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I realize many verbs add the "be" to the beginning, which fundamentally changes the meaning, e.g., kommen and bekommen, or stehen and bestehen. However, it seems as though the "be" in belehren doesn't change the meaning much, if at all. So when should I use it?

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also see:german.stackexchange.com/questions/4246/… –  Takkat Jan 5 '13 at 11:32

2 Answers 2

I disagree with you that it doesn't change the meaning that much...

jemanden etwas lehren

means to teach something to somebody.
So you'd be building up new knowledge by teaching them.

Whereas

jemanden belehren

in most cases means that you're correcting somebody who thinks he knows, but is not really correct.
So you'd be straightening his facts.

One other use of belehren would be that you inform somebody of something.
An example would be if you tell them about their rights ("You have the right to remain silent...")
In that case it would be

jemanden über seine Rechte belehren


So to sum up, with lehren you're kind of teaching or providing knowledge to somebody.

With belehren you're rather telling somebody something than you're teaching.
So you're doing that probably with more resolution and authority.

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Very helpful stuff. Thank you –  user2332 Jan 5 '13 at 1:19
    
@EugeneSeidel danke für den Hinweis, ich habe es korrigiert. –  Lukas Jan 7 '13 at 13:00

There is a grammatical difference and a difference in meaning...

belehren

Belehren takes a person as a direct object in accusative case. If you want to include whatever is being taught that is done using the preposition über or hinsichtlich

Ich belehre den Mann über die Sache.

Belehren has a notion of completion... at least more than lehren has. After having been belehrt, I expect the person to know everything about the matter. Also, belehren is done with rather limited fields of knowledge. It is one specific thing that is being taught... like a code of conduct or the late fees of the library. So you can't really belehren someone about biology... I wouldn't know how to understand the following sentence:

Ich belehre dich über Biologie.

This is so vague that it could be anything... but it certainly is not the biological knowledge itself. Belehren also has a negative touch to it... I wouldn't appreciate being belehrt. I'd prefer to be informiert.

lehren

Lehren can take 2 direct accusative objects... the thing being taught and the person being taught.

Ich lehre Klavier.

Der Professor hat mich die Liebe gelehrt.

Lehren doesn't imply completion. It can but it doesn't have to. It can be a life long process. It is also the word for the profession... to teach. Also lehren is not negative sounding. It is pretty neutral. In daily life, I think lehren as a verb is on the decline. I find it kind of weird in a sentence and I would opt for unterrichten. However, the nouns derived from lehren are totally part of everyday talk. Lehrer, Lehrling, Lehrplan, Lehrbuch, Lehrfilm, Lehrvideo, Lehrgang...

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I have wondered about this for so long. Thanks for the great response. –  user2332 Jan 5 '13 at 1:18
    
"Belehren" hat keinen negatven Touch. Ein negativer Beigeschmack kann immer nur aus dem Kontext kommen, in der die Belehrung stattfindet, und in einem solchen gibt es den Belehrer, den Belehrten, eventuell Beobachter und weitere Personen, die die Situation alle unterschiedlich bewerten können. Wir sollten wirklich von dieser Illusion wegkommen, dass das nächstbeste Beispiel, dass uns zu einem Begriff einfällt, diesen prototypisch beschreibt, und eingebildete Gefühle zu dem Begriff, und nicht zu unseren Vorurteilen gehören. Die Mutter belehrte Hänschen von Steckdosen fern zu bleiben. –  user unknown Jan 5 '13 at 3:51
    
Siehe auch @Lukas Kommentar über die Belehrung des Angeklagten über seine Rechte. Aus welcher Perspektive ist das negativ? Entschuldige, dass ich es so deutlich sage, aber die unreife Tendenz alles immer bewerten zu wollen ist eine Seuche. –  user unknown Jan 5 '13 at 3:54
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Sorry aber für mich klingt belehren nun mal leicht negativ... Ich werde nicht gern belehrt, aber ich habe kein Problem damit wenn man mich etwas lehrt. Die gefühlsmässige Bewertung eines Wortes spielt natürlich mit rein und ist für Deutschlernende wichtig um zu verstehen in welchen Kontexten das Wort angebracht ist und wo nicht. Das da die Meinungen auseinandergehen ist normal, aber ich denke ich gehe kein großes Risiko ein,w enn ich behaupte, dass eine Mehrheit der Deutschen belehren als nefativer klingend einstufen würde als lehren... –  Emanuel Jan 5 '13 at 16:50
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I'd also say that "belehren" has a negative touch to it. It is mostly used downward in a hierarchy in a commanding manner, if you've done something wrong or if you are being made aware of negative consequences of wrong behavior. –  Sentry Jan 11 '13 at 9:34

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