German Prefixes Explained – “ver”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to another episode of German Prefixes Explained. A few weeks ago I asked you which prefix you want to talk about next. The results were no surprise. And so today we’ll talk about what is maybe the most confusing and yet most common one of them all, the prefix to end all prefixes, the chosen ONE, the last verb-bender, the Higgs-prefix itself…

ver

 

A prefix so elusive, you cannot ever get a hold of it… you have to just accept. Let it flow. So let’s take a minute, shall we. Get into comfortable position. Turn on some stereotypical new age cra.. uh …meditation music HERE … yeah. So soothing. Let’s just relax. Why explain, what can be best experienced. Breathe innnn… hhhhhhhhhhhh. Breeeeeeeathe …. out. Pfffffffffffffffff. Goooood. We’re relaxed now. All our stress, all our language anxiety …hhhhhhhhhhhh….. we exhale it….. pfffffffffffffffffff…. and it is gone. We’re deeply relaxed now.  Our mind is open now… German is our friennnnd.  Prefixes… they are our friennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnDs. Ver …. is our very very bestest friend. It is beautiful. Let’s now marvel at it …

  • verkaufen  – to sell
  • verstehen  – to understand
  • verführen – to seduce
  • verlieben – to fall in love
  • verlassen – to leave
  • verbrennen to burn
  • vergrößernto enlarge

Ver is… pun comin’ up…  extremely VER-satile. So when you look it up online you can find lists of up to 10 different meanings it can add to the verb.
But 10 is quite many. Too many. We at German is Easy we like things simple. One cup, one coffee. One steak, one salad. One prefix, one meaning. It is really hard to do that with ver but  I can tell you now that we will be able to reduce it to 2 and a halfling… I mean men… uh … I mean ideas… oh my, we haven’t even started yet, and I am already verwirrt (confused) :).

So… today we’ll go on a journey into the heart of the jungle of ver. We’ve got 4000 hostile words a head of us. It won’t be easy. It won’t be comfortable. It won’t be save. I’ll be frank. Not all of us will make it. But it will be worth it. So pack your bag, put on your tropical hat and bring some rations. We won’t be home for dinner.

The history of ver

When you search for the reason why ver is such an incredible mess you’ll soon find out that it is actually 3 prefixes, which just fused into one because people mumbled too much. The 3 existed in Latin, in old Germanic languages and in ancient Greek. And they still exist today. In English there are 4 now: perpre, pro and for(e). And sometimes, only sometimes… the connection between all those and ver actually shows… . Vergessen means to forget. Verschreiben means to prescribe. Verlängern means to prolong.
But for the most part the knowing about this relation is totally worthless because, in fact, the 3 English prefixes are very messy too. They do not by any means represent clear cut fleshed out concepts. Take  prolong, prohibit and product… whatever the pro adds here… it certainly doesn’t add the same idea to both verbs. Or what about prescribe and proscribe. Why do the words mean what they mean? Why not the other way around? And it is not only like that in English. I believe that also in the Roman languages those prefixes are a little blurry.
The reason for all this is that all those prefixes go back to one single  Indo-European root … the root *per.

This one root is the base for all of them… pre, per, pro, for(e), ver, some instances of pri (prime, price or principle,.. ) and also the German word für and vor.
Wow. So this root was really incredibly productive and all kinds of concrete and abstract meanings were derived from it. The original idea however is rather basic:  beyond some sort of boundaries.
In the post on Erfahrung we’ve already encountered that idea. We said that the word experience which has the idea of leaving your village in it. You exit your perimeter. This is one application for the basic idea of the root… the going beyond boundaries. Seems like this concept is an integral part of what humans do or how the see the world. At least this would be an explanation why this one tiny root could make such a career. It was adopted, altered, shifted and interpreted in all kinds of ways. I mean… just think about how many different words you know that have this root in them. It is crazy.
Anyway… so this original idea is actually incredibly helpful for ver. But we have to see it as a very abstract concept and words might not be the best way to frame that, because they’re too limited. So instead of words let’s try with an image. This is basically my interpretation of the Indo-European root … I’ll call it

“the essence of ver”.

meaning-of-ver

We are still relaxed… We will not think “WTF?”… hhhhhhhhhhhh… pfffffffffffffffff…. the image our friennnnnnnnnnnnnnd :).
Seriously though. We can use this image to make sense of almost all ver-verbs that are out there…
But before we get to the meat, I want to first talk about a certain sub group which is pretty clear, consistent and easy to use. The wrong-vers.

