A basic example would be something like this:

    • Er baut auf der Wiese.
    • Er bebaut die Wiese.
    • Ich sprühe auf die Wand.
    • Ich besprühe die Wand.

Both basically mean the same thing (as far as I've learned). So is there a preference in of one over the other? Either spoken, written, or for formalities?

Link to site for the example

1 Answer 1


No, they don't mean the same thing.

Er baut auf der Wiese.

This tells where the action bauen happens.

Er bebaut die Wiese.

This on the other hand tells that die Wiese is the target of the action bauen. It's intentional.

Ich sprühe auf die Wand.

This tells the spray is applied in the direction of the wall, and it ends up there. But it's not necessarily intentional. This kind of phrasing is more likely used with an inanimate subject, e.g. Die Gischt sprüht auf die Wand.

Ich besprühe die Wand.

This on the other hand tells again that it's intentional.

  • Reading your answer, I wonder whether in "Ich habe meine Krawatte bekleckert" the action was intentional or unintentional? :)
    – tofro
    Commented Mar 16 at 11:45
  • @tofro My other assumption was that "be-" prefix words don't always fall in that category and that there are exceptions to this "rule" of how the prefix works. Am I wrong in thinking that your example is one of those outliers, or is Janka's example more of the general guideline? Commented Mar 16 at 18:01

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