Word of the Day – “folgen” – Folge 2

Hello everyone,

and welcome to the second Folge of our look at the word


Last time we learned that the verb folgen is used more broadly than its English brother to follow and we saw why it makes super sense that the main idea of the noun die Folge is about consequence.
If you haven’t read it or you want to read it again, you can find it here:

Word of the Day – “folgen” – Folge 1

Today, we’ll look at the prefix versions of folgen. And then, just like real investigative reporters, we’ll go down to the yard, look through folgen’s garbage and discover an appalling secret. Or was it appealing?
Anyway, let’s waste no time and jump right in with folgen‘s prefixes.

The three prefix versions that are really useful all happened to have non-separable prefixes: verfolgen, befolgen and erfolgen.
Let’s start with verfolgen.


And believe it or not, from an etymological point of view, verfolgen actually has not one, not two but THREE brothers in English: to pursue, persecute and to prosecute.
Remember that Latin verb for to follow, that we mentioned last time? It was seque-something? Both, prosecute and pursue are basically that verb, just with prefixes. And if you’ve read my article on ver- then you know that pur and pro are brothers of the German ver-.
Now, are they also translations? Well, at times they are. In fact, pursue and verfolgen line up pretty well in the sense of “following” some sort of mental road map. But I think it’s better to understand the vibe of verfolgen. 
The ver- carries the idea of for here (another one of its relatives), making verfolgen a much more direct, or let’s say intense version of folgen – and this also shows in the grammar, cause folgen uses and indirect object (dative)  while verfolgen uses a direct one (accusative).

  • I follow the debate.
  • Ich folge der Debatte.
  • Ich verfolge die Debatte.


The second one sounds more invested, more attentive. And the distinction is even more clear in context of people.

  • Ich folge dir.
  • Ich verfolge dich.

The first one usually means that you’ve been asked to follow. It technically can also be about secretly following but it doesn’t sound very intense. Verfolgen on the other hand is basically about tracking and chasing and in context of people it is NEVER wanted. This also shows in the word der Verfolgungswahn, which is the German word for paranoia,  (in the sense of being watched, not forgetting to turn off the stove).
Let’s look at a few more examples for verfolgen.

  • Die EU ist oft etwas langsam, weil jedes Land seine eigenen Ziele verfolgt.
  • The EU is often a bit slow because every country pursues its own goal.
  • Maria verfolgt den Star mit ihrem Fahrrad.
  • Maria chases/secretly follows  the celebrity on her bike.
  • Maria liest ein Buch über Hexenverfolgung im Mittelalter.
  • Maria reads a book about witch hunt/witch persecution in the middle ages.
  • Der Spion hängt die Verfolger ab.
  • The spy loses his pursuers/people who were chasing him.
    (native speakers help: what’s the proper word here?)

Oh, and then we should not forget the prefix versions of verfolgen.

  • Die Fans können das Morgengeschäft ihres Youtube-Stars live auf dem Smartphone mitverfolgen.
  • The fans can follow the morning number 2 of their Youtube star live on their smart phones.
    (usually in context of media)
  • Der Hacker versucht, die E-Mail zurückzuverfolgen.
  • The hacker is trying to trace back/retrace the email.
  • Auf jedem Ei ist ein Code, mit dem man die Herkunft nachverfolgen kann.
  • On every egg there’s a code allowing you to trace back where it came from.

Sigh, the difference between zurückverfolgen and nachverfolgen is basically that the former goes from end point to start point while the latter goes from start point to yawn point. I … I mean end point. What?
Oh yeah, totally. I agree that prefix versions don’t need second degree prefix version of their own. But German thinks they do and so they do. Thanks German. Just keep pushing us around like that. It’s your karma, man, yours.
Anyway, let’s move on to befolgen.


Be- has a notion of direct impact on, and one thing this can give to a verb is an increased intensity. And again, this also shows in the grammar because verbs with be- usually (not always) take a direct object. If you’re ready for a little mind yoga, you can think of it as to “befollow”.
Now, increased intensity and a direct object – that sounds awfully similar to how we described verfolgen, right? But the two have nothing to do with each other because befolgen has narrowed down to one specific sense: following orders, rules or advice. So basically, doing what you’ve been told.

  • Ich habe deinen Rat befolgt.
  • Ich bin deinem Rat gefolgt. (works too, sounds like a little less closely)
  • I followed/took your advice.
  • Maria ist sauer auf ihre Mitbewohnerin, weil die die WG-Regeln nicht befolgt.
  • Maria is angry at her roommate because she (the roommate) doesn’t follow the (living together-)rules.

For advice, you can use either, folgen and befolgen, but for orders and rules befolgen is the word to use. And there isn’t more to say so let’s move right on to the third verb: erfolgen.


This one is odd. The verb itself is a rather stiff, bureaucratic sounding option for to happen,  to take place.
You pretty much never hear this erfolgen in conversation but you’ll definitely find it in official writing.

  • Eine Weitergabe ihrer personenbezogenen Daten erfolgt nur im Rahmen der gesetzlichen Auskunftspflichten.
  • A transfer of personal data will only be carried out within the limits of legal obligations for disclosure.
  • Sobald die Zahlung erfolgt ist, erhalten Sie von uns eine Bestätigungsmail.
  • As soon as the payment has been completed you will receive a  confirmation email.

Now, if it were just for the useless verb, we could leave it at these two examples and move on. But it isn’t. The verb has a noun. And that noun, der Erfolg, is a pure success. Like, literally :).

