Less Common Separable Prefixes
In this lesson I will teach you what some less common separable prefixes mean and how to use them with a variety of examples. If you want to know the rules for these prefixes, please check out my other post about that. Click here if you want to know how to use the most common separable prefixes.
This first prefix, “auseinander-” is pretty easy to understand. It generally is translated with the word “apart”. This is very clear in verbs like “auseinanderfallen”, which means “to fall apart”. It is less apparent in verbs like “auseinandersetzen”, which means “to confront, deal with”. Take apart the verb and you will see how it works, however. I already said “auseinander-” means “apart”. The verb “setzen” is “to set, put”. You are literally setting it apart. Here are a few examples of this prefix in action.
to fall apart
Dieses Buch fällt auseinander.
This book is falling apart.
to dismantle, take apart
Um mehr Arbeitsspeicher in meinem Computer zu installieren, muss ich ihn zuerst auseinanderbauen.
In order to install more RAM in my computer, I have to take it apart first.
to confront, deal with
Der Politiker musste sich mit der Realität der Situation auseinandersetzen.
The politician had to confront the reality of the situation.
Tragen Sie eine Maske, wenn Sie nicht zu Hause sind!
Wear a mask if you aren’t at home.
The next prefix is “empor-”, which indicates an upward movement towards the top of something or to the highest point possible. emporheben, for example, means to lift up and is often used with religious connotations of things going towards heaven such as blessings and praise. Here are some examples of this prefix.
to lift up
Die besten Menschen heben ihren Blick zu geistigen Höhen empor.
The best people turn their gaze to spiritual heights.
to aspire to a high level
Kleine Kinder glauben oft daran, dass sie zu grenzenlosen Höhen emporstreben können.
Small children often believe that they can aspire to infinite/limitless heights.
to climb to a high level
Bane steigt aus dem Abgrund empor.
Bane climbs out of the pit.
This prefix also indicates motion, but this time it is towards something or against something. This doesn’t have to be as literal as some of you might think. For example: entgegenkommen means to meet, as you are kind of coming towards someone until you are against them. Here are a few examples of “entgegen-”.
to come to meet
Batman kommt Bane entgegen.
Batman comes to meet Bane.
It can also mean that Batman tries to please Bane to get a compromise with him.
Er kommt ihm beim Vertragsinhalt entgegen.
He accommodates him in the content of the contract.
to receive, accept
Der durstige Kunde nimmt das Wasser mit Dank entgegen.
The thirsty customer accepts the water with thanks.
to resist, oppose
This verb is actually saying that you are putting something in the path of something else. The “setzen” part tells you that it is placing something. The “entgegen-” part tells you where it is being placed. As I mentioned “entgegen-” is towards something or against something. That means whatever the object is in the sentence is being placed towards being against something. It takes a bit to wrap your brain around that, but this example helps.)
Eine kleine Gruppe setzte den neuen Regeln Widerstand entgegen.
A small group opposed the new rules.
A small group is the one doing something. They are setting something. The object “Widerstand” is resistance. So the group is placing resistance. The direction is towards the indirect object, the rules. The entgegen- part tells us that the resistance is against the rules.
You may recognize “entlang” as a preposition that is generally listed with the accusative prepositions. This is slightly confusing, as it is actually more than likely being used in those examples as a prefix to whatever the verb is. When used as an actual preposition, “entlang” requires the genitive case.
The prefix “entlang-” means “along” and can be seen in the following examples.
to walk along
Wir laufen diese Straße entlang.
We are walking along this street.
to look along (look at something from end to end)
Der Polizist blickt den Bus entlang.
The police officer looks along the bus.
to drive along
Meine Familie fährt gerne den See entlang.
My family likes to drive along the lake.
“entzwei-” is an easy prefix to understand. It means “in two”, so whatever the action of the verb is, it is being done in such a way that something becomes two parts. You can see that in the following examples:
to bite in two
Mein Sohn beißt den Bleistift entzwei.
My son bites the pencil in two.
to go in two, fall into two pieces
Meine Brille ist entzweigegangen.
My glasses broke in two.
to rip in two
Der Lehrer reißt meinen Aufsatz entzwei.
