and welcome to another episode of “German Prefixes Explained”. And today it is time for the second part of the prefix:
In part 1 (here : ver part 1), we’ve learned a little about the history of ver- and we found the über old Indo-European root *per. The basic idea of that was the going beyond a boundary…. and it is still very much present in ver.
“the essence of ver“
This idea is so vague that it can be interpreted in numerous ways…
Crossing the boundaries of spellyng is wrong, crossing the boundary of friendship after a night out is change and crossing the boundary to another country or continent means being away… at least from the perspective of the ones left behind.
Last time , we already looked at the wrong-ver with its weird grammar so today, we’ll see what we can do with the other two ideas and if they are helpful in anyway. And to do that we’ll basically look at lot of ver-verbs… an a-ver-lanche of ver-bs we could say. Seriously… there are so many ver-words in German. If you wrote them one after the other the resulting chain of words would be 10 times the distance between the ea… oh wait, we have a call, hold on… this is “German is Easy”, you’re on the air.
“Hi my name is Jenny Chopper, great to be on the show…”
Hi Jenny, great to talk to you, what can I do for you…
“So… I am a mother and I made my kid want to learn a language.”
That’s great. All kids should must want to learn a language…
“Yeah… so… I was thinking German because it sounds like Elves singing…”
“Well… the thing is that my son is apparently allergic to ver … we just had to move away Vermont, because his face would be red all the time, you know. Now that you said, that ver is so common in German I was wondering if it is advisable for him to learn German and also I was wondering what you think of soy-ver? Is that any good?”
Great question Jenny… I get asked that a lot. German is indeed very ver-y … much more than Spanish, although it is maybe more visual there, but as you already suggested you soy-ver totally works as an alternative…. you can order it directly from here: Amazon.
“Oh awesome… thank you so much.”
I think… I think I drink too much coffee.
Oh god, this prefix is killing me. Just a warning…. this won’t be a short list today of “ver does this this and this”. I want to try and give you a feeling for the prefix and we’ll look at a lot of words. It’ll be very long… but it’ll also be boring, so it’s okay…
Ver – change
The going beyond a boundary idea can be interpreted as some sort of change. Something is in a certain way and then, after it “ver“-ed or was “ver”-ed, it is different. And maybe the best examples for this ver are the verbs that are based on an nouns… we’ve already talked a little about those in the comment on part 1.
We can add ver to nouns and the result can be a verb that basically means to turn into that noun.
- Das Buch wird verfilmt.
- The book is turned into a movie.
- Das Wasser verdampft.
- The water vaporizes.
Here, we can see the crossing of a boundary. Book crosses media boundaries, water crosses from liquid to gas. But actually the basic idea is not always to be taken completely literally… we really have to take it as just a very general guideline. The specific interpretations have a wide and random range. Very very wide, and very very random… just take vergolden and versilbern…. one could think they mean about the same… but they do not.
- Ich vergolde mein Fahrrad.
- I turn my bike into gold (basic idea)
- I gold-plate my bike. (real meaning)
- Ich versilbere mein Fahrrad.
- I turn my bike into silver (basic idea)
- I sell my bike … and when this verb evolved people were paying with silver.
I hope you’re not discouraged now :)… I think, most of the time the meaning of such a ver-word will be made clear by context…. as abstract as it may be
- Ich habe meine Prüfung verkackt…. (this words is used a lot in daily life.)
- I turned my exam into poo. (basic idea)
- I failed my exam.
- Das Gelände ist vermint.
- The area is mined.
- Maria versalzt die Suppe.
- Maria puts too much salt into the soup.
The last example is interesting because it nicely shows how close the idea of change and the idea of wrong can be… all she does is make the soup more like salt. We assume that it is too much salt and so it sounds negative to us. But that is really just convention. The verb happened to mean that and it could have just as well ended up as just to salt. Just as vergolden could as well mean to sell. It doesn’t because it just evolved differently. When talking about ver,we really have to accept a lot. There is not too much logic involved… we need to go with the flow, you know…. breathe in and all that :).
All right. Now,does any noun with a ver mean something like that and can we can add ver to any noun and get something like this? Well, no and yes… remember that change was only one of 3 ways to interpret the essence of ver and for some nouns it is the away that explains the meaning.
But the idea of turning into/making like is indeed very very strong. So if you take a random (we’ve done some playing around in the comments on part 1) noun like, say, Apple and you add ver, then people will interpret it as to turn into apple.
- Microsoft verapplet sein Tablet.
