After studying German, you will quickly realize that there are different kinds of verbs. Find out in this article everything you need to know to use separable verbs properly.
In many languages, you can form new verbs based on existing ones, which also applies to German. However, in contrast to some other languages, German uses a so-called ‘prefix’ (Präfix) or ‘particle’ (Partikel) for doing so. This is an expansion that precedes the stem of the verb. Its usage is crucial because, in German, the number of simple verbs available is relatively low. These add-ons allow us to solve this problem and form new verb variants. Check out this overview of all German verbs.
What is an inseparable verb (Nicht-trennbares Verb)?
As mentioned above, there are ‘prefixes’ (Präfixe) or ‘particles’ (Partikel) to form a new verb. A prefix is for example “be-,” “ent-,” “er-,” ver-,” “zer-” which you can, for instance, find in words like “besuchen” (to visit) or “versuchen” (to try). Though they are added to a verb in German, you can treat a verb with a “prefix” like a simple verb.
Verb conjugation of “besuchen”:
Recommended study materials on the topic:
- Worksheet: Perfekt – Partizip 2 (separable verbs) (incl. answers)
- Worksheet: Perfekt – Partizip 2 (inseparable verbs) (incl. answers)
- German conversation: Speaking with separable verbs
- German conversation: Speaking with inseparable verbs
- German conversation: Speaking with separable and inseparable verbs
- A-Grammar: Practice German grammar (incl. answers)
- German self-study book for A1-B1 (incl. answers)
What is a separable verb (trennbares Verb)?
Verbs that use ‘particles’ (Partikel) do not follow the above rule. In contrast, you need to separate them in a normal sentence which is the reason for their name “separable verb.” By this, I mean the following.
- The word stehen in German means ‘to stand.’
- Adding the particle ‘auf’ to ‘stehen,’ the verb ‘aufstehen’ (to get up) results.
- auf + stehen → aufstehen
If you translate separable verbs into English, you will often find that also in English; they are kind of separable, as you can see in the above example for ‘tidy up‘ and “aufräumen.” However, when using separable verbs in a sentence, you need to remember some rules.
Verbs with the following particles are always separable:
- ab- (abfahren)
- an- (ankommen)
- auf- (aufstehen)
- aus- (ausmachen)
- ein- (einschalten)
- mit- (mitkommen)
- nach- (nachmachen)
- weg- (wegbringen)
- zu- (zumachen)
However, verbs that use “durch-,” “über-,” “um-,” “unter-,” can be separated depending on the context. Most of the time, you will only use one version frequently, and I would recommend simply remembering these verbs as there are not too many in this group. Otherwise, you might get lost in detail.
Forming sentences with separable verbs
If you form a normal sentence with one separable verb, the particle is separated from the main verb and takes the last position of your sentence. You have to put all the additional information between the conjugated verb and the particle. To understand the message of such a sentence, you need to attentively listen to your conversation partners until they finished their sentence. Also, if you want to use separable verbs in your sentences, you need to remember to add the particle to the end of your sentence. If you forget to do so, people might still understand you because of the context, but there is still a high chance you will send out the wrong message.
- Ich stehe jeden Morgen um 8 Uhr auf. – (I get up at 8 a.m. every morning.)
- Nadine kommt heute Abend endlich bei ihren Eltern in Berlin an. – (Nadine is finally arriving at her parents’ home in Berlin tonight.)
- Martin ruft schon wieder bei der Hotline des Kundenservices an. – (Martin calls the customer service hotline again.)
Separable verbs in Präteritum
When using this kind of verbs in the German Präteritum (simple past), they stay separated, and the particle is still at the very end of the sentence. Also, you should remember that if your original verb (stem verb) is irregular in the past tense, its separable version follows the same pattern. This means, if a verb is irregular, it will always be irregular no matter if you use a prefix or a particle.
- Ich stand jeden Morgen um 8 Uhr auf. – (I got up at 8 a.m. every morning.)
- Nadine kam gestern Abend endlich bei ihren Eltern in Berlin an. – (Nadine finally arrived at her parents’ home in Berlin yesterday.)
- Martin rief schon wieder bei der Hotline des Kundenservices an. – (Martin called the customer service hotline again.)
Separable verbs in Perfekt
Most of the time, you will need to use the “Perfekt” time in German (especially for conversations). For forming “Perfekt,” you need the auxiliary verb (Hilfsverb) “haben” or “sein” and the Partizip 2 of your verb.
Forming the Partizip 2 for separable verbs is not too complicated:
- Choose verb: aufstehen
- Find out if verb stem is irregular (“-en”-ending) or regular (“-t”-ending)
- stehen is irregular = gestanden
- Just add the particle: aufgestanden
As you can see, the particle and the original verb are still separated by “-ge.”
- Ich bin jeden Morgen um 8 Uhr aufgestanden. – (I have gotten up at 8 a.m. every morning.)
- Nadine ist gestern Abend endlich bei ihren Eltern in Berlin angekommen. – (Nadine has finally arrived at her parents’ home in Berlin yesterday.)
- Martin hat schon wieder bei der Hotline des Kundenservices angerufen. – (Martin has called the customer service hotline again.)
A subordinate clause with the verb at the end
As you could see above, you always need to separate such verbs, but there is one exception. If you use a subordinate clause in the present tense, the verb has to go to the end of the sentence as with “weil” or “dass,” the separable verb is not separated.
- Ich weiß, dass du immer um 8 Uhr aufstehst.
- Nadine ist glücklich, weil sie heute bei ihren ankommt.
- Martin hat keine Zeit, weil er schon wieder bei der Hotline anruft.
Separate or not to separate
I hope that you can understand separate verbs better now. It is wise to study the particles by heart so that you won’t have to think too much when forming a sentence with these kinds of verbs. If you want to know more about these topics, check out how to conjugate German verbs.
Hi there! Though I provide all blog content for free, your support will be very much appreciated. 🙂