Separable and Inseparable Verbs in German Grammar

Introduction

Separable verbs (Trennbare Verben) and inseparable verbs (Untrennbare Verben) in German are verbs whose meaning is altered by the addition of a prefix. Prefixes that are separable are separated from their verb in the conjugated form e.g. anstehen – ich stehe an (to queue – I queue). Whereas, inseparable prefixes cannot be separated from their verb e.g. bestehen – du betehst (to pass – you pass). The prefix determines whether a verb is separable or not.

Learn how to conjugate German separable and inseparable verbs on Lingolia and master their usage in German grammar. In the exercises, you can practise what you have learnt.

List of Separable Verbs

The verbs with the following prefixes are separable:

ab-, an-, auf-, aus-, bei-, ein-, los-, mit-, nach-,
her-, hin-, vor-, weg-, zu-, zurück-

  • In the finite form, these verbs are separated from their prefix, which usually comes at the end of the sentence.
    Example:
    Ich stehe an der Kasse an.I queue at the checkout.
  • In the past participle, we add ge- between the prefix and the verb.
    Example:
    Ich habe an der Kasse angestanden.I queued at the checkout.

List of Inseparable Verbs

Verbs with the following prefixes are inseparable:

be-, emp-, ent-, er-, ge-, miss-, ver-, zer-

  • These prefixes remain a permanent part of the verb, even in the finite form.
    Example:
    Ich bestehe die Prüfung.I pass the exam.
  • The the past participle of inseparable verbs is not formed with ge.
    Example:
    Ich habe die Prüfung bestanden.I passed the exam.

German Verbs that are Separable or Inseparable

The verbs with the following prefixes can be either separable or inseparable:

durch-, hinter-, über-, um-, unter-

  • Some verbs with these prefixes are always separable.
    Example:
    umschauen – er schaut sich umto look around – he looks around
  • Some other verbs with these prefixes are never separable.
    Example:
    umarmen – sie umarmt ihnto hug – she hugs him
  • Some verbs with these prefixes can be either separable or inseparable. In this case, the separable verb and the inseparable verb have two different meanings.
    Example:
    umfahren – Er fährt das Schild um. – Er umfährt das Schild.to knock down/to drive around – He knocks the sign down. – He drives around the sign.

Example

Er fährt das Schild um. Er umfährt das Schild.
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Pronunciation Tip

We stress the prefix in separable verbs and the syllable after the prefix in inseparable verbs.

Example:
umfahren (knock down)
umfahren (drive around)