And welcome to the second part of our look at “The verbs whose real name we may not speak!”.
Because they don’t really have a name.
At least not officially, so we can basically make one up.
My first idea was Pepsi-Verbs, but Pepsi hasn’t replied to my sponsorship offer, so I went with a more descriptive name:
The r-versions and its cousins
These are essentially variations of a prefix verb.
For example, we have aufgehen – that’s our prefix verb. And then, we have also raufgehen (that’s the r-version), draufgehen (the dr-version) , heraufgehen and hinaufgehen.
At least the r-version is so common and so important in daily life that you can’t speak idiomatic German without it.
Let me say that again: you cannot speak idiomatic German without knowing the r-version.
In part one, we went over the all basics of the r-versions, and we saw why what most teachers, textbooks and courses have to say about them is… NOT CORRECT.
If you haven’t read that yet or you want to read it again, you can find it here:
Today, we’ll take a closer look at all the versions – the r-version, hin-version, her-version and dr-version. We’ll learn where they come from, what they express and why and what the differences are between them. And we’ll once more get a good look at German’s absolute obsession with being specific in a 3D space, and get some insights that are helpful way beyond these verbs.
And to round it all off, we’ll go over each version and get some practical usage advice.
It’ll be nerdy, it’ll be intense, but it’ll be a fun ride with a lot of aha moments. So if you’re ready, let’s jump right in.
rauf, drauf, hinauf, herauf – Why do these versions exist
The bulk of the German verb separable prefixes are prepositions. There are exceptions of course, like wieder or zusammen which are adverbs, but the most common prefixes like auf, an, über, unter, aus … they’re all prepositions.
Now, the function of prepositions is to express how objects and entities relate to each other and the most important and basic field are the relations in space. The cat is on the box, under the box, in the box and so on.
However, what prepositions CANNOT do is to constitute a location by themselves.
So you cannot use a preposition alone to “establish” a location in your sentence. Or in other words, prepositions by themselves cannot answer the question “Where?”.
- “The cat is somewhere at the bed.”
“Yeah, but where?”
We know from context that we’re talking about the bed, but still it doesn’t sound complete, simply because the preposition on cannot fill that role of “location” by itself.
It’s like they’re ONLY relation, but they don’t have any “substance”, if that makes sense.
So we need to combine them with something to create a unit that can play the role of location.
The most common combinations in English are with a noun:
- On the bed!
Or with a pronoun:
- On it!
But there’s a third way, and that’s by combining it with a more “generic” location word:
Some of you were probably now like “Uh… why is a Lord of the Rings character name here as an example?”
Oh yes… the epic saga of Thereon and Hereon.
But seriously, these combinations are not very common in English, especially not for actual 3D space.
But in German, they’re so common, they’re almost annoying. And there are mainly three words that play a role there. The first one is da, the German brother of there, which is a generic pointer to a location.
And then we have the two words hin and her, which don’t really have 1:1 English counterparts. They’re basically are generic representations of direction.
Because unlike English, for German it’s really important to make this explicit in language.
- hin – “to there” (a destination)
- her – “to here” (a destination)
- da – “there/here” (a steady location)
Technically, there’s also hier, which is here, but for our context today that one is not all that important. There is a hier-version, but it’s REALLY rare so we’re kind of ignoring that.
And now we can combine these with prepositions to create a word that expresses a concept about the 3D space by itself.
Let’s do it with auf (on)
- hinauf – “up to there”
- herauf – “up to here”
- darauf – “up (to) there” (focus on being up there)
- (hierauf – “up to here”)
And let’s note note that the “r” in herauf is a “proper part” of her while the “r” in darunter is just a filler because it’s easier to say than “da-unter”. Doesn’t really matter, but I thought it’s interesting to know.
Anyway, these words technically express a location by themselves.
- Rapunzel, lass deine Haare [herunter].
- Rapunzel, let down (to me) your hair.
In this example, herunter answers the question “to where”.
And now comes the crucial part – these words “feel” like prefixes to German speakers. I mean, hin and her are prefixes, the preposition itself is also a prefix and German likes prefixes anyways. You can’t see it in the example above, but you can see it when you put it in past tense.
