Separable Prefix Verbs in German (Trennbare Verben)

In this lesson I will teach you how to use the separable prefix verbs in German (also known as “trennbare Verben”). I explain when to separate the prefix from a German verb and when not to. I’ll also show you a list of the separable prefixes. You will learn how these separable verbs work and how to use a variety of separable verbs in German through a ton of example sentences. In my next few lessons I will focus on smaller groups of prefixes and how they change the meanings of the verbs. 

If you want an awesome way to help you remember which prefixes are separable, check out this video from the YouTube channel Learn German with Music. I wrote the song and they brought it to life.

Practice what you learn in this lesson with a worksheet and answer key available here.

Separable Prefix Verbs Rules Overview

In this post I will explain the following rules in more detail with example sentences for each. If you are looking for a quick overview of how to use the separable prefix verbs in German, these are the rules you need to be able to apply.

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  1. When the separable prefix is used in a simple sentence in the present or simple past tense, put the prefix at the end. 
  2. If you need to use the infinitive of the verb, put the prefix back on the front of the verb. 
  3. When that infinitive requires “zu”, put “zu” between the prefix and the rest of the verb. 
  4. If you are using a past participle, the ones used in the Perfekt, Plusquamperfekt and Futur 2 tenses, put the ge- between the prefix and the rest of the verb. 
  5. When you are using a subordinate clause with a separable prefix, you put the conjugated form of the verb with the prefix at the end of the clause or sentence. 

What are German Verb Prefixes?

First off, let’s talk about prefixes in general. If you didn’t watch last week’s video about inseparable verbs, shame on you, but don’t worry, I will repeat myself a bit here. German verbs are often modified with prefixes. They change the meaning and morph one verb into another. 

For example, the verb “geben” is often translated as “to give”, but when you add the prefix “aus-” we translate it with the English verb “to spend”. While this does more accurately represent the usage of the verb “ausgeben”, you can also translate it as “to give out”. This tells us the prefix aus- changes the direction of the “geben” from a more general non-specific “away from the subject” direction to a slightly more specific “outward” direction.

Basically every verb in German has a direction of sorts. The direction of “lernen” is “from less to more”. For the verb “leben” the direction is “forward”. The direction of “singen” is “from your mouth away”. These directions are changed by prefixes.

Most prefixes, like “aus-” are separable. This means that the prefix is often moved to the end of the sentence. For example: 

Ich gebe zwanzig Euro für das Konzert aus.
I am spending twenty Euros for the concert. 

List of Separable Prefixes in German

The list of separable prefixes is considerably longer than the list of inseparable prefixes I explained last week. That’s why there is no way I could cover them all in one video, but you can see them below. Today I’ll use a variety of these prefixes to illustrate the rules for how to use them in a variety of situations, but for those of you who just want to know which prefixes are separable, there you go. 

ab-an-auf-aus-auseinander-
bei-da-dabei-dar-daran-
dazwischen-ein-empor-entgegen-entlang-
entzwei-fehl-fern-fest-fort-
frei-gegenüber-gleich-heim-her-
herab-heran-herauf-heraus-herbei-
herein-herum-herunter-hervor-herüber-
hin-hinab-hinauf-hinaus-hinein-
hinterher-hinunter-hinweg-hinzu-hoch-
los-mit-nach-nebenher-nieder-
statt-vor-voran-voraus-vorbei-
vorweg-vorüber-weg-weiter-zu-
zurecht-zurück-zusammen-

If you want to focus on the most used ones, you can start with this slightly shorter list. They are the most commonly used separable prefixes in the German language.

Separable Prefix List
Separable Prefix List

When to Separate a Separable Prefix from the Verb

Most of the time, separable prefixes will be separated from the main part of the verb, hence the name. When they are separated, they go to the end of the sentence or clause in which the main part of the verb was used. For example: 

Der Junge hat einen Mantel an. - The boy has a coat on.
Der Junge hat einen Mantel an. – The boy has a coat on.

abräumen
to clear off 

Das Kind räumt den Tisch ab.
The child clears off the table. 

The main part of the verb goes where the conjugated verb usually goes. In statements this is most commonly the second position, but I’ll show you some examples later in which the verb is moved to a different location. The prefix ab- is moved to the end of the sentence right before the period. Let’s try a few more of those before I move on to a different rule. 

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ankommen
to arrive 

Wann kommt der Zug an?
When does the train arrive? 

aufgeben
to give up, surrender 

Sisyphus gibt nie auf.
Sisyphus never gives up. 

beitreten
to join

Meine Frau tritt der Kirche bei.
My wife is joining the church. 

abgeben
to pass (ball)

Der Fußballspieler gibt den Ball ab.
The soccer player passes the ball.

ausgehen
to go out

Heute Abend gehen meine Freundin und ich aus.
This evening, my girlfriend and I are going out.

Präteritum Examples with Separable Verbs

All of the examples so far have been in the present tense. If you use the simple past (Präteritum) tense, nothing changes except the form of the verb used. Here are the same examples, but in the simple past. 

