I have noticed that the meaning of the German verbs differs depending on which words are used with them.

For example:

sich mit jemandem treffen: to meet somebody

etwas treffen: to hit something (as a target)

The same verb, two different meanings because of the additional words inserted into the sentence with the verb. So my question is, what's the name of this form of the verb that includes the additional words and the entire change of the senetence's meaning? Its name in the German grammar please.

  • 3
    This is all but unique to the German language. Just one example in English: to go to/ into/ by/ for/ with/ in/ out/ over/ off/ ahead/ after/ bust/ astray/ blank/ nuts/ along with/ ... The same verb, but dozens of different meanings. Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 7:16

1 Answer 1


The linguistic name of this notion is "Polysemie" or "Mehrdeutigkeit". Polisemy is present in all languages, and in this regard German is not unique at all.

For each meaning, there are words typically used with the base word (in your case, the verb "treffen"=) in this meaning. E.g. if we take the verb abstreifen, it would have 4 meanings, each characterized with a certain set of words accompanying the word in this particular meaning. https://www.dwds.de/wb/abstreifen In the first meaning, the thing you would typically "abstreifen" would be your backpack, in the third meaning the subject of the action would typically be the police and the object would typically be "premisses" (Gelände), and so on.

One should think of such words as of people sharing a common name (possibly having the same grandfather), but being independent personalities with entirely different lives - albeit sharing something in common. Sometimes words would undergo drastic changes and split into several meanings. For example, "toll" used to mean "rabid", but then in the 20th century it started being increasingly used in the meaning "splendid" or "cool", while still preserving the original meaning, and the more direct extension of the original meaning - something "insane", "mental". https://www.dwds.de/wb/toll

  • Can you please provide me with a good source for this notion? like a book or a website that can introduce a good number of the "Polysemie" cases of a verb?
    – Archelt
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 7:17
  • 1
    English or German? Polysemy is also very typical of English.
    – Dan
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 7:19
  • for the german language please
    – Archelt
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 7:19
  • Well, all good dictionaries, such as Duden, DWDS (linked above) provide information on polysemic verbs. Are you looking for an article or a book explaining the verbs which are the most diverse in their meanings?
    – Dan
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 7:21
  • 1
    DWDS looks helpful in my case. Thank you so much
    – Archelt
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 7:41

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