- Rapunzel hat ihre Haare heruntergelassen.
- Rapunzel let down her hair.
Note that you can absolutely find examples like this where people spell it as two words… like herunter gelassen. That’s because they’re not sure what to do. But generally, they’re CONSIDERED prefixes. You see… the whole concept of separable prefixes in itself is kind of just a big convention. Like “This feels like a unit, let’s write it as one.”
So we’ve learned that we can combine hin, her and da with prepositions to create words for location and direction that can answer “Where (to)?” by themselves. Same as words like up, down or forward.
Here they are all three:
- Lass die Haare herunter. (let them down to here)
- Lass die Haare hinunter. (let them down to there)
- Lass die Haare darunter. (leave them under there)
And in a sentence, with a verb, they “feel” like prefixes. Which essentially means they ARE prefixes.
Now, so far, this was the “technical” side of things.
But there’s another part of this story and that’s the side of spoken German reality.
How spoken German shaped the versions
First of, the words got of course washed out and shortened so that they’re JUST enough to be recognized. her- got shortened to r-, dar- got shortened to dr- and hin- got shortened to n-.
Now you might be like “Wait… naufgehen??”
Yes, naufgehen also exists but ONLY in the dialect of the South, and possibly also Austria.
And brings us to the second difference between the theory and how things are looking in daily life:
People didn’t bother to really make a distinction between the hin-version and her-version.
In the first section we learned that hin expresses “toward there” and her expresses “toward here“. Which is true when they’re used by themselves. But in these combinations the lines have blurred. Like… people would use heruntergehen and hinuntergehen interchangeably, based on what came to mind first and without really caring about the here vs there.
And this blurring of lines is especially true for the shortened versions.
And eventually the r-version got out on top as kind of the default, while in the South, at least in some dialects, the (hi)n-version is the default.
- Lass uns nausgehe’.
(my attempt at Bavarian)
- Lass uns rausgehen.
Some conservative-authoritarian grammar-Klugscheißer like Bastian Sick with his overbearing books are still trying to lecture We the People on how we’re ALL doing it wrong, but in reality… no one cares. That ship has sailed centuries ago.
People do know the difference between hin and her, it matters very much when the words are used by themselves.
But when it comes to these versions, it just doesn’t matter. Like… when a German is talking about someone going down the stairs, they don’t think like “Wait a second, from what perspective am I telling this, downstairs or upstairs?”.
Authors MAY do it, but in daily life… just no. The distinction is not a “thing” in the brain of a native speaker anymore.
And besides … in many contexts, you wouldn’t even be able to decide which to pick. Like… putting chili oil over the latte in my hand… is that “toward here” or “toward there“?
People use what they’re used to, and in standard German, that’s most often the r-version.
And that brings us to the last section for today and for this topic.
When to use which version – A rough guide
We’ll now go over all the versions again and I’ll give you all the info about practical use that you’ll need.
Like I said, the r-version is the most common one and it makes sense to think of it as “the default” version.
NOT just a “shortened version”.
Also because r-versions are something that kids pick up VERY early. Like… at three years old, they can already use rausgehen correctly, and it’s not like they have to learn to distinguish it from ausgehen. I think they pick these up as separate concepts. And they DON’T learn herausgehen and hinausgehen until much later when they start reading or listening to audio books. So they kind of file these versions as variations of the r-version (unconsciously) and so should we.
Now, the r-version usually expresses a very literal, “local” interpretation of verb and prefix.
- reingehen – going inside
- rausgucken – look outside
- runterfallen – falling down
- runtergehen – to go downward
That can be very literal, as well as figurative-literal. Like… runtergehen can be about actually going down stairs, but it can also be about a price going down.
What’s crucial to understand here is that the r-version is ALWAYS directional. It feels like “from A to B”.
That’s why r-versions are primarily used with verbs that have a direction, too.
This doesn’t make sense, because “r” feels directional but bleiben is stationary. Same for raufstehen. Liegen is stationary, but rauf- implies “A to B”.
