Are zu- and ein- special prefixes widely used to form new verbs in German language? Like the following two examples:

schlafen (to sleep)
einschlafen (to fall sleep)

hören (to hear)
zuhören (to listen)

Are there any similar prefixes used in the same manner as above?

  • 3
    "ver-"; and this works for schlafen and hören :)
    – Em1
    Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 14:14
  • @Em1 I love 'ver-' as a prefix. If anything, it seems to be the most consistent prefix ever used except maybe 'un-' in the sense that I can mostly understand the meaning conveyed as well as the fact that I can guess words which turn out to be quite similar to real words. Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 19:56

2 Answers 2


Prefixation is a common way to change or further precise verb meanings.

According to this nice summary at Canoon.net we have

  • separable prefixes: verb and prefix are separated on inflection.
    ab, an, auf, aus, bei, dar, ein, fehl, für, inne, los, nach, rück, vor, wieder, zu, zurecht, zwischen

  • inseparable prefixes: verb and prefix are not separated.
    be, ent, er, ge, hinter, miss, ver, zer

  • inseparable and separable prefixes: both separation, and inseparable verbs exist from the same prefix.
    durch, über, um, unter, wider
  • foreign prefixes: non-German prefixes used on verbs ending with "-ieren".
    ab, ad, ante, co, de/des, dis, en, ex, in, inter, intro, kon, konter, kontra, per, post, prä, pro, re, retro, sub, trans, zirkum

Each of these prefixes link to further explanations and usage examples at Canoo.net.

For the examples in question we can read there that zu- is used to indicate a closing action or a direction given. The latter would be the case with "zuhören" where the directions is listening to somebody.

The prefix ein- is used in a great variety of meanings, often used for a direction from the outside to the inside in the wider sense, a change of direction, or a change of state (i.e. used in einschlafen where the sate changes from wake to sleep), and many more.

A useful source is the DWDS where we can search for prefixes by adding a hyphen to the prefix in the sarch field.


There are a lot of such prefixes: ein-, zu-, aus-, er-, zer-, ent-, ver-, vor-, nach-, gegen-, durch-, weiter-, über-, unter-, auf-, ge-, herein-, heraus-, hinein-, hinaus-, weg- and others. There is a certain logic behind them, however you need to learn which combinations are possible.

E.g. for schlafen you have einschlafen, ausschlafen, entschlafen, verschlafen, weiterschlafen, durchschlafen and - not so common - vorschlafen and wegschlafen (more often wegdämmern or wegdösen).

For hören the combinations zuhören, verhören (two meanings), überhören, aufhören, gehören, hereinhören, hineinhören, etwas heraushören and weghören are possible (and probably some more).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.