Prefix Verbs Explained – “übergehen”

uebergehen-meaningHello everyone,

and welcome to another epic-sode of the epic series about German Prefix Verbs. What’s so epic about it?
Well, this is you speaking German without knowing about prefix verbs, and
this is you is you after you mastered them. Yeah. Can’t wait. So let’s get right to it and have a look at the meaning of



Many prefixes have two quite distinct notions.  Über, the German version of over,  is easy on us in that it has only one. Or one and a half. It can express above-ness and across-ness and when you think about they’re closely connected. Across usually involves above. Just think of crossing a bride. You can’t do that when you’re under it.  And speaking of crossing a bridge… we could also say going over a bridge. Hmmmm. Could that already be the meaning of übergehen???
Of course it is…

It’s a prefix verb and prefix verbs are like scientific papers – they all have abstracts. Badumm tish.
Wow, that was bad.
Seriously though, the most logical, literal interpretation of a prefix verb is NOT gonna be a translation. It’s always some level of abstract involved. Anyways, so über only has one idea, but it is tricky on a different level. It can be both – separable and inseparable. And in case of übergehen we’re dealing with both.

übergehen – separable

The separable ÜBERgehen, with the typical stress on the prefix, is about crossing from A to B – in all kinds of abstract senses. A very good match is to transition which this is actually the exact same word. Trans is Latin for over, across and the ition comes from ire which meant to go. But to transition is not always a fitting translation because übergehen is super broad…

  • Da vorne geht die Straße in einen Kiesweg über.
  • There, ahead of us, the street becomes/turns into a graveled path.
  • Die Songs gehen nahtlos ineinander über.
  • The songs are organically merging into each other. (“transition seamlessly”)
  • Mütter, die ihr Baby stillen, sollten nicht zuviel Kaffee trinken, da das Koffein in die Muttermilch übergeht und ihr Baby sehr lebhaft machen kann.
  • Mothers who breast feed shouldn’t drink too much coffee because the caffeine gets into the mother’s milk and might make your baby very animated. (transition from the cup to the blood to the milk)
  • Das Firmenauto geht in Marias Besitz über.
  • The company car becomes Maria’s property/passes into her possession.

Quite a range of contexts, right? And there’s more because the verb is also used in sense of transitioning from one behavior to another, or changing habits or procedures.

  • Während des Films gehen Thomas und Maria langsam zum Knutschen über.
  • During the movie Thomas and Maria slowly transition to French kissing.
  • Immer mehr Universitäten gehen dazu über, online komplette Studiengänge anzubieten.
  • More and more universities begin offering courses of study that completely online.
  • Nach der Katastrophe versuchen die Leute langsam, wieder zum Alltag überzugehen.
  • After the catastrophe people are trying to get back to their normal day to day routine.
    (help, is that idiomatic?)

The noun for the verb is der Übergang. It’s fairly often translated as the transition and unlike the verb, it’s sometimes also used for actual physical crossings… only if there’s walking

  • Der Übergang von Studium ins Berufsleben ist nicht immer einfach.
  • The transition from studying to having a job is not always easy.
  • Thomas wartet am Grenzübergang.
  • Thomas is waiting at the border checkpoint.

Then, there’s the pretty useful adverb übergangsweise which expresses the idea of for a transitional period

  • Maria wohnt übergangsweise bei einer Freundin.
  • Maria is temporarily living at a friend’s place.

and there are few compounds like Übergangsjacke (between-seasons jacket), Übergangsfreund(in) (between-relationships relationship) or Übergangsfrisur  which is a hairdo you get to for the not so funky transition period between short hair and long hair. Damn… there really is word for that :). But it’s not important and I think we could have ignored it. And speaking of ignoring, that is the perfect Übergang to the inseparable übergehen :)

übergehen – inseparable

The separable ÜBERgehen is about crossing with the focus being to get from A to B.  The inseparable überGEHen, with the stress on the GEH instead of the prefix, is also about crossing. But here, the focus is NOT on getting from A to B – it’s about not “meeting” the thing you’re crossing. Of course we need to mix that with a pinch (or a pound) of abstract to get the real meaning. I think to pass over is the best translation but again it depends a bit on context.

  • Thomas wurde bei der Beförderung schon wieder übergangen.
  • Thomas was passed over again for promotion.
  • Der Kompromissvorschlag übergeht wesentliche Forderungen der Opposition.
  • The compromise proposal omits/ignores essential demands of the opposition.
  • “Du hast Karten für’s Theater bestellt. Ohne mich zu fragen. Ich fühle mich übergangen.”
  • “You booked tickets for the theater. Without asking me. I feel passed over.”

This übergehen is mostly used in context of people and their wishes, it’s slightly formal sounding and is by far not as common as the other one so I’d say let’s put that on the passive pile and move on to something much more useful… the r-version.


As usual the r-version is the one that actually takes the combination of base-verb and prefix literally. Rübergehen is about actually walking across something with the focus on getting from A to B.  People use quite a but when it doesn’t really matter all that much what you’re crossing or if it is implied by context. You can see it a lot in context of streets but also in a more broad sense of walking over somewhere.

  • Lass uns mal rübergehen. Kommt doch kein Auto.
  • Come on, let’s cross. There’s no car anywhere.
  • Thomas geht rüber zur Bar.
  • Thomas walks over to the bar.
  • Ich geh’ kurz zum Nachbarn rüber, nach Salz fragen.
  • I’ll go over to the neighbors real quick, to ask for salt.

Cool. And what about drübergehen? Is it the same? Well, sort of. People do use them interchangeably in many contexts but there are some situations where drübergehen wouldn’t fit.

  • Thomas geht drüber zur Bar.

Unless there’s smoldering coal or something interesting to walk across, this sentence sounds wrong because drüber always needs something specific you’re crossing while rüber can be just about the A to B thing.  Maybe we can put it this way…. drübergehen is going over it, while rübergehen can be just going/walking over.
By the way, a context where you’d rather use drübergehen is treating surfaces… painting, cleaning, coating, ironing and so on.

  • Ich streiche mit weiß vor, und dann geh ich mit grün drüber.
  • I’ll put on a white base coat and then I’ll go over it with green.

In these contexts the focus is really on the surface and not at all on getting from A to B and so h… beeep beeep beeep beeep… oh… haha…  that’s actually the alarm of the Who-cares-o’meter. The apparatus has a point.  I mean, it’s good to be aware that these kind of annoying nuances exist but you definitely DON’T need to worry about them when you want to speak.
The only thing you do need to keep in mind is the difference between the r-version and the base form, übergehenÜbergehen for abstract transitions, rübergehen for literal crossings. Oh and then there was a non-separable version but I don’t know where it is… oh wait, we put it on the passive pile, did we. Well, I’m too lazy to rübergehen there and get it. I’d much rather übergehen to drinking my Feierabendbier :).
So that’s it. This was our German Prefix Verb for the Day.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you enjoyed it, and see you next time.

** übergehen – fact sheet **


Spoken past: form of  “sein” + übergegangen
auf mich übergehen – pass into my possession
zu etwas übergehen- shift a habit or change a procedure
dazu übergehen, etwas zu tun – same meaning, focus on activity
in etwas übergehen – pass over into
related words:
der Übergang – the transition
übergangsweise – temporarily/for a transitional period


spoken past: form of haben + übergangen
jemanden oder etwas (Akk) übergehen – pass over/ignore/skip something

Word for actual location: rübergehen
spoken past: sein + rübergegangen
zu/in rübergehengo over there (the other side of the street as well as another room)
über etwas (Akk) rübergehen – crossing something (sounds redundant and tautological but Germans do that a lot when they talk about location)

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