And this brings us to the second version
For stationary contexts, the proper pick is the dr-version. Because it comes from “da” which by itself is stationary.
This makes sense and means “stay on (it)”.
Now, for the dr-version, there are a few caveats. First of all, dr-versions are often shortened by r-versions in spoken German. Or I should say replaced, that’s closer to the truth.
- Kannst du Kakaopulver raufmachen?
- Kannst du Kakaopulver draufmachen?
- Can you put chocolate powder on it?
Is it shortened or replaced? I don’t know. No one really knows. ESPECIALLY not Duden! Duden REALLY doesn’t know how to deal with these verbs.
But yeah, the example with the r-version just has more emphasis on the chocolate powder being put on (the motion), while draufmachen has a wee bit more of a sense of it being on it after the fact. It’s usually not a difference that matters though, so don’t sweat it!!
Just keep this in mind:
- r-version feels directional
- dr-version feels stationary
- runterlegen (from “not under” to “under”)
- drunterlegen (same thing, but the focus is on being under after)
Now, for some verbs, you’ll find that they’ll have both, an r-version and a dr-version, and that they have different meanings.
- raufgehen – to go upstairs
(doesn’t work with “d”)
- draufgehen – to die, to be spent for (money)
(doesn’t work without “d”)
There is no real rule for this unfortunately because it’s entirely based on “What’s idiomatic.”.
Oh and speaking of idiomatic… the dr-versions of aus and ein are NOT regular. They’re draußen and drin and you cannot just switch those with raus or rein.
And I think draußen is not used as a prefix, but that’s … pure convention.
- Ich will noch draußen bleiben.
- Ich will heute drinbleiben.
And yes… the convention doesn’t make sense to me either.
Anyway, let’s get to the her-version.
The her-version is quite common in books and newspapers and some more formal, more figurative her-versions are also used in their full form in daily life. Like herausfinden in the sense of “finding out some knowledge”.
You can definitely shorten most of them to r-versions if you want to but you cannot extend every r-version into a her-version and assume it’s correct. Also because it can sound VERY stiff.
Still, you’ll be using a fair share of her-versions, because you need them for the verbs that CAN’T have an r-version.
- hervorkommen (“to come forth/out from”)
- herbeirufen (“to call over, to summon”)
- herabfallen (“to fall down”)
These are not as useful in daily life though, and they often sound a bit formal.
So that’s three down, one to go and the last one is of course… the hin-version.
The hin-version is kind of a non-factor in standard spoken German, except in some regional dialects where it might be more common.
It sounds very stiff and it’s definitely not something that comes out naturally, but rather something that people have to consciously go like “I want to use a hin-version now.”
What’s important to know for those of you who are B2 or C1 and who have to produce written German is that it’s sometimes the hin-version that is the “proper” version of an everyday r-version.
- Die Höhle sah unheimlich aus.
“Wollen wir da wirklich reingehen?” fragte Frodo.
- Die Höhle sah unheimlich aus.
“Wollen wir da wirklich hineingehen?” fragte Frodo.
- The cave looked eerie.
“Do you really want to go inside?” Frodo asked.
The first option does sound too colloquial for a written context like a fantasy novel, but the solution is NOT to use hereingehen but hineingehen. And why? Because the speaker is OUTSIDE of the cave and talking about “going there”, not “going here”.
Like I said… Germans do know the difference but they do not care in daily life.
And I think that’s actually it for today.
This was our look at the different versions of prefix verbs. I know that it probably was a bit overwhelming, all these versions and when you can replace which one with which one.
But don’t worry about that too much. Start with the r-version and understand the difference to a stationary dr-version. One is directional, the other one is steady.
And let the rest trickle in over time. That’s the order children pick this up in as well.
I tried multiple times to create a quiz for this lesson, but I always found my questions REALLY weird and confusing and I feel like they’d confuse you more than they would help.
I’ll probably give it another try, but no promises.
But of course, if you have any questions about any of this, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to clear it up.
I hope you liked it and see you next time!