We can not simply translate the suffixes "-able" or "-ible" with "-bar" as there seem to be many examples where "-lich" is used instead.

avoidable - vermeidbar
vulnerable - verwundbar
bootable - bootbar

reliable - verlässlich
movable - beweglich
comprehensible - verständlich

Sometimes both variants exist:

usable - benutzbar, nützlich
solvable - lösbar, löslich
bearable - tragbar, ertäglich

Sometimes this may even change on negation:

avoidable -vermeidbar inavoidable - unvermeidlich

Are there any rules that help me to decide when using the one or the other?

  • Good question. As a side note I think movable would be better translated bewegbar whereas beweglich is more like agile. – musiKk Aug 30 '11 at 8:38
  • As musiKk already noted, the two variants, if both exist, don't necessarily have the same meaning. Solvable, to add another example, translates both to lösbar and löslich, but in German, löslich would only translate back to soluble, i.e. a term from Chemistry, whereas lösbar is a term you apply to a problem of sorts, e.g. in Mathematics. I am not aware of any convenient, useful rule capable of resolving all those problems with -bar and lich. – Hackworth Aug 30 '11 at 8:58
  • @Hackworth: Yep, I thought about solvable too. Same goes for usable: nützlich is useful. – musiKk Aug 30 '11 at 9:37
  • Pardon, solvable := löslich? Solvable coffee? usable := nützlich? I would translate nützlich to useful, not usable. – user unknown Aug 30 '11 at 10:28
  • If 2/3 of the examples don't fit, I don't call it 'not always', but 'rarely'. – user unknown Aug 30 '11 at 11:45

The suffix -bar is often used with transitive verbs:

Suffix, durch dessen Anfügen an den Stamm eines meist transitiven Verbs ein Adjektiv abgeleitet wird [...] (from German Wiktionary: -bar)

For example:

avoidable - vermeidbar → vermeiden (transitive)

vulnerable - verwundbar → verwunden (transitive)

reliable - verlässlich → verlassen ([in this case] intransitive)

movable - beweglich → bewegen (intransitive)

A verb is transitive if you can use it for something or someone:

Jemanden sehen, etwas lösen, etwas haben

And intransitive if you can't:

Laufen, scheinen, dünken

Note that this is really just a rule-of-thumb; it doesn't necessarily work 100 per cent of the time (though I can't think of a verb where it fails now). :)

The English -ible versus -able seems to work differently:

The form -ible has the same senses and pronunciation. The choice between the two is somewhat idiosyncratic, but in general, -ible is used in forms derived from Latin verbs of the second, third, and fourth conjugations, and in a few words whose roots end in a soft c or g, while -able is used in all other such words, particularly those formed from Latin verbs of the first conjugation and those that come from French or from Anglo-Saxon (Old English). (from Wiktionary: -able)

Note tohuwawohu's great comment:

... For example, a locomotive can move "itself", but i (personally) can't move it myself, so it's beweglich but (from my point of view) not bewegbar. See also here and here.

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  • I'd like your examples of transitive and intransitive verbs a lot better if you can really use them with either -lich or -bar. Aber laufbar oder lauflich ist mir nicht geläufig :-) (Dünken ist sowieso ein etwas seltsames Beispiel, denke ich.) – Hendrik Vogt Aug 30 '11 at 10:38
  • 3
    bewegen is a good example. You can use it as transitive or as intransitive verb, with corresponding adjectives: bewegbar in a transitive sense - you can move something, and beweglich as intransitive - something is able to move. For example, a locomotive can move "itself", but i (personally) can't move it myself, so it's beweglich but (from my point of view) not bewegbar. See also here and here. – tohuwawohu Aug 30 '11 at 10:41
  • How can ‘bewegen’ be an intransitive verb? If it can move itself, it is still transitive. Considering the examples, it would be a bit better to speak of reflexive versus non-reflexive usage. – Debilski Aug 30 '11 at 21:35
  • @Debilski: you're right, it seems i mixed up transitivity with reflexivity. It's obvious since one of the pages i cited describes the semantics of -bar for both transitive and intransitive verbs. Hmm, another disadvantage of comments: you can't edit them any more after a certain amount of time... :-| – tohuwawohu Aug 31 '11 at 5:35

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