Ver as in wrong

The prefix ver can add the notion of wrong or miss to a verb. Probably best example is verlaufen.

What’s with the blue mich stuff you ask? We’ll get to that in a minute. Try to accept it for now. Relax. Breathe. The blue mich stuff is your frien… okay, enough.
The same idea of loosing your path can be added to pretty much any word of movement…. like verfahren, verfliegen or verschwimmen… and even spazieren (to go for a walk).

Now… the word verspazieren does not really exist. But this meaning of the ver-prefix is so consistent and clear, especially in combination with words for travel, that any German will immediately understand it and probably find it witty (they won’t show it though).
Anywho… this wrong-concept of ver is not limited to movement. Whichever activity you can do in a wrong way… in theory you can express that by adding ver. 

  • “45 Euro für 3 Bier und eine Schälchen Nachos??? Ich habe mich wohl verhört….  Sie müssen sich verrechnet haben.”
    “Nein, die Preise stehen so in der Karte…. 1 Bier 10 Euro und Nachos 15”
    “Was? Das steht da nicht.”
    “Doch, das steht da… vielleicht haben Sie sich verguckt.”
  • “45 Euro for 3 beers and a tiny bowl of nachos??? I didn’t hear that correctly I suppose… You must have miscalculated
    “No, those are the prices that are written in the menu… 1 beer 10 Euro and nachos 15.”
    “What? It does NOT say that.”
    “Yes it does. Maybe you have “mislooked”/misread.”

So… is all I have to do adding a ver?  Like… kochen is to cook then verkochen should be to “miscook”. Well, no… you have to add something else… the blue self reference that we’ve seen everywhere. In jargon it is an accusative reflexive pronoun… yeah… but we’ll call it blue self reference. If you want to create the word “miscook” then you have to add one.

The big question we all have now is why. It doesn’t really make sense when you translate it and to be frank… it also doesn’t make sense in German. Unless we change our way of thinking…. let’s take sich verlaufen as a prototype… to “miswalk“(to get lost).  Now, let’s try to see it as more of a misguiding. The verb to guide needs someone who is being guided… and that is yourself. That is the blue self reference. You guide your walking and you misguide yourself… you verlaufen yourself.  We can take the idea of misguidance as the basis for most of the verbs with the wrong-ver

  • sich verschreiben (make a typo)  – you misguide your writing
  • sich verrechnen (miscalculate) – you misguide your doing math
  • sich verlesen (misread) – you misguide your reading
  • sich verliegen (getting achy limbs by lying the wrong way) – you misguide your lying … what a word :)
  • sich vermalen (mispaint) – you misguide your hand while painting
  • sich verwählen (misdial) – you misguide yourself while choosing the numbers

This way of thinking also helps to remembering that all those verbs, most of the wrong-vers, do NOT take an object. You can kochen pasta but you cannot “verkochen” it. You can just misguide your cooking…. you can dich verkochen.
Sure… as always there are exceptions. There are wrong-vers that do take an object.

The reason for this might be that this ver can be interpreted as a different ver… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For the most part, the wrong-vers do work with a sich, mich, dich, or so.

Now… there is one questions we need to talk about that will also help us understand the wrong-ver even better.

  • Can verbs with the wrong-ver also have a different ver-meaning, too? Can verschreiben also mean something else?

The answer is YES! And “can”  is actually an understatement. I’d say ALL of them have other meanings that have little in common with the wrong-idea.

Verschreiben can mean to make a typo (then it comes with a pretty blue self reference :) and to prescribe. Even our fictional verspazieren does have another meaning… we’ll get to it later… but it is actually the more common one and you can find it on Google. Isn’t that why we love German?