- Microsoft goes Apple (makes the tablet apple-y) with its tablet.
- Justin Bieber ver”vanilleice”t immer mehr.
- Justin Bieber turns Vanille Ice more and more.
The second example is a bit extreme… but Germans do invent new words with this method every day.
So… not all ver-words that have a noun in them do focus on change but the idea is definitely very strong.
And it is not limited to nouns. It also works with adjectives.
- Kaffee versüßt mir die Arbeit.
- Coffee sweetens my working.
- Mein Deutsch verbessert sich kaum.
- My German is barely improving …. (itself…not needed in English).
- Meine Miete hat sich verdoppelt, die von meinem Nachbarn verdreifacht.
- My rent has doubled, the one of my neighbor has tripled.
- iPhone 3G?? Pfffffff…. das ist doch total veraltet.
- iPhone 3G?? Pfffffff… come on, that is totally out of date.
And there are many words like that.
- vergrößern (enlarge, zoom in,…), verkleinern (shrink, scale down, …) , verlangsamen (slow down), verlängern (prolong, extend), verallgemeinern (generalize), …
So… can we do that with all adjectives? Unfortunately not. For some, it works but for others it doesn’t work at all. And there is no logic to it so no rules. Now some of you are like “Come one Emanuel, here must be a deep underlying system. It can’t be just random. You’re just too lazy to think “… well, maybe there is. I challenge you to find it. Just let me give you some starting points…. for instance the word for to make warm is NOT verwärmen but erwärmen. To make high(er) is NOT verhöhen but erhöhen. And to make it more confusing, the opposite of that is vertiefen. Erweitern is to make wider, verbreitern is to make broader…. both can mean to broaden. So… I really can’t see a system. The prefix just “happened”.For some it was ver for other it was er. And there is another random thing… some adjectives use the basic form… like ver-dünn-en. Others however use the more-form… ver-kleiner-n. The first one means to thin down, the second to shrink or make smaller. There is no reason why it is not verkleinen or verdünnern other than it just happened to be that way.
So… that means that we can’t really create new ver-words from adjectives and expect them to be correct. But – as long as we know the adjective – we can at least we can understand all such words… even the more abstract ones.
- Ich vertiefe mich in das Thema.
- I make myself deeper into that subject( lit.)
- I delve into that subject.
or the ones that are not bases on an adjective…
- Ich vernichte meine Dokumente.
- I destroy my documents.
- Ich verneine deine Frage.
- I answer your question in the negative.
By the way… the opposite of verneinen is bejahen … not verjahen. And the reason might be that ver always has a little tiny small negative touch… I mean… wrong and away. Both those ideas don’t really match up with ja.
So… this was the concept of change. It is very broad and can mean numerous facets but I hope you got an idea of it. We’ll need it again later. When you ask? When we get to the ver-verbs based on verbs :). Yeah… I am totally pushing this to the very end… but I think understanding the concepts first makes it easier later on. And yes, we will talk about verändern too :).
So let’s now flesh out the idea of away a little bit more.
ver – away
We’ve already seen, that to “ver-noun-en” something can mean to make that into or like that noun. But for some nouns, it doesn’t mean that. It means away. We already know verdampfen as to vaporize… water turns into vapor. But in daily life what matters more is that the water is gone. And actually in a lot of instances away is the same as change…. just from the perspective of those left behind. Anyway… not all verbs are as ambiol… ambula… uh… amberva… er… uh… not for all verbs, both ideas shine through….
- Endlich. Ein Bier. Ich bin fast verdurstet.
Durst means thirst. With the change idea in mind this would mean that I turn into thirst…. or I turned thirsty. Hmmm… kind of makes sense. But this is NOT the idea we need this time. We need to think ver as away …. I am “thirsting away”… can you already guess what it really means :)
- Finally. A beer. I almost died of thirst
Now, what about verdecken. A Decke is a cover, a blanket or a ceiling. So verdecken could either be something like to turn into a cover, or it could mean to cover away… and it is… the latter
- Die Wolken verdecken den Mond.
- The clouds cover/hide the moon.
Verdecken basically means to block the view. And this is interesting because it is a new aspect to the whole away-idea… something can be just a few meters from us.. if we can’t see it or get to it, it is still kind of away. So maybe we could say the away-ver puts things “out of reach“. And that will be very helpful later when we get to the verbs based on ver. Actually…. you know what… let’s just cut to the chase now.
No more beating around the bush. I think we got the concepts down, we’re ready to deal with all the verkaufens, verstellens, vergessens, verliebens and so on… so here we go.
verricane – enough said
There are so god damn MANY!!!!
