Separable Verbs ✂️

Detachable Verbs: A Gentle Introduction

This page was updated in October 2022.

One Entity or Two

Just like a cup and saucer, the two parts of a German separable verb can appear as one entity or they can be detached and work as two separate parts. The dictionary entry is under the whole verb.

  • Tee zubereiten – prepare tea
  • die Kerzen ausblasen – blow out the candles
  • den Kuchen aufessen – eat up the whole cake
  • die Tasse und Untertasse abwaschen – wash up the cup and saucer

Separable Verbs in the Present Tense

In a present tense sentence, the base verb is conjugated and placed second, while the detachable prefix is sent to the end of the sentence.

Sentence Patterns

Key: conjugated base verbdetachable prefix

  • mitkommen – to come along: Ich komme gern mit. – I’d like to come along.
  • aufmachen – to open: Er macht die Tür auf. – He is opening the door.
  • aussehen – to look, appear: Du siehst hübsch aus. – You look lovely / pretty.
  • anfangen – to begin: Im Januar fängt sie ein neues Studium an. – In January she is starting a new course.

Four Types of Sentences

vorlesen to read aloud, read out

Present: Die Großmutter liest die Geschichte vor. The grandmother reads out the story.

Future: Die Großmutter wird die Geschichte vorlesen. The grandmother will read the story.

Add a Modal Verb: Die Großmutter möchte die Geschichte vorlesen. The grandmother would like to read out the story.

Perfect Tense: Die Großmutter hat die Geschichte vorgelesen. The grandmother has read out the story.

One Base Verb, Many Meanings

Base Verb: sehen – to see

The same base verb can have many separable prefixes. Here are just a few examples with sehen:

  • ansehen → to look at
  • aussehen → to look/appear
  • absehen → to foresee
  • fernsehen → to watch TV
  • hochsehen → to look up

One Prefix, Many Meanings

Prefix: durch – through

The same prefix can be used to create many detachable verbs:

  • durchblättern – to leaf through, turn over pages  
  • durcharbeiten – to work through something, go through it thoroughly
  • durchdenken – to think something through, think something over
  • durchhalten – to hold on, stick it out, persevere

A Highly Recommended Video

Video: Trennbare Verben | Separable Verbs

Inap from Deutsch mit Inap provides a very clear introduction to separable verbs, working through many useful examples.

Thirty Useful Separable Verbs: A Shortlist

abfahren – to depart
wegfahren – to go, drive away
aufmachen – to open
zumachen – to close
Bilbo macht die Tür zu.
ausgehen – to go out
mitkommen – to come along
anmachen – to turn on
ausmachen – to turn off
  • abfahren – to depart (vowel-changer: Der Bus fährt bald up)
  • abholen – to fetch, to pick up
  • absetzen – to drop off
  • anfangen – to begin (vowel-changer: Du fängst mit dem Essen an; er/sie/es fängt an)
  • ankommen – to arrive
  • anmachen – to turn on
  • anrufen – to ring up
  • (sich) anziehen – to get dressed
  • aufhören – to stop
  • aufmachen – to open
  • aufräumen – to tidy up
  • aufstehen – to get up, to stand up
  • ausgehen – to go out
  • ausmachen – to turn off
  • aussehen – to look like, appear (vowel-changer: du siehst toll aus)
  • (sich) ausziehen – to undress
  • einkaufen – to shop, go shopping
  • einladen – to invite (vowel-changer: Wen lädst du zu deiner Party ein?)
  • glattgehen – to got smoothly, to go off without a hitch
  • mitbringen – to bring along
  • mitkommen – to come along
  • mitmachen – to take part, to participate, work together
  • schiefgehen – to go wrong (literally: to go crooked)
  • vorbereiten – to prepare
  • vorschlagen – to suggest (vowel-changer: Was schlägst du vor?)
  • wegfahren – to go away, drive away (vowel-changer: Fährst du in den Ferien weg?)
  • zubereiten – to prepare food
  • zumachen – to close
  • zurückbringen – to bring back
  • zurückkommen – to come back, to return


Drag and Drop Quiz: Separable Verbs in Present Tense Sentences

Construct present tense sentences by dragging and dropping words into the right spaces.

This quiz is based on the examples on the page titled A Day of Separable Verbs.

This Quiz as a PDF Worksheet: A Day of Separable Verbs

Quiz: Using Separable Verbs in Sentences About Appearance and Personality

Practise using separable verbs in present tense and perfect tense sentences as well as in sentences containing a modal verb.

Quiz: Trennbare Verben: Ein kurzer Überblick | Separable Verbs: A Brief Overview

This is a simple multiple choice quiz with examples to clarify how separable verbs work in various types of sentences.

Page Picture Acknowledgements:

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