Separable verbs

There is a special group of verbs in German called separable verbs - trennbare Verben.

Luckily, they are easy to spot - they have an extra bit at the front, which is called a prefix. Sometimes this may be a preposition.

Separable verbs follow the same pattern as other verbs (weak or strong), but you have to do something extra:

  • chop off the prefix
  • conjugate the verb as usual
  • put the prefix at the end of the clause

Examples

  • aufstehen – to get up

Here auf is the prefix and stehen is the main part of the verb.

ich stehe um 7 Uhr auf - I get up at 07:00

But what you're really saying is: 'I get at 07:00 up'.

  • abfahren – to leave, depart (literally - to travel off/away)

Here ab is the prefix and fahren is the main part of the verb.

der Zug fährt um 8 Uhr ab - the trains leaves at 08:00

What you're really saying is: 'the train travels at 08:00 off'.

  • zurückkommen – to come back

Here zurück is the prefix and kommen is the main part of the verb.

wir kommen am Freitag zurück - we are coming back on Friday

What you're really saying is: 'we are coming on Friday back'.

Practising separable verbs

Hilfsvokabeln - Helpful vocabulary

Here's a list of useful separable verbs. Look at the bit which is in bold text - it should remind you to do something when using these verbs.

  • abfahren – to depart
  • ankommen – to arrive
  • aufmachen – to open
  • aufräumen – to tidy up
  • aufwachen – to wake up
  • fernsehen – to watch television
  • zuhören – to listen
  • zurückkommen – to come back
Question

Practise using separable verbs by translating the sentences below into English.

  • Die Geschäfte machen am Sonntag auf.
  • Sie räumt schnell auf.
  • Die Kinder kommen früh zurück.
  • Er sieht oft fern.
  • Hört ihr zu?
  • Der Zug kommt jetzt an.
  • The shops open on Sunday.
  • She tidies up quickly.
  • The children are coming back early.
  • He often watches television.
  • Are you listening? (plural, informal)
  • The train is arriving now.
Question

Try writing the following sentences in German and check your answers. Don’t forget what goes at the end of the sentence.

  • We wake up at 06:00.
  • She is arriving today.
  • I watch television in the evening.
  • The bus is leaving now.
  • Are you getting up? (singular, informal)
  • Wir wachen um sechs Uhr auf.
  • Sie kommt heute an.
  • Ich sehe abends fern.
  • Der Bus fährt jetzt ab.
  • Stehst du auf?
quote
Besser gut ausruhen als schlecht arbeiten – It is better to relax well than work badlydeutsches Sprichwort - German proverb

Did you know?

Shops in Germany are closed on Sundays – die Geschäfte machen am Sonntag auf.

However, it is starting to become more common for larger shops to open occasionally on Sundays, especially ones in the big cities.

It doesn't happen every week and will often be quite an event. It may also be accompanied by fairs and entertainment. It will be advertised as Verkaufsoffener Sonntag.

The only place to pick up basic food stuffs and provisions on a Sunday is at a garage or a railway station. But it's always better to stock up with everything you need on a Saturday in case you get caught out.

Shopping avenue, Leipzig, Germany
Sunday shopping is a rarity in Germany, so the streets will be particularly busy on a 'Verkaufsoffener Sonntag'