It is driving me INSANE!
So… let’s just look at the away ones first.
- Ich verkaufe mein Auto.
Kaufen means to buy. Add the idea of away then you have “buy away“. If you think of to buy more as to trade then it suddenly is logical that verkaufen means to sell. Similar to that are
- Ich verleihe mein Buch nicht gerne.
- I don’t like lending out my book.
- Ich vermiete meine Wohnung.
- I rent out my flat.
- Ich verschenke mein Buch.
- I give away my book for free.
Here’s a really prominent one… vergessen. It means forget. And now what is forgetting? It is a reverse getting… like… getting is what goes is, forgetting is what goes out. Goes away. The for in English adds exactly the same idea to to get that ver is adding to all those verbs…
- “Did you understand the cases?”
“Yeah, I got it but then I forgot it again.”
And since we’re at ver and for…. vergeben. That looks an awful lot like forgive. But in German it also means just to give away.
- Ich vergebe dir.
- I forgive you.
- Ich vergebe einen Preis.
- I give away a price.
Or verteilen… just teilen is to share… verteilen is to distribute, to share out.
But let’s stop giving out things…. there are also many ver-verbs that focus on yourself.
- Die Blume verblüht.
- The flower withers (blooms away).
- Die Zeit vergeht. Die Liebe auch.
- Time passes by. Love fades.
Ohhhh… so negative. By the way… did you know why past is called Vergangenheit in German? Because it is vergangen. It passed.
What else could we take… my god, they are so many… verreisen... yeah let’s take this one.
- Ich verreise im Sommer.
Reisen means to travel. So what’s the difference between reisen and verreisen? Well, think of geben … you usually mention someone to give to in your sentence, with vergeben you don’t because the verb is just a generic to give away.And it is the same idea for verreisen. It means to travel away. Reisen often needs a destination.
- Ich reise nach Rom/durch die Welt.
Verreisen doesn’t need that because it has the destination built in… as a generic away. Saying “Ich verreise nach Rom” is a little redundant and sounds wrong to my ears. Verreisen is sort of reisen from the perspective of home. If you’re in a hostel in the Australian outback you cannot say “Ich verreise”. What you are doing is reisen. But your secretary (don’t we all have one) at home will tell people who are trying to call that you are “verreist“.
By the way… the exact same logic also explains the difference between schicken and verschicken … the latter is to send away.
But let’s get back to the secretary… if you are lucky and you have a sexycretary, you may want to seduce him or her…. because …affairs in the company are always a great idea. And what’s to seduce in German? Verführen. Führen means to guide… verführen means to guide away. It’s interesting because verführen has a little tiny bit of a negative touch to it because of the wrong-idea of ver. Verlaufen– to get lost, verführen – to seduce. So different and yet so close :).
What other words are there in the away-corner… ah… I know.. versagen. It means to fail. But it also means to deny someone something
- Ich versage dir deinen Anteil.
- I deny you your share.
This is the original meaning and it kind of ties in with the “restricted access interpretation of the away reading of the going beyond a boundary core“… uh…. what?… so… I basically block you verbally. You can’t get your share and thus, for you, your share is away…. oof I hope that makes sense.
Then,later on versagen was generalized and used whenever you wouldn’t get what you want… and so it took on the meaning fail.
Still … totally inside the verricane
Another really nice one is verbringen.
- Ich verbringe den Sommer am Meer… I wish
- I spend the summer at the sea.
Bringen means to manouver… uh… I mean to bring. Hmmmm… “I bring by/away the summer”… I don’t know.. to me it makes sense as to spend. And while we’re at the pass times… do you remember our fictional verspazieren from the first part? I told you that it has a second meaning… and here it is…
- Wir haben den Nachmittag verspaziert. (here’s a link for more examples)
- We “walked away”the afternoon.
In fact, you can do that with a lot of words…. you can vertanzen, vertrinken, verarbeiten an evening. It is always the same idea…. the bringing away the time.
Now… you can also vertrinken your money.. and the next morning you’ll verschlafen your appointment. It really just depends in context.
The prototype for that is another really confusing looking ver-verb…. verbrauchen. Brauchen is to need.. so… to need away??? What??? That really doesn’t make sense.
But brauchen actually used to be more of a “to benefit from, to use”… so back in the day you could only brauchen things you already had… that’s also why gebrauchen means to use. So… with that in our minds it suddenly makes total sense that verbrauchen means what it means… to consume, to use up. You benefit from it till it is gone. You “use it away“.
