are the same as for the simple verb.

Word Order

Finally explain the word order for German sentences that contain separable prefix verbs. The standard word order of the predicate for basic sentences with verbs with separable prefixes is conjugated verb-(object)-preposition. For example:

  • Der Lehrer machte das Buch auf. “The teacher opened the book.”
  • Der Junge machte die Tür zu. “The boy closed the door.”
  • Ich nahm meinen Hut ab. “I took my hat off.”

Note that unlike with English phrasal verbs, the prepositional prefix of German separable prefix verbs must always separate from the verb and follow any objects in the predicate.

Practice Exercise

Use the following exercise to practice forming sentences with separable prefix German verbs. Have the students form sentences with the given words in any known verb conjugation. Also have the students translate the German sentences into English.

Die Worte

  • die Familie / durchfahren / der Wald
  • die Studenten / anfangen / der Kurs
  • das Mädchen / beitraten / die Mannschaft
  • der Feuerwehrmann / einatmen / der Rauch
  • der Drucker / nachdrucken/ die Flugschrift

Die Sätze

  • Die Familie fährt den Wald durch.
  • Die Studenten fingen den Kurs an.
  • Das Mädchen trat die Mannschaft bei.
  • Der Feuerwehrmann atmete den Rauch ein.
  • Der Drucker druckt die Flugschrift nach.

Die Englischen Übersetzungen

  • The family drives through the forest.
  • The students began the course.
  • The girl joined the team.
  • The fireman inhaled the smoke.
  • The printer is reprinting the pamphlets.

Printable Download

For a printable download of the most common German verbs with separable prepositional prefixes, please see German Separable Prefix Verbs List.