15.8 Compound verbs

Some German verbs have a prefix (as we have already seen), some verbs are compound verbs as a combination of verb with preposition. These verbs are for instance:

anfangen = to start  
fallen = to fall  
hinfallen = to fall down  
umfallen = to fall over  
anfallen = to attack  
wegfallen = to be abolished

denken = to think  
ausdenken = to imagine, to invent

fahren = to drive  
wegfahren = to drive away, to go away by car (or train)  
hinfahren = to go some place (by car or train)  

Now there are some interesting details about these compound verbs. The conjugation is everything but easy:

Present tense
Ich fange an. = I start.
Ich falle. = I fall.  
Ich falle um. = I fall over.  
Ich falle hin. = I fall down.  

The preposition is separated from the conjugated verb and moves at the end of the sentence. We don't go into more details now, but it is the very end of the sentence (even with direct objects and attributes in-between).

Have a look at these phrases
= to stand sth, to bear sth
Wir halten das aus.
= We stand this.
Wir hielten das aus.
= We stood it.
= to soak sth
Ich weiche es ein.
= I soak it.
Ich weichte es ein.
= I soaked it.
= to cut sth
Ich schneide den verfaulten Teil ab.
= I cut the rotten part.
Ich schnitt den verfaulten Teil ab.
= I cut the rotten part.

And last but not least there are also perfect participles with these compound verbs - even though they are not as difficult.

Present perfect
Ich bin gefallen. = I have fallen.  
Ich bin umgefallen. = I have fallen over.  
Der Hund hat den Mann angefallen. = The dog has attacked the man.  
Das hat er sich ausgedacht. = He has invented it.  
Sie hatte lange nachgedacht. = She had thought for a long time.  
Er war am Morgen weggefahren. = He had left in the morning.  

Here you see that the perfect participles of these compound verbs are not that difficult. The participle remains the same and the preposition finds its place at the start of the word. Of course - if you want to see it that way - the ge- prefix is going in the middle between preposition and "normal" participle. The result is the same.

Actually there are two different types of these verbs; those ones that separate from their preposition and those ones that don't.


a verb that separates from its preposition
hinfahren =
Ich fahre mit dem Auto hin. = I go there by car.  
a verb that keeps the preposition  
überlegen = to think, to reflect
Ich überlege es mir. = I think about it.  

And to make things even more complicated: there are verbs that might act this way or that way and depending on that meaning something very different.


version I
umfahren = to knock down Er fährt ihn mit seinem Auto um.
= He knocked him down with his car.
  Er hat ihn mit seinem Auto umgefahren.
= He has knocked him down with his car.
version II  
umfahren = to go round
Er umfährt das Hindernis
= He goes round the obstacle.
  Er hat das Hindernis umfahren.
= He has gone round the obstacle.

The million-dollar question is how to know? First, from the context you'll know. Second there is a difference in the pronunciation. If the verb is separated the infinitive has the emphasis on the first syllable. If they stick together the emphasis is on the second syllable. But this is a minor detail of the German language that should not bother you too much at the moment.

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