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I've encountered an example of using a prefix of a separable prefix verb by itself, and I was wondering what is the right way to use such prefixes this way:

  • A: Mach die Tür bitte zu!
  • B: Sie ist schon zu.

Here it seems like a prefix stands for the entire verb "zumachen".

Is it a common way of use?

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2  
The predicate of this sentence is not anymore "Tür zumachen" but rather "zu sein". As elena mentioned in her answer "zu" is simply a "state" of door, like light can "be on or off". In (B) there's no relation any more to the action of closing the door. Simply "What is (state of) the door? - It's closed". –  Em1 Apr 16 '13 at 12:23
    
Another example: "shut up" = "Mund zu!" –  vlad-ardelean Apr 16 '13 at 17:06

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

As a rule, prefixes of separable verbs are words that can stand alone. You will find many prepositions among them.


Here, I think you misunderstood how exactly the veb "zumachen" works. "Zu" is -- among other meanings -- the German word for "closed". Unlike the English "closed", however, it is not the present perfect form of the word for "to close", "zumachen".

Compare:

open -- auf

closed -- zu

This might become clearer when you change your example to the opening rather than closing of a door.

A: Mach die Tür bitte auf! -- Please open the door!

B: Sie ist schon auf. -- It is already open.

Since "machen" means "make" or "do", "aufmachen" und "zumachen" literally mean "make open" and "make closed". With this somewhat wobbly translation you get the following for your example:

Please make the door closed.

It is already closed.

Doesn't work for English, I know, but this is what we do in German.

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In this special case (opened or closed doors, windows, etc.) this is rather common, though colloquial, as is zumachen itself. What happens here, is that zu has been made a predicative adjective or adverb (depending on your approach to word classes) – the same may happen to auf. You can even find constructions like eine zue Tür (a closed door; pronunciation: zuë), where the zu is used as a regular (inflected) adjective. This is however very colloquial and not done with auf (at least I have never heard it).

The non-colloquial words would be:

  • schließen – to close (note the difference to verschließen (to lock))
  • geschlossen – closed (adj.) (note the difference to verschlossen (locked))
  • öffnen – to open
  • offen / geöffnet – open (adj.)

The probable origin of this usage is that zumachen is similar to saubermachen (to clean; literally: to make clean) or kaputtmachen (to break; literally: to make broken), where sauber and kaputt are adjectives that describe the final state that is “made”. When now (as in your example) directly after a usage of zumachen, somebody is required to describe the state of a door, he may fail to quickly find the correct adjective (geschlossen) and therefore settles for zu as an adjective due to the analogy.

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In respect to "eine zue Tür" (also "eine geschlossene Tür") I think it's worth to mention that the opposite would be "eine geöffenete Tür" while "eine offene Tür" is commonly used in "Tag der offenen Tür" (=open day, open house) –  Em1 Apr 16 '13 at 13:09
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@Em1: I would say that geöffnet and offen are synonymous in this context (and the Duden agrees) and the latter is used outside of Tag der offenen Tür, e.g., in constructions like offen stehen. However I added geöffnet as an alternative to offen. –  Wrzlprmft Apr 16 '13 at 13:20
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Could you please make it clear, that "zue Tür" is a very colloquial form. Many people complain about it even in spoken German. –  Toscho Apr 16 '13 at 14:22

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