The teacher is tearing my essay in two.
One that makes it into almost every textbook is “fern-”. This prefix is incredibly rare. It means “far”, but is generally translated with the English prefix “tele-”. The most common of these is “fernsehen”, which is “to watch TV”. It is literally “seeing far”, but that’s exactly what television is. Vision – seeing, tele- – far. Here are a few examples of fern-.
to watch TV
Heute Abend sehen wir nur fern.
This evening we are just watching TV.
to keep away
Ich halte meine Kinder von Politikern fern.
I keep my children away from politicians.
to control remotely
Das Kind lenkt das Auto fern.
The child controls the car remotely.
“für-” means “for” or “in one’s stead”. Nowadays “für” is used as a preposition or a prefix for nouns made from archaic verbs. For example: the verb “fürsprechen” is to advocate or to speak for someone. This hasn’t been used like this in a couple hundred years, but the noun “Fürsprecher” still remains and you can use the combination of “für” as a preposition and “sprechen” to mean the same as the old verb “fürsprechen”. Since this video is about lesser used prefixes, I thought it needed to be included, but there are very few verbs that actually use this as a prefix and those that do are archaic or seldom used. I’m not even going to give examples of its use in sentences, as there aren’t really any examples to be given.
Another one that is mostly used as a prefix for nouns made from out of use verbs is “gegen-”. This prefix means “against”, but doesn’t have to be literal. “gegenchecken”, for example, is like the English verb “double check”. It could also be thought of as “counter checking” or “re-checking”.
to double check
Wir müssen alles das, was er sagt gegenchecken.
We have to double check everything that he says.
Er zeichnet den Vertrag gegen.
He countersigns the contract.
As a preposition “gegenüber” means “across from”. As a prefix, it means the same, but it is saying that whatever the action of the verb is, is being done in such a way that the subject travels to a position across from something or someone else. For example:
to be faced with, suddenly see someone in front of you (unexpectedly)
Plötzlich sah ich mich dem Verbrecher gegenüber.
Suddenly I was faced with the criminal.
(Literally: Suddenly I saw myself across from the criminal.)
to sit across from
Der Mann und seine Noch-Ehefrau sitzen sich gegenüber.
The man and his soon-to-be ex-wife are sitting across from each other.
to walk in front of
Bigfoot ist mir gerade gegenübergetreten.
Bigfoot just walked in front of me.
A “Tritt” is literally one step. To be more precise, lift one of your feet and put it back on the ground, that’s a Tritt. The direction of this movement/action is not important, but is expressed by context. That’s why you can say “auf der Stelle treten” (to tread water or not make any progress), “jemanden treten” (to kick someone), “zurücktreten” (figuratively to resign and literally to step back). “Treten” is the sequence of doing Tritte. If you use the verb “gegenübertreten”, you are stopping in front of someone. Bigfoot didn’t continue walking after he stepped in front of me. He just stood there for a bit.
The prefix “heim-” isn’t very common. It simply means home, so there is a finite number of verbs that you can use it with. You can go home, drive home, fly home and so on, but that is pretty much the extent of it. Here are a few examples.
to go home
Ich gehe jetzt heim.
I am going home now.
to bring home
Wir bringen morgen unseren neuen Hund heim.
Tomorrow we are bringing our new dog home.
to lead home
Ich war so müde, dass mein Hund mich heimführen musste.
I was so tired that my dog had to lead me home.
The prefix “hinterher-” means “afterwards” or “after that”. It is basically a prefix that functions as an adverb. Here are a few examples.
to follow, come after
Nach dem ersten Auto kamen vier SUVs hinterher.
After the first car four SUVs followed.
to throw at someone (from behind or as they are leaving)
Der Mobber warf dem Mädchen Steine hinterher.
The bully threw rocks at the girl as she left.
to lag behind (literally: to limp behind)
Die USA hinkt der Europäischen Union hinterher, wenn es darum geht, COVID-19 unter Kontrolle zu bringen.
The USA is lagging behind the European Union when it comes to getting COVID-19 under control.