German™! Because even words that don't exist have 2 meanings.

And the one thing that usually gives away the wrong-ver is in fact the self reference.

Now… the reason why the sentences mean what they mean is NOT grammar… it is pure convention. I can interpret the second sentence in a different way.

  • The doctor prescribes hermself (… as a remedy.)

I mean… why not?

  • “Will I be ok, Dr. Grey?”
    “Oh yes, I prescribe you: myself…. 3 times a day.”
    “Awesome… best illness ever.

But in the real world the other option makes way more sense so this is what my brain understands first. Similarly I could understand the first sentence differently.

  • Der Arzt verschreibt eine Tablette.
  • The doctor misspells a pill.

Like… he writes… “Aspiran”… the other meaning, the prescribe-one is just soooooo much more likely that I automatically interpret it that way.
So… the fact that verbs with the wrong-ver mostly come with a self reference is actually NOT there because grammar wants it. It is there because the other version, the one with an object, usually means something different or is interpreted in a different way. But there is ample room for puns.
Let’s do one more example. Verschlucken means to swallow (as does schlucken but we’ll get to that later)

Literally, we’re saying “I swallow myself”. But unless a self eating fairy tale creature says that, this meaning just doesn’t make much sense. And so we interpret it in the other pattern we have in our heads… the misguiding way. That’s why it means to choke. Okay… actually, sich verschlucken is what you do BEFORE you choke…  just remember… you misguide yourself with the swallowing and bam… down the trachea goes the bite.
Now… there is one really really important thing to realize… not every self reference is a sign for a wrong-ver. There are many many verbs with ver that have a normal self reference. Just because you see sich or mich or dich or so and ver in a sentence doesn’t mean that the verb means something with wrong. Just keep the wrong-idea in mind… and if you see a verb with ver… try it out and see if it makes sense in a certain context.

All right.  So… ver can add the idea of wrong or mis to a verb. It  will almost always contain a self reference and take no other object. That’s why the English translations of such words often have a different grammar. The ver and the self reference kind of expresses the idea of misguiding yourself with the doing.
If you add another object to it, then one of 2 the verb usually switches to one of its other meanings.

All right. Breathe :). I really hope that made sense so far. I know… all this talk about “misguiding yourself” and self reference and such is theoretical, contrived, annoying, difficult and incredibly boooooring. But I promise… this was about as grammatical as it gets. From now on we will set sail for a sea … of abstract.

ver – towards new shores

Remember the picture and the original root of ver ? That  going beyond some sort of boundary? Here it is again.

meaning-of-ver

Now, I promised that we can explain all vers with it it. And the one we just learned is actually incredibly simple to fit in….

There once was a little village called… “Circle”. Outside stretched a wild
forest beyond the horizon. Little Sam and little Pete, two boys of 10 and 12
years, had never left the fence without their mother. And even then they
didn’t go far into the forest. “The forest is a dangerous place.”,mom always
told them, “the forest lion will eat you.” But being boys, Sam and Pete got
bored inside the village. They felt ready for an adventure. So one day, they
packed up their little wooden spears and snuck away. The best hunters of the
village spent the following days forging the forest. But they could not find the
two boys. The whole village mourned the loss.

But then, it was almost a week later, Sam and Pete walked up to the wooden
gate. Their leather clothes were torn, they were dirty and Pete was limping.
But around their neck was hanging a tooth, a tooth of a forest lion and the 2
couldn’t look any more proud. “Lion tooth or no lion tooth… going into the forest alone was wrong of you?”, the mom said and tried to hide her relief. “We couldn’t find you. You must have
been far away.”, the hunter said. “Hmmm… looks like they’re young men
now.”, the old wise chieftain said.

