Here’s a word I’ve been wondering about for quite a while now: gerinnen (to clog, coagulate). Obviously this is related to rinnen (to flow, run), but surprisingly it has the opposite meaning:

Das Blut rinnt bis es gerinnt.

The prefix ge- isn’t typical for negation, so when saying out loud gerinnen I always have to actively remind myself that this is the opposite of rinnen.

What’s the reason behind this? Does gerinnen perhaps have a different origin after all? Are there other examples where ge- negates the word stem?

(Disclaimer: I’m a native German speaker.)

  • 2
    I can't give a full answer, so just a quick comment. The prefix "ge-" means "to come together". So it's actually "zusammenfließen". I suspect that if too much came together, it got stuck, and then it was "gerinnt". But I don't have any evidence to back that guess up.
    – Em1
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 15:57

2 Answers 2


Aus Wasserzieher Ethymologisches Lexikon "Woher" von 1936:

gerinnen althochdeutch, gotisch garinnan zulaufen (v Menschen) aus rinnen und ge- in der Grundbedeutung "zusammen". Siehe "rinnen" "rennen"

Rinnen und rennen sind aus demselben Stamm

  • This makes sense: A liquid substance flows together in one spot, where it then, inevitably, "gets stuck". I didn't actually know ge- in the meaning of zusammen. Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 17:46

Actually gerinnen means a sort of separation: previously diluted material gets separated, and in case of blood the red cells and the fibrin glue together sealing the wound, but there is a remaining liquid, the blood plasm, which now more easily flows away. So I would argue, that here just the opposite aspect is emphasized and no negation of the stem is involved.

With milk it is quite similar. If you add acid (like citric acid) the proteins separate and a thinner water-like substance remains.

  • 1
    The knowledge that coagulated blood is made of red cells and fibrin is far younger than the word gerinnen, so this explanation is perhaps a long shot. Also, by geronnene Milch you don't mean the remaining watery substance, do you? Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 17:43

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