- Ich verbrauche viel Kaffee.
- I consume a lot of coffee.
This idea of using up/consume something is present in quite a few other words too.
- Thomas verbrennt die Briefe von seiner Ex-Freundin.
- Thomas burns the letters of his ex.
A letter can just brennen. Then I can still pour water over it. But the ver with its notion of away changes the meaning and now the letter burns completely. In fact let’s remember this completely-idea … here it is:
German and pink:
coly ete m lp
and incomple… moving on.
So… all those verbs we’ve seen have at their core the idea of away…. and there are many many more. But let’s move on to the other side… the change side. A word that is kind of right between change and away for me is verlieben. Lieben means to love. Verlieben is to fall in love.
- Thomas verliebt sich in Jane.
- Thomas loves himself away into Jane (basic idea)
- Thomas falls in love with Jane.
I used the away–idea here but you can just as well see it as a change. A person who is frisch verliebt (“freshly in love”) can be quite anno… uh different. But it doesn’t really matter if it is more away or more change. What matters is that it makes sense with the very idea of ver… the going beyond a boundary.
But let’s look at a verb in which change is obvious… for example verzaubern. Zaubern is to do magic. And ver adds the idea of change.
- Der Frosch ist ein verzauberter Prinz.
- The frog is a bewitched prince.
This is a pretty big change but also small things can make a difference… for instance moving an appointment because you have verführt your secretary.
- Ich verschiebe meinen Termin.
Schieben is to move something sideways by a pushing… so it can be to push or to shove or some others. Now schieben is just the act of doing so, ver adds the idea of a new position… similarly to verreisen. Only… verschieben doesn’t sound as far. That’s why I filed it under change and not under away… an appointment that has been verschoben is still there… just the time changed. But you can look at it the way that works best for you.
Now… when we speak of change, of course we MUST talk about ändern and verändern. Ändern means to change. So what could the ver add here? The truth is, that both words ändern and verändern are incredibly close. The only difference that I can see is that ändern feels smaller. This is more obvious for the nouns… Änderung is more like alteration, modification while Veränderung can be substantial change. The ver makes it sound a bit bigger and more definite. Don’t get me wrong though… there are quite a few situations in which you can exchange them.
Now… ändern is not the only word to which ver doesn’t really add much. It is the same for verschließen. Ver doesn’t add much other to schließen than the idea of “definiteness”. And hey… do you remember? We already had that earlier… the idea of completely. Ver doesn’t tip toe around… ver goes full force beyond the boundary. That’s also where the add comes from:
Ver™ by Calvin Kline – for those who go one step beyond
So… while schließen is just to shut or to close , verschließen is to lock… (by the way… the English foreclose is even more extreme)… And if there is no lock… well, then it is really just the “definiteness”… the thing is not just closed temporarily, it is closed for real.
- Ich schließe meine Augen.
- I close my eyes.
- Ich verschließe meine Augen vor dem Problem.
- I turn a blind eye to the problem.
So the ver is always a bit result oriented. And that is true for all vers we have seen. A ver-verb always has a result. Something is gone or different or wrong… but it is never just a process like just walking or sleeping. You can ärgern (tease) someone, that is a process but if you really do it until the person is pissed off… well.. then you have verärgert the person. That is also why ver-words are really used a lot as adjectives…like…
- The ver-blahblah thing….
Are we still talking about change by the way? I… I don’t really know… I guess not…. but it actually doesn’t matter… change and away … it just depends on the perspective I guess… and they’re all just interpretations of the going beyond a boundary. Ver is just incredibly vague. And it is really important to realize one thing to make peace with that words.
The meaning a ver-word has always makes sense when you think about it.
But another meaning would make sense too.
It has the meaning it has and it is okay like that.
You cannot expect to just look at a ver-verb and be able to deduce what it means. Just play around with the idea of going beyond a boundary… away… wrong… change… definiteness… they’re all one continuum. It is all good. Whatever ver-word comes…
The eye of the storm
Hahh…. finally it’s quiet. Our mind is relaxed. Our mind is light. Like a blossom fairy flies from flower to flower we fly around from concept to concept of ver…. it’s no problem for us that verbs have multiple meanings.
Verbauen can mean 2 things? Of course… duhhh… who doesn’t
- Ich verbaue das Holz.
- I use up all wood for my building.
- Ich verbaue dir die Sicht.
- I block your view by building my house.
