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I am just a beginning student of German and recently read about separable and inseparable verb prefixes. It made me curious about the frequency of each in the German language. Does anyone know the answer to this?

  • Could you provide examples? – Thomas Mar 30 '16 at 5:02
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    What do you mean saying "frequency"? – Eller Mar 30 '16 at 6:33
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    @Alex.S: Relative frequency, probably, but a clarification would be good. – chirlu Mar 30 '16 at 11:29
  • @chirlu There’s relative frequency in a dictionary (1 instance each) or a text corpus (0 to n instances) and if the latter, do only separated occurences count? So yes, the question is probably underdefined, but still answerable, if one wanted to cover all variants or dared to make an informed choice. – Crissov Mar 31 '16 at 19:31
  • @Alex.S: »Frequency« ist der englische sprachwissenschaftliche Ausdruck für »Häufigkeit«. Lisa will wissen, wie viele trennbare Verben es im Vergleich zu untrennbaren gibt. Das aber vermutlich nicht auf Basis einer Abzählung in einem Wörterbuch, wo jedes Wort genau einmal vorkommt, sondern auf Basis einer Auszählung einer sehr großen Textmenge, die den tatsächlichen Gebrauch möglichst getreu wiedergibt. – Hubert Schölnast Apr 3 '16 at 7:13
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From the database of canoo.net we get a list of all separable verbs listed. In the introductory page we read:

9176 Einträge der Flexionsklasse Trennbare Verben von insgesamt 18202 Verben im Canoo Wörterbuch.

Hence, in this (incomplete) database there are roughly 50% of verbs listed as separable.

  • This answers my question and thank you for doing so. My personal program of language study shuffles through a selected set of languages and I was winding down my study of German when I asked this question, so consequently, I didn't happen to notice that this question had received some replies until just now. Please forgive the delayed award of the green checkmark. – Lisa Jun 26 '17 at 9:06
  • @Lisa: at least you did come back - great :) – Takkat Jun 26 '17 at 9:59
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I assume frequency refers to how often separable prefixes are used on a regular day, so the answer is: a whole lot. You will definitely need to understand the various meanings of separable and inseparable verb prefixes in order to have command of the language.

It's hard to say exactly the most used separable and inseparable prefixes, but I found a few interesting pages that can help you understand the meaning of the most commonly used verb prefixes.

Resources:
http://www.nthuleen.com/teach/grammar/sepinsepprefixexpl.html http://www.dartmouth.edu/~deutsch/Grammatik/Wortbildung/Separables.html


Bonus Mini Lesson

The concept of prefix separation is not too complicated once you differentiate the separable and inseparable prefixes. For example,

Verb: abschließen (to lock)
Separable Prefix: ab-
Verb Root: schließen (to close, to shut)

Er schließt die Tür ab. (He is locking the door.)
or
Er muss die Tür abschließen. (He has to lock the door.)
or
Er hat die Tür abgeschlossen. (He closed the door.)

In the second sentence, the verb and prefix are not separated because there is another verb which precedes it (müssen). In the third sentence, however, a -ge- is added in between the separable prefix and the verb root. This is common with many separable verbs when used in the past tense.


Verb: besuchen (to visit)
Inseparable Prefix: be-
Verb Root: suchen (to search, to seek)

Er besucht seine Mutter. (He is visiting his mother.)
or
Er muss seine Mutter besuchen. (He has to visit his mother.)
or
Er hat seine Mutter besucht. (He visited his mother.)

In all cases and tenses, the inseparable prefix is attached to the verb root.

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    Welcome. I think the frequency the original post refers to is relative (as in the title, the separable vs. unseparable prefixes). – c.p. Mar 31 '16 at 17:15
  • Thank you. Okay, I see. Well, when comparing separable and inseparable verbs to each other, there is no definitive answer as to which is used more. – OMMC Mar 31 '16 at 17:23
  • That's right, with so few criteria one cannot tell. No definitive answer till the OP edits the question. – c.p. Mar 31 '16 at 17:42
  • This is mainly a comment and an answer to a question not being asked. – user unknown Apr 3 '16 at 3:31

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