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Do verbs with an “er-“ prefix imply that the action is successful? (ie, do “ersuchen” and “erbitten,” for example, imply that the thing requested was given or gained?) If so, is that also the case for the prefixes “be-“ and “ver-" used in the same fashion?

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No, they don't.

Erbitten is simply used in a slightly different fashion than bitten.

Er bittet sie um die Autoschlüssel.

They may be his car keys, actually.

Er erbittet ihre Autoschlüssel.

They are her car keys.

Sometimes you want one variant, sometimes the other.

The verb ersuchen is a very formal, odd, and old-fashioned variant of erbitten.


In general, the way how prefixes change a verb is very complicated. You can make out rules as soon you know the verbs and the exceptions. Which means these rules won't help you at all.

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  • Not just ersuchen, also erbitten is marked as gehoben (formal) or veraltend (being outdated) by Duden.de Mar 14 '19 at 9:56
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I confine my answer to the part about er-.

short answer

No.

little longer answer

Sometimes adding the prefix er- changes the meaning of the verb.

e.g. erachten erbrechen erbringen ereignen erfahren erfassen erfragen erfüllen ergeben ergehen ergründen erhalten erheben erholen erlassen erlauben erläutern erlegen erliegen erlösen ermäßigen ermessen ernennen eröffnen erpressen erreichen errichten ersaufen erschaffen ersetzen erstarren erstehen erstellen ersticken erstrecken ersuchen erteilen ertragen ertrinken erwägen erwähnen erweichen erweisen erwerben erwischen erzählen erziehen

Sometimes it doesn't change anything.

e.g. erahnen erbauen erbitten erflehen erfolgen erforschen erfreuen erklären erlernen ermahnen ermangeln ermorden ernähren erproben erretten erschrecken ersehnen erstaunen erstrahlen erstreben erwarten erwehren

Sometimes the er- has something to do with the start of something.

e.g. erblühen erfinden erfordern erkennen erklingen erlahmen erleiden erregen erröten erwachen

And sometimes it's a mix of the above or you can't even really tell, if the root-word is a verb or adjective. Röten e.g. means to make something rot and rot is an adjective.

Sometimes though success is implied.

e.g. erdenken erdrosseln erdrücken erdulden ereilen erfrieren ergaunern ergreifen erhängen erhärten erhaschen erklettern erleben erleuchten errechnen erreichen erringen erschießen erschließen erschöpfen ersinnen erspähen ersparen erstechen ertappen ertönen erwärmen erwecken erwirken erwirtschaften erwürgen erzeugen

The distribution of all of the (random) example words looks like this:

distribution of sample words

If a verb is made by adding er- to an adjective, the meaning often implies success.

e.g. erfrischen ergänzen erheitern erhellen erkalten erleichtern ermächtigen ermatten ermöglichen ermüden ermuntern ermutigen erneuern erniedrigen ernüchtern erschlaffen erschweren erstarken erübrigen erweitern

But even with adjectives there are exceptions like ledig - erledigen, lang - erlangen or it's just wishing instead of success like in kundig - erkundigen.

So finally: no! Interesting question though.

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  • Instead of success I would say, er- implies that you gain something by doing something. erfrischen - gain Frische by doing erfrischen, ergänzen - gain Ganzheit by doing ergänzen, erstarken - get Stärke, and so on Mar 14 '19 at 7:04
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    And, btw, erlangen is not (directly) derived from the adjective lang, but from the verb langen, I'd say. Mar 14 '19 at 7:05
  • Yes, success is meant here like OP explained in his question (to gain). (How would erhängen refer to success?) Erlangen shows, that you can't just add er- to an adjective and get a verb that implies "success" automatically.
    – Olafant
    Mar 14 '19 at 7:20
  • Yes. I would also put erröten, erleiden, erfinden, erbitten, erflehen, erzeugen, erringen into this category of "gaining something" Mar 14 '19 at 8:10

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