What are r-versions

Written By: Emanuel Updated: September 17, 2023

cartoon for the german r-versions

Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of Grammar Terms Explained. And today, we’ll talk about a term that’s actually EXTREMELY exclusive. For one, because it’s exclusive to the German language, and more importantly, it’s exclusive to you.
Because I made it up :).
I’m talking of course about:

The r-version

Those of you who’ve read some of my articles from the series Prefix Verbs Explained probably remember the term because I use it in virtually every episode.
And what I mean by it are verbs like these:

raufmachen, reingehen, rauskommen,

Now, why would I make up a term for them instead of just using the official one?
Well, because there actually ISN’T an official one. R-versions just aren’t really a thing and virtually all textbooks and courses and online content kind of ignore them or treat them as an aside.
But the r-versions are VERY common and VERY useful, especially in daily life.

So, it’s definitely time we talk about them and answer all the questions you have and didn’t even know you had :).
Like… What are they? Where are they coming from? What do they mean?
And what’s up with dr-versions and hin-versions and her-versions?
Because yes… there are multiple versions of prefix versions.
German, am I right :)?

This whole thing is going to be a two part episode – one for the basics and one for the nerdy details :).
And the first part is going to be a Q&A type format.
I started out writing and creating a narrative thread, but I kind of got lost this time and it was getting hard to follow, so I decided to take the easy way out and just run through some questions :).
But at least I’m still writing myself, like way back when, before ChatGPT, in… uh… 2022.
Oh, the good old days.
Anyway, let’s go!

Basics about r-versions

What are r-versions?

R-version is a term I started using to refer to these versions of prefix verbs that have an extra “r” at the beginning.

Like… prefix verbs are for example:

  • aufmachen
  • ausgehen
  • einsetzen

And the corresponding r-versions are:

  • raufmachen
  • rausgehen
  • reinsetzen

There are also other, similar versions, which we’ll get to in a second.

Do I need r-versions?

Do you need food?
Yes, you ABSOLUTELY need r-versions.
Or let me put it this way:

You cannot really speak idiomatic German without r-versions.

Yes, I really mean that!
The earlier you start getting a grip and using them, the better. Because many of them express very basic concepts that you need every day.

What do r-versions mean?

Prefix verbs are a combination of a prefix and a verb. The prefix is often a preposition and the whole thing is kind of the same deal as the English phrasal verbs, just in a different order.

  • to come out
  • auskommen

I mean… same deal right?
Well, NOT REALLY. Because if you want to express the actual basic idea of coming out somewhere, then auskommen is NOT the right word.
You need the r-version.

  • Komm raus!
  • Come out(side)!

And this is actually not an exception but the rule.

The r-version usually  has the most basic, literal and “location-based” meaning you can think of when you take the combination of verb and prefix.

Sounds a bit complicated, but it’s easier than it sounds.
Suppose it’s raining and you don’t want to go outside. Do we need ausgehen or rausgehen?
We need rausgehen. Because while ausgehen is great and has a bunch of meanings, it does NOT have the most basic, most intuitive spatial meaning. That’s what the r-version is for.

  • Es regnet. Ich will nicht rausgehen.
  • It’s raining. I don’t want to go outside.

Now guess want rübergehen means?
Exactly… to go across.
And how about rauskommen?
Right on… to come outside.

And let me also show you an example from daily life that’s not about going somewhere.

  • Das ist Kunst, kein Tisch. Bitte nichts rauflegen.

This of course means that you should not put anything on top of that thing that looks like a table but is actually art.
Because… you know… Berlin.
And no, you cannot use auflegen for this. It has all kinds of useful meanings, but the most basic idea of “laying on top” is not one of them because that literal sense is usually covered by the r-version.

And German speakers are REALLY tuned in to these r-versions. Even though it’s just one letter difference, it FEELS completely different to a German native speaker.
That’s why these r-versions are so useful, even for beginners.

So… whenever you learn a new prefix verb that can have an r-version, take a second to think about what that r-version is probably going to mean and then look it up. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how often you at least get the gist right.

In my series prefix verbs explained, I always mention the r-version, and it’ll also play a role in the card game and app I am working on. So… lots to come.

What other “versions” are there?

Besides the r-version, you can also find her-versions, d(a)r-versions and hin-versions.

  • raufgehen
  • heraufgehen
  • d(a)raufgehen
  • hinaufgehen

Do they all mean the same?
Well, that’s a tricky question. The meanings are definitely “in the same ballpark” but I think saying that they’re the same is misrepresenting reality.
We’ll find out later, what they all are and how they relate to each other.
The most common one, at least in daily spoken German, is the r-version, which is why we use that one as a center for the whole discussion and treat the others as kind of … well… versions of the r-version.

