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Prefixed verbs with misleading roots, Part II

In Part I, we took a look at how some German prefixed verbs have meanings that don't have a clear relationship to their root words. Today, we'll take a look at some more examples.


As you probably already know, German verbs often use prefixes that change the meaning of their original root words. Usually, the prefixed verbs have a related meaning, however. For example, sagen ("to say") is related to besagen ("to state") by the fact that both words are related to speaking.


But in some cases, the relation of a prefixed verb to its root word is not so clear. For instance, untersagen means "to forbid," which in most usages refers to a law or rule rather than a verbal order. Its adverb strays even further from the root word: Es ist untersagt, den Raum zu betreten ("It is forbidden to enter the room").


Many such prefixed verbs are centuries old and stem from Middle German. They may have started off with a stronger relation to their root words, but as time went on, the meanings of the words may have changed.


Du musst endlich damit aufhören!

You have to finally stop this!

Caption 39, Die Pfefferkörner: Alles auf Anfang

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The root verb hören means "to hear." A beginner's mistake might be to think aufhören means "to listen to," but in fact it means "to stop" and has no obvious correlation to its root word. The prefixed verb for "to listen" is zuhören, by the way!


Die Zahl der Flüchtlinge zu begrenzen lehnte sie in dem Interview mit der Funke Mediengruppe ab.

Limiting the number of refugees is something that she rejected in her interview with Funke Mediengruppe.

Captions 38-39, Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten: Atomenergie und Flüchtlingspolitik

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In this case, the root verb lehnen means "to lean," but the prefixed verb ablehnen means "to reject." According to the word's etymology in the Digitales Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache, ablehnen has been in use since the 16th century, but unfortunately no explanation is given as to its connection with lehnen.


Ich würde vorschlagen, da machen wir einen Termin am Freitag um zwölf Uhr.

I'd suggest that we make an appointment for Friday at twelve o'clock.

Caption 26, Mein Weg nach Deutschland: Beim Arzt

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A mistaken correlation with the root word schlagen ("to beat" or "to strike") might suggest an army making a preemptive strike, but in fact, the meaning of vorschlagen ("to suggest") is much less aggressive. If making a kind of verbal suggestion to somebody instead of hitting them is possible, it's definitely the better way to go!


Last but not least, here's an example with the root verb stellen and the prefixed verb vorstellen. Note that the word vor in the first example is a preposition, not part of the verb.


Ich stelle den vollen Müllbeutel deutlich sichtbar vor die Haustür.

I place the full trash bag clearly visible in front of the front door.

Caption 37, Deutsch mit Eylin: Putzen

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Man stelle sich mal ein Europa vor, in dem alle Länder ihre Primärenergie ökologisch sauber zu decken versuchten.

Imagine a Europe in which all countries tried to cover their primary energy in a way that was ecologically clean.

Captions 25-26, Terra X Ohne Kohle und Atom: Geht uns der Strom aus?

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Further Learning
Look at this list of 375 verbs with prefixes and look out for prefixed verbs that are not closely related to their root verbs. You can also search the Lessons on Yabla German for various conjugations of the verbs listed above to see them used in different contexts.

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