Now you’re asking, why I am telling fairy tales here… what I am trying to illustrate is in what ways you can interpret the basic idea of ver… the going beyond boundaries. It can be a wrong.. for example if you go beyond the “boundaries” of spelling… but that is only wrong by convention.
And how can we ever explore if all we do is stay on well trodden paths?  Going beyond a boundary can be wrong.Leaving the village was wrong because mom told them not to. But going beyond a boundary can also lead to new experiences, it can mean change, transformation. They left as young boys and came back as young men who had hunted down a forest lion.
And, last but not least then lastly, from the perspective of the village… the boys were just away.
And those are the 3 main ways we can interpret the basic idea of verthe going beyond a boundary. It can be wrong, it can mean change and it can mean simply being away.
And the edges between those are blurry. Der Dampf means vapor,   verdampfen is to vaporize… that is change because water turns to vapor, but it is also away because the water will be gone. Verkleiden means to disguise (by means of clothing)… that is change, but it is also wrong because it is not you’re usual way of dressing and it is even away because people can’t recognize you anymore.
So… all those 3 ideas, that seem pretty different do in fact have something in common… and this common ground is ver.
Now it’s time to put this to the test. We’ll look all kinds of different words with ver and see how they tie in with this basic idea. So…. we’ll check out what the  ver-prefix does to nouns, to adjectives and to verbs. We’ll find that there is one other basic idea that sort of fits too and we’ll talk about some word that just don’t fit in at all. But we’ll do all that in part 2 :).
If you have any questions or suggestions so far or if you want to venture guesses about some ver-words then just drop me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

for members :)

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Filipe
Filipe

Hey, dude. How are you?

Could I say “Ich verkoche mich die Nudeln?” You said that we couldn’t say “etw. verkochen” (with the meaning of ‘wrong’) but could we say “sich etw. verkochen”?

Thank you!

Sus
Sus

All this, and nothing on verlieben??

Julia

talk about leaving us hanging!

Jurgen
Jurgen

Deine Prefix Artikel sind wirklich der Hammer! Ich finde die soooo interessant und hilfreich. Danke Emanuel :)

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Some of these are old/obsolete, technical or at least not commonplace. Nevertheless:

1. Moving away, apart: verfliegen, sich verlaufen (z.B. eine Volksmenge), verreisen, verschleppen, verspritzen

2. Moving from place to place: verlegen, verrutschen, verschieben, versetzen

3. Gradual ceasing of some action, process: verblühen, verglühen, verklingen, verrollen

4. Wrong, failed result: verbauen, sich verhören/versehen…, verreiten (ein Pferd), verblättern, verunzieren

5. Antonym, inversion: verachten, verbieten, verlernen, verbitten

6. Spending, usage, processing, wasting: verbauen (für Bau ausgeben), verbrauchen, verfahren (Geld, Zeit), verrauchen, versitzen, verausgaben, verauslagen, verkraften, versporten, verjuxen

7. Connecting, binding: verbinden, verknüpfen, verschweißen, verwachsen, verblatten, verbolzen, sich verkämmen, verknoten, verleimen, verzahnen

8. Covering or soaking smth. (literally or figuratively): verschneien, verschwitzen, vergolden, versilbern, verpesten, verseuchen, verschmutzen, verschnörklen

9. Creating “stumbling blocks”: verhängen, verlegen, verstellen, vertreten, verblocken, verminen, verriegeln, verbauen, vermauern, versperren

10. Change of state: verdorren, vergären, verkommen, versteppen, vertieren, vertorfen, verarmen, verblöden, verdeutlichen, vereinsamen, verlangsamen, verkäsen, verlumpen

11. Destruction, death: verbrennen, verdursten, verhungern, vergasen, vergiften, vernichten

12. “Intensification” of an action: verprügeln, verräuchern, verreiben, verwarnen

13. Unique stem words: verdauen, verderben, verdrießen, vergessen, verlieren

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Some of these can obviously be in other sections. E.g. vernichten as a change of state (10) (turning something into nothing), verbrennen as a higher-level brennen (12), etc.