Das Kind räumte den Tisch ab.
The child cleared the table. 

Wann kam der Zug an?
When did the train arrive? 

Sisyphus gab nie auf.
Sisyphus never gave up. 

Meine Frau trat der Kirche bei.
My wife joined the church. 

Separable Prefixes in the Future Tense

If you use the verb “werden” to form the future tense, you push the verb to the end of the sentence or clause in the infinitive form, just like you would with any other verb. With the separable prefix verbs, this means that you put the prefix back on the main part of the verb, as the infinitive form of any verb with a separable prefix is simply that verb with the prefix attached. You put the emphasis of the word on the prefix and not the main part of the verb. This is the opposite for inseparable prefixes. For example: 

Der Junge wird einen Mantel anhaben. - The boy will have a coat on.
Der Junge wird einen Mantel anhaben. – The boy will have a coat on.

hinaufklettern
to climb up

Imse Wimse Spinne wird wieder hinaufklettern.
The Itsy Bitsy Spider will climb up again. 

fernsehen
to watch TV

Heute Abend werden wir fernsehen.
This evening we will watch TV. 

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Separable Verbs with Modal Verbs (Auxiliaries)

This rule also works when you use a modal verb in either the present or simple past tenses

weggehen
to go away 

Du musst jetzt weggehen.
You have to go away now. 

herunterladen
to download 

Als Kind konnten wir keine Musik herunterladen.
When I was a kid, we couldn’t download music. 

abnehmen
to lose (weight), take off

Ich muss 10 Kilo abnehmen.
I have to lose 10 pounds.

mitbringen
to take along

Was wirst du mitbringen?
What will you bring along?

Infinitival Clauses with Separable Prefixes

If the infinitive you are using requires “zu”, which I explained several weeks ago, you put “zu” between the prefix and the rest of the verb. For example: 

hochladen
to upload

Um dieses Video heute hochzuladen, musste ich den ganzen Tag arbeiten.
In order to upload this video today, I had to work the entire day. 

nachfragen
to ask, check

Anstatt bei ihrer Mutter nachzufragen, ist sie einfach ausgegangen.
Instead of asking her mother, she simply went out. 

Separable Verbs in the Perfekt Tense

When you use a separable verb in the Perfekt tense or any of the tenses that are based off of it, you put the ge- part of the past participle between the prefix and the rest of the verb. The past participle still goes where it normally would, the end of the sentence or clause. For example: 

Der Junge hat einen Mantel angehabt. - The boy had a coat on.
Der Junge hat einen Mantel angehabt. – The boy had a coat on.

stattfinden
to take place

Die Versammlung hat im Konferenzraum stattgefunden.
The meeting took place in the conference room. 

zuhören
to listen (to)

Mein Sohn hat mir nicht zugehört.
My son didn’t listen to me. 

zurückgeben
to give back

Dein Bruder hat mir mein Geld nicht zurückgegeben.
Your brother didn’t give me my money back.

vorbeikommen
to come by

Meine Mutter ist gestern vorbeigekommen.
My mother came by yesterday.

Perfekt + Separable Prefix + Subordinate Clause

Don’t forget that when you use the Perfekt tense in a subordinate clause that the conjugated verb goes to the end of the clause, which means “haben” or “sein” is behind the past participle. For example: 

Als mein Bruder zurückgekommen ist, bin ich weggegangen.
When my brother came home, I left. 

Plusquamperfekt with Separable Verbs

As I mentioned these rules apply to the tenses based off of the Perfekt tense, too. This would include the Plusquamperfekt. 

Die Polizei hatte neue Informationen über den Banküberfall freigegeben.
The police released new information about the bank robbery. 

Futur 2 with Separable Prefixes

Or the Futur 2 (future perfect). 

Meine Mutter wird schon eingekauft haben.
My mother will have already shopped. 

Passive Voice with Separable Verbs

Or even the passive voice. 

Die Informationen wurden von der Polizei freigegeben.
The information was released by the police. 

Subordinate Clauses with Separable Prefixes

If you are using a verb with a separable prefix in a Nebensatz or subordinate clause, you put the prefix and the rest of the verb together even if the verb is conjugated. For example:

Falls der Junge keinen Mantel anhat, gebe ich ihm einen Mantel. Ich gebe ihm einen Mantel, falls der Junge keinen Mantel anhat.
Falls der Junge keinen Mantel anhat, gebe ich ihm einen Mantel. Ich gebe ihm einen Mantel, falls der Junge keinen Mantel anhat.

einkaufen
to shop, buy

Wenn er einkauft, bringt er seinen Hund nicht.
When he shops, he doesn’t bring his dog.  

vorbeikommen
to come by

Meine Mutter fragt, ob meine Freundin vorbeikommt.
My mother is asking if my girlfriend is coming over. 

