4

If a word and the same word with a "ver-" prefix mean "essentially" the same thing, are there any general differences between them? If so, what are they?

Examples:

Folgen / Verfolgen

Prügeln / Verprügeln

(Others that I can't remember... haha)

  • dingen - verdingen (jemanden dingen is a bit old-fashioned, though) – Christian Geiselmann Feb 27 '19 at 15:23
  • 4
    I do actually think there are differences in meaning between "folgen" and "verfolgen", or "prügeln" and "verprügeln", i.e. they don't essentially mean the same thing. E.g. "Folgen" = "follow", while "verfolgen" = "prosecute, trail, chase, pursue". – Rudy Velthuis Feb 27 '19 at 16:48
  • 2
    "Kaufen" and "Verkaufen" are certainly not essentially the same thing... – BruceWayne Feb 27 '19 at 21:22
6

The function of the affix ver- are manifold in German. This is summarized in a rather concise list in the DWDS entry on its etymology (Pfeifer) (translation by me, examples from Pfeifer):

The prefix ver- is used to express that something/somebody is

  • being removed, carried away: verrücken, vertreiben, verzerren
  • vanishing, decays: verdunsten, verklingen, verschwinden
  • misleading, going wrong: verführen, verwechseln, sich verzählen
  • being negated: verbieten, versagen
  • resulting in something: verbluten, verpacken, vertilgen
  • is being intensified: verschließen, versperren
  • made transitive from intransitive: verfolgen, verheiraten, verspotten
  • a verbal derivation from an adjective: verdeutlichen, vergöttern, verarmen, verholzen

I believe the list may be incomplete but it should give you an idea. From your two examples verfolgen is resulting from folgen, verprügeln is an intensification from prügeln.

Over the time the original meaning of one or the other verb affixed with ver- may also get lost or changes, so it is always a good idea to look up a given verb in a dictionary.

Another recommended resource where you can look up if the prefix ver- exists for a given verb or noun is the "Wordformation" browser from canoo.net, in the link here shown for prügeln. You can not only see what prefixes or compounds exist but you can also click on any entry for more information including links to dictionaries.

  • "verheiraten" is an odd example. Isn’t "heiraten" already transitive? – idmean Feb 27 '19 at 19:52
  • @idmean You can say "Wir heiraten" or "ich heirate dich", but the subject of "verheiraten" would be neither bride nor broom (perhaps a parent or a priest) – Hagen von Eitzen Feb 28 '19 at 12:43
  • @HagenVonEitzen the parent (?) or priest who does verheiraten is the agent (and other terminology might exist). The bride and groom are still the grammatical subject in passive constructions. They are the subjects anyway, colloquially speaking. – vectory Aug 4 '19 at 21:08
5

Online-Duden gives the following list

  1. Expresses in conjuction with verbs that something is depleted, eliminated or no longer exists as a result of the action.

    Examples: verforschen, verfrühstücken, verwarten

  2. Expresses in conjuction with verbs that someone spends time on doing something.

    Examples: verschlafen, verschnarchen, verspielen

  3. Expresses in conjuction with verbs that someone is doing something wrongly or incorrectly

    Examples: verbremsen, verinszenieren

  4. Expresses in conjuction with verbs that something is being impaired by an action

    Examples: verwaschen, verwohnen

  5. Has no impact at all on the meaning in conjuction with verbs

    Examples: verbleiben, verbringen, vermelden

Thus, in many cases it is (5), but there are cases where the prefix actually changes the meaning of the base verb.

Fun fact: "ver-" is the most common prefix for German verbs - nearly 50% of the non-separable prefixed verbs start with it.

  • Errrm - the first 3 entries appear to be missing. Apart from that, and to be honest, I do not believe in this Duden list. I mean, why do they come up with verforschen, verinszenieren, verfeaturen? These are not really common verbs, at least not in my microenvironment. Also, I must disagree that verbleiben, verbringen, vermelden are identical to bleiben, bringen, melden. A word of critisism may be worth to be included in your answer (still +1 from me because this list is way out of your responsibility). – Takkat Feb 27 '19 at 15:30
  • @Takkat The first 3 entries in the Duden do not refer to verbs, so do not apply to this question. With regards to the selected examples - maybe not the most common examples, but work for me. – tofro Feb 27 '19 at 15:33
  • 4. vergolden e.g is not negative, just changing state. 5. verbringen should be 1. and 2., which are nearly equal anyway. *was zu vermelden haben is rather negative, but could it be akin to vor-? – vectory Aug 4 '19 at 21:26

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