  • Die Party war ein voller Erfolg.
  • The party was a complete success.
  • Maria und Thomas haben erfolgreich die Tauben von ihrem Balkon vertrieben.
  • Maria and Thomas successfully drove the doves off their balcony. (lit.: rich in success)
  • Ich habe erfolglos versucht, das Facebook-Passwort von meinem Kollegen zu erraten.
  • I tried without success to guess the Facebook password of my colleague.
  • “Ich geh auf Klo.”
    Viel Erfolg.”
  • “I’m going to the bathroom.”
    Good luck.

Yup, der Erfolg is the German word for success and this meaning actually makes a lot of sense. Think about it, success (usually) comes as a follow up to some sort of effort. So we’re back at our very basic idea of one thing coming after another thing,  just with a from the perspective of reward following effort.
And now guess what… that’s precisely what success means.  Success is originally a combination of the prefix  sub- in the sense of as a supplement and the verb cedere and this meant to go. So the original sense of succeed was kind of “to go with/after”. So kind of to follow :).
So… they might not be related in a technical sense, but der Erfolg and the success both come from the simple idea of one thing coming in the wake of another.
Two quick notes about this. German doesn’t really have a verb to succeed. Instead you’d say Erfolg haben or erfolgreich sein. Or you’d just use schaffen.

  • “Ich habe versucht, Sahne zu schlagen.”
    “Und, warst du erfolgreich/hast du es geschafft?”
  • “I tried to whip cream.
    “And, did you succeed?”
  • Wenn du beim Lernen Spaß hast, dann hast du auf jeden Fall Erfolg.
  • If you have fun learning, you will succeed.

And the second thing that we need to mention is that whenever there’s a success-word that is NOT about success, then der Erfolg is NOT the right word anymore.
And that brings us to the other prefix versions of folgen.
Don’t worry, it’s just a couple, and they’re pretty useless :).

two more versions

The first one is nachfolgen which literally means something like to follow after. Yeah… like you can follow by being ahead. Pshhh, German, pshhh.
Anyway, nachfolgen is about following in sense of succession but I doubt you’ll ever see the verb itself used. What you will see is the noun der Nachfolger  and then there’s yet another word for your B1-writing-assignment-bloat-phrase-collection: nachfolgend.

  • Maria gratuliert ihrer Nachfolgerin.
  • Maria congratulates her  successor.
  • Dieser Text erzählt davon, wie es mir in meinem B1 Deutsch-Kurs, nachfolgend “Hölle” genannt, gefallen hat.
  • This text is about how I liked it in my German course (subsequently called “hell”).

Your teacher will love it.
And finally, we the noun die Abfolge. Yeah, just the noun. I really don’t think I’ve ever heard abfolgen anywhere. Die Abfolge, which is rare, translates to sequence and we could now spend some boooooooring time on discussing what exactly the ab adds to Folge and if Folge alone can mean sequence too and what the difference is to Abfolge or we could just get right to the fun part and go through folgen‘s garbage for some gossip.
Who’s for gossip? Everyone? Cool.
Let me just put my rubber gloves on real quick… all right… so what do we have there. Banana peel. Can of tuna, half eaten. Empty toothpaste. Pizza cartoons… scribbled on pizza cartons.  A cup of soy yogurt, raspberry flavor. Hmm, nothing too reveali… oh what is THAT. An empty box of r-polish?! That is odd. Why would you have r-polish if you don’t even have an “r”?!?! There’s only one conclusion we can draw from this: folgen must has a version with “r”.
Dunn dunn dunn!


Remember that notion of deduction that folgen was used for? Like, you have a fact and that fact implies another fact, a follow up fact, if you will. Let’s look at an example again.

  • Aus A folgt B.
  • A implies B. (in a logical sense)

This notion of logical conclusion is the core of folgern, only that folgern is actually what WE do if we draw such a conclusion.

  • Aus A folgert Maria B.
  • From A, Maria infers/deduces B.

The verb itself is not too common in daily life but you might see the noun die Folgerung or the needlessly longer noun die Schlussfolgerung, which both mean conclusion in the sense of some sort of thought reached through logic.

  • Aus deinem Gesichtsausdruck folgere ich, dass dir die Idee nicht gefällt.
  • From your facial expression I gather/infer/conclude that you don’t like the idea.
  • Aus dem Aussehen der Küche kann man die Schlussfolgerung ziehen, dass die Party sehr gut war.
  • From the looks of the kitchen one can draw the conclusion that the party was very good.

And I think that’s it.
Wohoo. This was our look at the prefix versions of folgen and I think it’s clear now that folgen is much more than just following :).
As usual, if you have any questions about any of this or if you want to try out some examples and have me correct them, just leave me a comment.
I wish you all an erfolgreiche Woche and see you in the next episode.


**vocab **

befolgen – to go by (for instructions and counsels), to obey (for orders)

verfolgen – to follow, to track, to pursue,to chase
die Strafverfolgung – criminal prosecution
die Verfolgungsjagd – car chase
nachverfolgen – track, trace (for processes and such, not people or cars)
mitverfolgen – to follow (an event via media stream)
zurückverfolgen – track/trace back
der Verfolgungswahn – the paranoia (narrow sense)

erfolgen  – to take place, to be done, to happen (rather formal)
der Erfolg – the success
erfolgreich, mit Erfolg – successful
erfolgslos – unsuccessful
viel Erfolg! – Good luck!

folgern – to deduce A based on B
die Schlussfolgerung – the conclusion, inference 

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