I want to practice some words/verbs like these:

"absetzen/aufsetzen, bemerken/merken, abheben/aufheben"

So I mean words that are similarly written but the beginning is different as illustrated. How do you name these kinds of words? Once I know, I'll check Google for a list of words or other learning materials related to those.

Apart from the name, I am happy to hear if you have tips/references to recommend for learning them or general comments.

  • What you want is a gram-bank or tree-bank, but I don't know any. Dictionaries treat derivation sporadically.
    – vectory
    Jul 11 at 17:59

2 Answers 2


One of the german languages "specialities" is that it uses a lot of compound words. This is true for nouns (ie. "Hand"="hand", "Tuch"=cloth", "Handtuch"="towel"), but it is also the case for verbs.

There is one difference between compound nouns and compound verbs, though: while compound nouns are most ly formed combining (two or more) simple nouns compound verbs are created combining simple verbs with prefixes. This is what you noticed that they are similarly written but the beginning is different. The prefix will modify the "basic" meaning of the simple word.

Here is an example:

laufen (to walk, to run, to go)

weglaufen (to run away)
ablaufen (to run its course)
umlaufen (to run around as in: to avoid comtact, but also to run over)
[sich] verlaufen (to be/get lost, to lose ones way)
verlaufen (to blend, but also: to take course, similar to "ablaufen")

and so on. Your example "absetzen/aufsetzen" is similar: the simple word is "setzen" which means "to sit" or "to place/to position". From there you get:

absetzen (to set down, to decant, also "jemanden absetzen" to remove so. from office)
aufsetzen (to put something, to superimpose, to don sth.) versetzen (to transfer, to displace, but also: to pawn sth.) hinsetzen (to sit down)

and so on. Here is a (also not even near exhaustive) list of prefixes verbs are combined with:


Also notice that sometimes the meaning is quite figuratively. For instance, there is "stehen" (stand) and there is "geradestehen" (basic meaning to stand straight or to stand upright), but the real meaning is either to take responsibility ("für etwas geradestehen" = "to take responsibility for sth") or take responsibility on someones behalf:

Ich werde für seine Schulden geradestehen.

means: I will pay his debts (if he defaults on them).

Addendum: compound verbs are either separable or inseparable (unseparable?). For instance, the last example I gave is a separable verb:

Ich werde geradestehen.
Ich stehe gerade.

Others are not:

Ich verstehe. ("stehen" + "ver")
Ich werde verstehen.
Ich habe verstanden.


Ich stehe auf. ("stehen" + "auf")
Ich werde aufstehen.
Ich bin aufgestanden.

There is (to my knowledge) no simple rule for what is separable and what is not. It depends on the prefix, i suppose, at least I can't think of a negative example. Compounds with "ver-", "be-" and others are always inseparable, "auf-", "mit-" and also others are separable.

Addendum secundum: as @RDBury pointed out in his comment, there are compound verbs which separate on certain occasions and don't on others. Examples would be "umlaufen" and "umfahren". It can mean "to run/drive over" or "to run/drive around [sth.]"

Ich umfahre die Person. (I drive around the person.)
Ich fahre die Person um. (I drive over the person.)

  • 1
    Thank you for you answer!! Can you please verify if this is correct: Compound verbs include both sepearable (trennbare) and non-separable verbs. "Compound verbs" in German is "zusammengesetzte Verben" (latter according to google translate).
    – Taylan
    Jul 9 at 10:45
  • There are one or two prefixes which can be separable or not depending on the situation, and some verbs using them which can be separable or not depending on the meaning. An example is umlaufen.
    – RDBury
    Jul 9 at 17:35
  • @RDBury: You are right, thank you. I haven't thought of "umlaufen".
    – bakunin
    Jul 10 at 6:23
  • I'd not call it 'situation', but the actual meaning decides whether it's separable for 'umfahren' and similar verbs. The different meaning also reflects in the pronunciation or rather the emphasised syllable: um'fahren (=drive around) vs. 'umfahren (=run over). Thus it could be argued that it's really different words which just happen to be spellt the same, like Bank (=bank) and Bank (=bench) Jul 11 at 12:53
  • @planetmaker: I'd generalize that, actually: If the prefix is stressed, then it's separable, otherwise it is not. Jul 11 at 13:25

There are examples and explanations in: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pr%C3%A4fix-_und_Partikelverben_im_Deutschen

... with lists of the most frequent separable and inseparable, and ambiguous cases

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