By the way, if you want to learn how to use conjunctions like “wenn” or “ob”, I recently made a video about that.

vorhaben
to have planned

Was ich heute vorhabe, ist ins Kino zu gehen.
What I have planned for this evening, is to go to the movies.

zumachen
to close

Die Tür, die du gerade zumachst, muss offen bleiben.
The door that you are closing has to stay open.

Rules for Separable Prefix Verbs Recap

I know I have explained a ton of rules today, so let’s do a quick recap so you can see it all together. 

  1. If the separable prefix is used in a simple sentence in the present or simple past tense, put the prefix at the end. 
  2. When you need to use the infinitive of the verb, put the prefix back on the front of the verb. 
  3. If that infinitive requires “zu”, put “zu” between the prefix and the rest of the verb. 
  4. When you are using a past participle, the ones used in the Perfekt, Plusquamperfekt and Futur 2 tenses, put the ge- between the prefix and the rest of the verb. 
  5. If you are using a subordinate clause with a separable prefix, you put the conjugated form of the verb with the prefix at the end of the clause or sentence. 

Since I know you like having songs for everything, here is a really terrible song I wrote forever ago about separable prefixes. I think it is one of the most cringeworthy things I have ever done, but my students think it is fantastic.

Practice the Separable Prefix Verbs in German

In the video above, I briefly explain how separable verbs work in German. I then show an example worksheet about German separable verbs from his A1/A2 video series, which you can download here. In addition to this worksheet, you will get access to 50 lessons including worksheets, answer keys, video scripts and more, all for FREE!

If you want to learn even more about this topic, click here to download the new extra materials I created about separable verbs, which includes a new worksheet, answer key and guided notes sheet.

Separable Prefix Skit

A: Was hast du heute vor?

B: Ich sehe gerade fern und später kaufe ich im Kaufhaus ein.

Prefix Basics

Manche Verben haben trennbare Präfixe. Wenn man solche Verben in einem einfachen Hauptsatz verwendet, setzt man das Präfix ans Ende des Satzes.

A: Hol mich ab, bevor du einkaufen gehst! Wir können zusammen gehen.

Das Präfix steht am Ende des Satzteils, wenn das trennbare Verb in dem Hauptsatz steht.

B: Das kann ich, aber zuerst ziehe ich mir neue Kleidung an. Ich rufe dich an, wenn ich bereit bin. Hör auf, diesen Lärm zu machen! Ich spreche am Handy!

A: Was ist das?

Prefixes in Present Perfect (das Perfekt)

B: Das ist mein kleiner Bruder. Er hat angefangen seine Tuba zu spielen. (zum Bruder) Warum räumst du dein Zimmer nicht auf?

Wenn der Satz im Perfekt gebildet wird und es ein trennbares Verb gibt, stellt man die Buchstaben “ge-” zwischen das Präfix und den Rest des Verbes.

C: Warum nimmst du nicht zehn Kilo ab?

B: Worüber redest du? Ich sehe gut aus. Schlaf wieder ein und lass mich in Ruhe!

B: Mach die Tür zu!

C: Ok

B: Also, wo waren wir. Ach ja. Wir gehen bald weg.

Separable Prefix Verbs as Infinitives

B: Darf ich vorstellen? Nerviger Bruder, Freund. Freund, nerviger Bruder. Es tut mir sehr leid, aber er kommt mit. Meine Mutter hat gesagt, dass ich ihn mitnehmen muss. Deshalb nehme ich ihn mit. Er wird auf mich hören oder er wird nach Hause zurückgehen.

Wenn man das Verb als Infinitiv schreibt oder sagt, stehen die zwei Teile wieder zusammen.

A: Hey, dein Bruder läuft weg.

Separable Prefixes in Subordinate Clauses

B: Komm her! Komm zurück! Wohin gehst du? Wenn du nicht sofort zurückkommst, werde ich dich hier zurücklassen.

Wenn das Verb am Ende des Nebensatzes steht, konjugiert man das Verb wie in jedem anderen Satz, aber das Präfix steht wieder mit dem Verb zusammen.

A: Sollen wir ihm folgen?

B: Nein. Er kommt irgendwann zurück. Zuerst sehen wir uns ein Bisschen um. Ich lege mir noch eine neue Hose zu.

A: Gute Idee.

C: Ahhh.

B: Hör auf! Steh auf! Der Fußboden ist schmutzig. Denk mal drüber nach, bevor du etwas machst!

A: Ich glaube, es ist schon Zeit, dass wir nach Hause gehen sollten.

Separable Prefix Verbs Skit – Annotated

Herr Antrim

Herr Antrim is a German teacher with over 10 years of teaching experience. In 2011 he started his successful YouTube Channel "Learn German with Herr Antrim". In 2015 he created this website to enhance the German language lessons he was providing on YouTube. He is now the author of his own e-book, "Beginner German with Herr Antrim". He has also been featured on numerous blogs and other sites. *This site uses Amazon Affiliate links. If there is a link that leads to Amazon, it is very likely an affiliate link for which Herr Antrim will receive a small portion of your purchase. This does not cost you any extra, but it does help keep this website going.