Verstellen can mean even 3 different things? No problem… they all make sense to us…
- Der Schrank verstellt den Eingang.
- The cabinet blocks the entrance. (it is out of reach for me)
- Ich verstelle meine Uhr.
- I change the time of my watch.
- Ich verstelle mich.
- I sham. / I fake.
And verziehen means 3 things, too… well … why not 4…
- Ich verziehe (pull to different shape) mein Gesicht.
- I squinch up my face/I grimace.
- Verzieh (move away)dich!
- Get lost!
- Die Eltern verziehen (“mis-pull”)ihr Kind.
- The parents spoil their kid.
Verlaufen means multiple things? That’s natural… we move like a fish and we get them all….
- Das Meeting verläuft gut.
- The meeting goes well.
- Maria’s Make up verläuft.
- Maria’s make up is running.
- Ich habe mich im Wald verlaufen.
- I got lost in the forest.
Vertreten means more than one thing? Awesome
- Ich vertrete mir den Fuß.
- I hurt my foot by taking a bad step.
- Der Student vertritt den Professor.
- The student stands in for the professor.
- Ich vertrete meine Meinung.
- I stand up for m…. wait…
wait … what is that…. stand in for, stand up for… that… that doesn’t make sense with what we have… that does not make sense… oh god, and … what is that… vermissen… that doesn’t fit in either… and verdienen, verantworten, versorgen, verlangen oh my god… that… that is incredibly god damn annoying.
Back to the drawing board.
ver – for
So it turns out that there is one more aspect or concept ver has… and I’ll just say it right away… it is for. Not surprising at all considering that ver and for are related and there are couples like forgive-vergeben or forget-vergessen. But those use a different idea of ver… the one we need to clear up the rest of the words is the for as in for you. … does that fit in with our essence of ver? Well, yeah… it is like crossing the boundaries of a person …
You’re the circle now and you’re doing something for something or someone else… I hope that makes sense :)
So… one last time… let’s look at examples. Take vertreten. We’ve just seen that it means to stand in for or stand up for. Literally it is “step for”
- Ich vertrete dich.
- I step for you (concept)
- I can stand in for you (I don’t know if stand in is the correct word.)
And that works for many others too. For example verlangen. With the for-idea in mind this looks a lot like to long for. And that is not to far from the actual meaning to demand, to ask.
Another one is verdienen… it means to merit and to earn. And why does it mean that? Well, dienen alone means to serve. Add for and you’re there.
- I serve for (earn) 10 Euro per hour.
Or versuchen… suchen, which is related to to seek, means to search but when we have to look at the older version of suchen then we find meanings like to inquire and to investigate… and that is not so far away from to try.
- Ich versuche zu schlafen.
- I seek for sleeping (idea)
- I am trying to sleep.
Other words are verantworten (be responsible for), verdanken (to owe something to someone) , vermissen (to miss) or versorgen (to supply) and I think even verstehen fits in here… you stand for something… come on… it makes just as much sense as stand under something :).
Me personally I starting understand the influence of ver-fatigue. But I think we’re done. Yeahhhhhhhhhhh.
This was the German prefix ver… or at least an attempt at it :). The very basic idea that of going beyond a boundary.. that can mean to go wrong, that can mean a change, that can mean to away (including a restricted access) and that can mean to go for something other.
It is really a question of perspective. Sometimes people used it for this, sometimes for that sometimes for all of the ideas. And often it is really only context that makes it clear.
What all vers have in common is that they have some sort of “definiteness” to them. And probably because of all the words that are built with the wrong-meaning, many vers do have a little negative undertone…
- Im Sommer habe ich mich verliebt.
Im Herbst hab’ ich gemerkt: ich hatte mich verliebt.
- In summer I fell in love. I fall I realized I had chosen the wrong one.
We did by no means talk about all ver-words. Many important ones are missing. Some might not even fit in with any of the ideas. But we can just discuss those in the comments.
The goal of all this was to give you a feel for the prefix ver and all it’s facets. You really can’t get a hold of it… it’ll always be somewhat of a blur.
It is like a camp fire… you can’t really focus on one flame in the middle. You’ll loose it and get confused. But you can gaze at the fire as a whole for hours and never be bored. Because although it is and stays just a fire… it is never quite the same… just like ver … ugh… what a cheesy metaphor :).
If you have any questions about the post or if you want to talk about certain ver-words in particular then just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.
I came across the word “to perjure” today… and I can kind of see the German wrong-ver and the away-ver shine through… it is a really random thing, I know, but I was so excited that I just HAD to add it here :)