A relatively popular prefix is “los-”. This prefix indicates that something is starting, such as in the verbs “losgehen” (to start) or “loskichern” (to stark snickering/giggling). It can also mean “away” as in the verbs “losketten” (to unchain) or “losbekommen” (to get something loose/off). And now, examples.
to start driving
Sobald ich meine Mutter sehe, fahre ich los.
As soon as I see my mother I start driving (away).
to get something loose/off
Mein Vater konnte den Deckel nicht losbekommen.
My father couldn’t get the lid loose/off.
to untie, let loose
Der Jäger bindet den Fuchs los.
The hunter is untying the fox. (The hunter is letting the fox loose.)
If you are familiar with the preposition “neben”, which means “next to”, you will understand this prefix pretty easily. It indicates that two or more things are immediately adjacent to each other. As with the prefixes “gegen-” and “für-” the prefix “neben-” is mostly used for nouns now.
The nouns created with this prefix (and the others for that matter), are usually noun versions of verbs. For example: “darstellen” is “to act”. A “Darsteller” is an actor. A “Nebendarsteller” is a supporting actor. You might also see this prefix combined with “einander” to become “nebeneinander-”, which you can see in the verb “nebeneinanderhalten” (to hold next to one another). All of the other verbs like this are incredibly similar: nebeneinandersitzen – to sit next to one another, nebeneinanderstellen – to place next to one another, and so on. You get the idea. Here are a few examples for good measure.
to hold next to one another
Der Verkäufer hält die Ohrringe zum Vergleich nebeneinander.
The salesman holds the earrings next to each other for comparison.
to sit next to one another
Meine Eltern verweigern nebeneinanderzusitzen.
My parents refuse to sit next to each another.
to place next to one another
Der Kellner stellt die Gläser nebeneinander.
The waiter puts the glasses next to each other.
The prefix “nieder-” indicates a downward direction. This is apparent in verbs like “niederbeugen” (to bow down) and “niederbrennen” (to burn down). Here are some examples in sentences.
to bow down
Der Ritter beugt sich vor dem König nieder.
The knight bows down before the king.
to burn down
Tina Weymouth brennt das Haus nieder.
Tina Weymouth is burning down the house.
to turn/push downwards
Als ich die Türklinke niederdrückte, sah ich den Schatten hinter mir.
As I turned the door handle, I saw the shadow behind me.
To add the idea of a continuation or onwards motion, use the prefix “weiter-”. For example:
to drive on, continue driving
Nachdem wir getankt haben, sind wir weitergefahren.
After we filled up on gas, we drove on (continued driving).
to move on, continue on
Die Nomaden zogen weiter.
The nomads continued on.
to continue talking
Nachdem er einen Schluck Wasser getrunken hat, hat er weitergesprochen.
After he took a drink of water, he continued talking.
The word “zurück” means “back”. As a prefix, it makes a verb return to the origin or go back to something where it previously was. For example:
to come back
Sie kamen um 3 Uhr morgens von der Party zurück.
They came back from the party at 3 am.
to bring back
Mein Nachbar hat meine Werkzeuge nicht zurückgebracht.
My neighbor didn’t bring back my tools.
to hold back, restrain
Der Biergarten hält ein Euro als Pfand zurück.
The beer garden keeps a Euro as a deposit.
The prefix “zusammen-” means together. Whatever the action of the verb is brings two or more things or people towards each other. For example:
to push together
to sit together
Der Kellner schiebt die zwei kleinen Tische zusammen, damit wir alle zusammensitzen können.
The waiter is pushing the two small tables together so that we can all sit together.
to grow together
Es dauerte sechs Wochen bevor mein Beinknochen wieder zusammenwuchs.
It took 6 weeks before my leg bone grew back together.
to tie together
Herr Antrim bindet seine Maske hinter seinem Kopf zusammen, damit sie nicht immer auf seine Ohren drücken.
Herr Antrim ties his mask together behind his head, so that it doesn’t always push on his ears.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this lesson, these prefixes are less common than the ones I talked about last week. If you haven’t seen that video or the others in this series about prefixes added to German verbs, you can see them all in this playlist linked here. Das ist alles für heute. Danke fürs Zuschauen. Bis zum nächsten Mal. Tschüss.