I am a native English speaker, relatively fluent in German - but something I continue to find quite difficult is to get a sense of which verb is appropriate for a given noun. It's possible this is idiomatic, but there are definitely combinations which are seldom, if ever used by native speakers.

A very simple example:

  • I would drive a car
  • I would create an opportunity
  • I would take a picture
  • I would determine a solution

Obviously I could pilot a car, for example - it is technically fine, but it doesn't sound native at all.

Likewise, a native German would never say "Ich nehme ein Foto", unless they're actually taking something, I suppose.

What I'm wondering about here is linguistic tendency - for example, I've read that the (American) English tendency is to put shortest words first in a list of words e.g. "I saw a dog, a cat, and a walrus." It's just something that's done, but knowing this would help someone learning English tremendously, I believe.

Is there a similar linguistic tendency with noun/verb pairings that could be used a generalized rule?

I did find a similar question, and provided great references, but wondering about the tendency.

  • There's also a tendency in German to sort a list of words by length, or to rearrange words for rhythmic reasons, but that doesn't help with noun/verb pairs. I've never figured out any rule for English noun/verb pairs (do you know any?); I just had to learn the expression (or assimilate it when I read it somewhere). I suppose it's the same with German.
    – dirkt
    Commented Jul 4, 2014 at 11:52
  • 1
    Yeah, I can imagine this is just as hard in English - the only one I concretely know is "make" and "do" (probably 80% of the second-language speakers mix the two up) - it boils down to definition - "make" is "to construct", in this sense, where as "do" is "to act". This might help to some extent.
    – Lew
    Commented Jul 4, 2014 at 12:03
  • What about something like "make way" and "make do", then? I don't think there's an easy alternative to simply learning collocations.
    – Ingmar
    Commented Jul 4, 2014 at 12:12
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    To partially answer the question: Yes, of course, there's a tendency. There's a good reason why collocation dictionaries exist. However, you cannot put this in a 'rule' similar to the order of adjectives. – If you'd like to know which verb/nouns often go together, I'm afraid but there's no good German corpus providing this feature. Wortschatz-Portal gives you the most significant collocations, but I'm truly missing an equivalent to BNC(British English) or COCA(American English).
    – Em1
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 at 7:59
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    This feels like the sort of thing best learned by repeated communication in German - reading and hearing the regularly used phrases and verb pairings. You can get better answers with questions on specific pairings, but I think most languages just require a lot of experience with their contours and peculiarities.
    – NL7
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 14:47

1 Answer 1


No, there isn't a similar linguistic tendency with noun/verb pairings. Idiomatic use of such pairings must be learned like formulas. Otherwise it violates the feel for language of native speakers.

They just have a history where it comes from, and why it's different from other languages.

Usually, alternative forms slightly change the focus or meaning of what you want to express, or change the level of language, or serve regional variations; like in your pilot a car example.

Sometimes such pairing may develop due influence of foreign languages or cultural progress (like hat Sinn vs. macht Sinn).

  • Actually 'macht Sinn' is probably one of the worst examples, because semantically speaking an object cannot do (machen) anything. However, it is used very commonly and therefore understood, while the proper use would be 'ergibt Sinn'. Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 13:15
  • @Martin: the change of meaning is probably that machen became a synonym of ergeben, like in Das macht eins fuffzich!.
    – äüö
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 13:29
  • I wouldn't call "Sinn machen" instead of "Sinn ergeben" exactly cultural progress (which AFAIU would imply that "Sinn machen" were somehow better than "Sinn ergeben"). Cultural change would be a better term here, I think.
    – celtschk
    Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 13:05
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    @celtschk: you can assign it to influence of foreign languages (as direct adaptation of make sense)
    – äüö
    Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 13:17

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