Paola
Paola

Thumbs up for the icon. I can totally see the “change of state” and “going beyond boudaries” in the icon you used!..looks like a mix between the “start/power” icon and the “refresh page” one. Did you come up with that symbol? That’s really something! ;)

Andrew
Andrew

This was a really interesting start to “ver-“, I’m really excited for the next part!
Would you as a native speaker be able to apply “ver” to nearly anything and know intrinsically what it means, such as “vermaisen”? I thought up a few words like “verzukunften”, “verweihnachten”, “verklavieren” and such and they all had a few results, verzukunften only had two, I thought maybe there was another way to say it like “zukunftigen” or somethign like that. But these aren’t in the dictionary as far as I could find out, and I assume verweihnachten means to make something Christmassy, like some said they would verweihnachten their avatar, I guess by adding a Santa hat. And somebody also say some band or other “verklaviert” and “verschrammelt” a piece of music, does this mean they made the song very piano-y and like Schrammel music? What would your guess be for “verzukunften”?
I know this is probably a really silly question but can you use it with people’s names, like if some said a singer had made their outfits all crazy like Lady Gaga’s could you say they “verladygaga-en” their outfit? I was just curious because there seems to be no end to what Germans apply “ver” to :)

Thank you:)

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Ich glaube, dass obwohl es in diesem Bereich (was die ver-Wortbildung betrifft) vermutlich keine bestimmten grammatikalischen Beschränkungen geben soll, spielt trotzdem Phonetik/Geschmack/Sprachgefühl (oder wie auch immer es heißt) eine gewisse Rolle. Das heißt, man ist nicht wirklich in der Lage, ein schön aussehendes ver-Verb mit “Lady Gaga” zu bilden, deswegen habe ich Zweifel daran, dass es möglich wäre.

Tom
Tom

It happens on rare occasion that some words are constructed following accepted component such as the ver- prefix. Typically if the speaker wants to make a joke or appear awkward. I would not use “verklavieren” in regular speech, it is clearly “verspielen” in the context of playing music. Only if I would want to display my ineptness on a piano I would say something like that to make light of the situation. Definitely not a common word, but then it is a living language and things change. Maybe with the right exposure “verladygagaen” gets into the mainstream.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Offtopic: “der Elefant” ist ein schwaches Nomen, deswegen wird dazu in der Regel die en-Endung hinzugefügt, wenn das Wort in allen Kasus außer dem Nominativen steht. Ich habe aber neulich gemerkt, dass wenn kein Artikel mitm Wort verwendet wird, ändert sich das Wort auch nicht, d.h. “mit Elefant”, “von Elefant”. Ist das richtig? Ich würd vermuten, dass es so ist, weil man ansonsten nicht zwischen den Singular- und Pluralformen unterscheiden könnte. Oder?

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Wieder offtopic. Ich kann vielleicht die Frage nicht so gut formulieren, es geht aber um die Stammwörter, die von Verben abgeleitet sind. Beispielsweise gibt es “zug” für ziehen (Zug, Atemzug, Zugversuch…) und “stieg” für steigen (Umstieg, Ausstieg…). Meiner Erfahrung nach sind “zug” und “stieg” am gebräuchlisten in zusammengesetzen Nomen. Es gibt aber verschiedene Stämme, die von denselben Verben abgeleitet sind, nämlich “zieh” (Ziehzeit) und “steige” (Umsteigezeit). Weißt du vielleicht, weshalb diese Varianten entstanden sind? Hören sie sich für deine Ohren wesentlich anders an? Gibt es irgendein System oder irgenwelche Bedeutungsnuancen, wodurch sich diese Stämme voneinander unterscheiden? Ist “zieh” vllt “dynamischer” als “zug” (usw.)? Oder ist es nur ein linguistischer Zufall und irgendeine tiefere Bedeutung ist hier nicht zu suchen?

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

And another offtopic. In German I’m sort of “missing” a certain feature of Russian and English, which has to do with using participles in the past in this way: “having eaten a good lunch, he went…”. Now, I know that coupling of participles I and II is in principle possible in German. “gegessen habend”, that sort of thing. But I haven’t seen it outside of a few dictionary entries. So is it really ever used, and if not, are there any “elegant” ways to express this in German? Is it only “der Mann, der gegessen hat”?