Does every prefix verb have an r-version

Hard no!
Not all prefix verbs can have r-versions. Specifically, only the prefix verbs that start with a vowel can have an r-version, and NOT the prefix verbs with ab-, which DO NEVER have r-versions.
So here they are:

  • rauf- 
  • raus-
  • rein-
  • rum-
  • ran-
  • rüber-
  • runter-

But not every verb that CAN have an r-version actually HAS an r-version.

Prefix verbs that start with a consonant cannot have an r-version and the reason is simply that it’s impossible to pronounce.

  • rvorgehen
  • rzurückkommen

I mean, German can sound shitty but not THIS shitty.
Why does ab have no r-version? Well, no clue, honestly.

  • rabgehen

That would work from a pronunciation point of view. But rab- just isn’t a thing.

Anyway, the verbs that CAN’T have an r-version can still have a her-version, hin-version or dr-version. Or all of them. Because the r-version is basically a derivative from these versions.
But make no mistake – it’s very much helpful to think of them as their own thing.
Which brings us right to the next question.

Are “r-versions” just colloquial, shortened versions of “her-versions”

And this one is a stone cold, steel hard NO!!!
And still, quite a few learners get taught this.
You see, when you try to learn about r-versions online or you ask your teacher about it, you’ll usually get something like this:

“Oh, rausgehen is a shortened version of herausgehen, it’s colloquial and only used in spoken.”

And this is… well… neither helpful, nor thought through.
For two reasons.

Number 1 – “colloquial” is giving a wrong impression

When learners hear “colloquial”, they tend to think “not ideal” because they want to learn “proper German”. Which is a great in general but not here. Because you simply can’t just replace all r-versions with a her-version and expect it to be idiomatic.
It’s NOT!
Like with rausgehen for example:

  • Lass uns ein bisschen rausgehen.

This is perfect!

  • Lass uns ein bisschen herausgehen.

This is trash.
Seriously… it does NOT sound like high German, it just sounds super strange. Yes, herausgehen does exist, but it simply doesn’t work in this context here. Many r-versions have kind of become a verb for themselves and their her-version sounds out of place or doesn’t cover the full range of meaning (we’ll find out later why that is the case)
You can often shorten a her-version to an r-version but doesn’t always work in reverse. And that’s also because of reason number 2.

Number 2 – Not every r-version even comes from “her-“

Yes, you read that right. NOT every r-version goes back to a her-version.

A great example for that is raufmachen. Raufmachen is a word you’ll need if you for example buy a Cappuccino and you want some cacao-powder on top.

  • Können Sie ein bisschen Kakaopulver raufmachen?

If you follow the common narrative, you’d just use heraufmachen here, but that word actually doesn’t exist. Neither Duden, nor Wiktionary or Dict.cc list it.

The reason is that raufmachen is actually technically a short version of daraufmachen or draufmachen, respectively.

And we have the same restrictions here that we had for her-versions. So many dr-versions can be shortened to r-versions, but not always the other way around and sometimes the r-version and the dr-version have different meanings.

Like… draufgehen which can mean to die while raufgehen means to go up and the “non-colloquial counterpart” of which, according to Duden (the subpar website that needs to get its act together), is hinaufgehen.

Are you confused yet?

Good! That means you’re a human being!!
Hold on to that :)!
All that matters from this last segment is that you can see that this idea that r-versions are “just a colloquial form of her-versions” is… well… uninformed nonsense.

Wrap up

I believe, r-versions deserve to be treated as a legit “thing” and not ignored as they so often are by courses, teachers and textbooks.
They’re an essential piece of everyday conversation because they often carry the most literal, basic meaning that you can imagine for a prefix verb.
And besides r-versions, there are also her-versions, hin-versions and dr-versions. But they don’t always mean the same.

Next time, in part two, we’ll dig a little deeper into the versions and see how and why the came to be and how they all relate to each other and what verbs tend to have which versions.
It’s going to be  nerdy, but also very insightful, so stay tuned.

But for today, we’re pretty much done, and I hope this cleared things up a little.
I know this was a bit short for examples, but this overview is meant as a supplement to the articles in the Prefix Verbs Explained series.
As always, if you want to test how much you remember, you can take the little quiz I have prepared.
And of course, if have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it und bis zum nächsten Mal :)


Find part two here:

What are r-versions – Part 2


Further reading: 

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