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What is exactly the difference between höhnen and verhöhnen, and also between spotten and verspotten? The differentiation in dictionaries is not clear, but I assume they are not the same thing in practice.

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The ver- variants are transitive:

  1. Er spottete über das neue Produkt.

  2. Er verspottete seinen Chef.

The transitive version feels more "personal", you'd probably use 1. for things (or maybe talking badly about someone behind their back), and 2. for people that are present. But that's just my feeling as a native speaker.

I'm not sure if I've heard höhnen (without ver) before.

  • "höhnen" is a valid word and it is used, albeit the rarest of the four: books.google.com/ngrams/… – Stephie Aug 12 '15 at 5:17
  • The verb “höhnen” is usually found in written language, where it may serve as a more expressive alternative to more general or bland verbs like “sagen”, “rufen” or “schreien”. An example sentence could be: „‚Da kann ja meine Oma noch besser kämpfen!‘ höhnte er und ging zum Angriff über.“ – Philipp Aug 12 '15 at 8:58
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    It's wrth noting that "spotten" can be used with Genitive as well... Ich spotte seiner. Das spottet jeder Beschreibung. – Emanuel Aug 12 '15 at 9:12
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    Though “spotten” may carry a (sometimes positive) notion of teasing, whereas I can’t think of “höhnen” as not being malicious. – Philipp Aug 12 '15 at 9:14

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