Oliver Neukum
Oliver Neukum

You can use an independent Genitiv “Gefüllten Magens ging er … “

Lucius
Lucius

Brilliant Bravo !! Lucius

Anonymous
Anonymous

I hope you can explain the difference between ändern and verändern too :) vielen Dank!

jiamin
jiamin

thinking about exactly this question

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Noch eine Frage…

Ich habe eine Zeit lang geglaubt, dass sich das Subjekt in eingeleiteten Nebensätzen immer an erster Stelle befinden muss, und zwar wird das von einer Menge von Büchern bzw. Webseiten bestätigt, z.B.:

“Außerdem steht das Subjekt im Nebensatz an erster Stelle, direkt nach einem möglichen Junktor (= Bindewort – z.B. dass, weil, obwohl). Inversion gibt es also nur im Hauptsatz.”

Trotzdem finde ich immer mehr Beispiele dafür, dass diese angebliche Regel nicht immer gilt. Man google einfach nach “dass in Deutschland” (ein Beispiel aus der deutschen Übersetzung von Twains berühmtem, von der schrecklichen deutschen Sprache handelndem Aufsatz: “…dass in Deutschland ein Mann zwar glauben mag…”). Damit es nicht widersprochen wird, dass das nur in der Umgangssprache passiere, kann ich dazu hinzufügen, dass ich solche Sätze auch in ein paar sprachwissenschaftlichen Artikeln gemerkt.

Was ist also die Regel? Darf Subjekt um der Hervorhebung willen verschoben werden?

ypatia
ypatia

you are just perfect. I am in love with your way of thinking. I found this post trying to understand why responsibility is verantworung, ups ich habe mich verschreibt. so i was looking up ver and i found this. If you could write something concerning verantwortung i would be grateful.

ypatia
ypatia

thank you very much for the answer….

Polly
Polly

I have old family notes partially written in German, but some in English and they appear to say my 2nd Great Granmother was born in Verliz, Germany. Could that be wrong and they are trying to say moving away from Germany as in when she immigrated to America? I can not find a town or city in old or new Germany that is Verliz? Any help would be appreciated to translate that word or tell me if it was an actual place in 1847 when she was born. Thanks,

Al
Al

Zuerst, danke. Dieses Artikel ist sehr toll. Du erklaerst die Bedeutung von ver- ausgezeichnet. Eine Frage: Ich kann nicht verstehen, warum “verfuegen” bedeutet auf Englisch “to command”, denn “fuegen” scheint ein Gefuehl von “joining things together” zu haben.

Tut mir Leid, wenn du mein Deutsch nicht verstehst. Ich bin nur Anfaenger :D.

Anonymous
Anonymous

That was an AMAZING explanation, I enjoyed reading it so much, THANKS A LOT !

wassel
wassel

In fact, it is a very useful subject which enables one to fix and easily recognize words. I am a starter at German, and I find it difficult to take and memorise words as they are because as you know the human thinking is of two types- the analytical and integral one. I enjoyed reading every word written and the marvelous way that the writter used. Anyway, I am looking for more. Please tell us more about the other German prefixes. And thanks a lot.

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Hi!

Meine Lehrerin hat heute “verbleiben” benutzt, aber leider kann ich mich nicht mehr daran erinnern, in welchem Kontext war es (weil der Unterricht 3 Stunden gedauert hat…!). Wenn ich “verbleiben” in den Wörterbücher nachschlage, kann ich nur “to remain” finden, aber es muss einen Unterschied von bleiben gibt?

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Ich habe bitte noch eine “ver” Frage zu stellen!

Ich habe gerade das Folgende gelesen: “Die Altstadt von Pirat kann den venezianischen Einfluss nicht verleugnen”.
Als ich “verleugnen” nachschlug, fand ich heraus, dass es auch “leugnen” und auch “ableugnen” gibt.
Was wäre der Unterschied dazwischen? Könnte ich in dem oben genannten Satz auch “leugnen” benutzen oder würde das die Bedeutung subtil ändern?
Danke sehr im Voraus!