When I speak or write I normally use the base form of a verb when speaking, however I've noticed when germans speak they tend to use words such as "anordnen" or "abwarten" or "abtrinken" where when I would say the same thing i would say "ordnen" "warten" or "trinken". When is it appropriate or needed to use a separable verb with "an" or "ab " as opposed to just using its base form?

  • As it stands, this question is almost unanswerable because there are too many verbs with derived forms like this.
    – RHa
    Dec 27, 2021 at 10:44
  • There is often a great deal of overlap in meaning between the prefixed and non-prefixed versions of verbs. I'm not sure the question has an answer in its present form though. Individual examples can usually be settled with a dictionary, any kind of general answer is going to have too many exceptions to be useful. English has the same issue with phrasal verbs. For example comparing "We're drinking wine" vs. "We drank up the wine", it would be hard to explain when you'd use "drink" vs. "drink up", and I doubt there's any general rule for adding "up" to a verb.
    – RDBury
    Dec 27, 2021 at 10:44
  • "anordnen" is a good example of where the prefix entirely changes the meaning of the base verb. Leaving off the prefix would make any sentence using it entirely non-understandable. In "abwarten" or "abtrinken" there's much less change in meaning caused b the prefix. So, in short: YMMV
    – tofro
    Dec 27, 2021 at 11:06

1 Answer 1


There is no fixed rule. In essence you will have to learn them as separate words / verbs; the 'derived' forms can have similar or totally different meaning:

  • ordnen -> to bring order into / to tidy
  • anordnen -> to order / to arrange
  • abordnen -> to deploy / to send (someone to do sth)
  • umordnen -> to re-arrange
  • verordnen -> to prescribe / to decree
  • unterordnen -> to subordinate ...

It's the same with virtually every verb created this way. It's basically the same in English except that the compound verb in English usually is not written as one word

  • sehen -> to see / to look / to view

  • ansehen -> to look at

  • absehen (von etwas) -> to disregard sth

  • winken -> to wave

  • abwinken -> to wave aside

  • fahren -> to drive / to go / to travel to

  • anfahren -> to start rolling / to start driving

  • abfahren -> to depart

but also:

  • umfahren -> to run over / to drive around (sic! Both complementary meanings)
  • hineinfahren -> to drive into

etc. etc.

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