Prefix Verbs Explained – “vorkommen”

vorkommen-meaningHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we’ll have a look at the meaning of

vorkommen

 

Kommen means to come and unlike most of the prefixes vor has only one core: the idea of  “in front”-ness. And it’s actually a rather simple straight forward prefix verb. It has a modest 4.4 MBU (mind bend units) on the Mind Bend Scale, nothing compared to the “logic” of bestellen with its 1,2 million MBU. And just to put these numbers in perspective … understanding bestellen is like kissing your belly button, vorkommen is more like touching your shins.
So, really nothing too demanding. So without any further ado, let’s get right to the first meaning of vorkommen and that is… to happen.

Now you’re like “That’s not simple at all.” and you’re right, I just wanted to scare you a little. The actual translation for vorkommen is to occur.
“Emanuel, this is NOT any better.”
Oh yes, it is. The verb to occur comes from Latin. It’s a combination of the prefix ob- which meant against, toward and the verb currere, which meant to run. That is where current comes from, by the way. So, the literal meaning of occur once was simply to run toward. From there, it changed to the more general idea of to present itself,  to show up – a meaning that is still part of to occur in contexts like, say, the number of occurrences of a word in a text. How often does a word present itself, show up, occur in a text. And guess what… that’s also a meaning of vorkommen 

And when we take the last example we can see that it’s really just a very small step from this meaning to the idea of to happen.

The snow storms  “come forth”, they show up, take place, happen. I hope you can see the connection.

Now, the number 1 German word for to happen is  passierenVorkommen is by far not as general. Uses like the ones in the examples are the most common ones and there are a few contexts in which vorkommen does not work at all.  For one thing, it sounds a little bit slow, so it doesn’t work well for quick or sudden events. Like, you hear glasses crashing from the kitchen or your friend calls you and breaks down crying…. vorkommen would sound super out of place and unidiomatic here.

  • Was ist vorgekommen?… NOPE, sounds wrong
  • Was ist passiert?… yup
  • What happened?

Also, you wouldn’t use it to refer to single instances of events so you’ll pretty much never find vorkommen in combination with a specific point in time.

  • [Bluh bluh]  ist am Montag vorgekommen NOPE, sounds wrong
  •  [Blah blah] ist am Montag passiert.… yup
  • That happened on Monday.

And last but not least vorkommen absolutely doesn’t work when you want to say that something happens to someone. It’s the same for to occur.

  • It happened to me that she fell asleep.
  • It occurred to me that she fell asleep.

These two are totally not the same. To occur now expresses the idea of personal impression. And it’s the same with vorkommen. When you add a person the verb turns away from a real event toward an personal perception. And in contrast to to occur, vorkommen actually is much more personal. Like… to occur to me is about recognizing something that is the case. Jemandem vorkommen is about getting the impression something MIGHT be the case. As similar as they are, the two are actually never translations for each other. Think of vorkommen as to seem (for to occur the better translation is einfallen).

And then there’s this phrasing: ich komme mir vor. Literally, it is “I occur to myself” and it’s about what impression you have of yourself within a certain environment but the actual translation is to feel.

Not bad, huh… a word that can mean to happen and to feel. Sounds super crazy but it actually makes perfect sense. “Perfect” as in “kind of”, I mean :). Seriously though… the core is to show up and that can be bent either way… taking place, happen or appear, seem.
Let me maybe point out again that for the appear-sense you absolutely NEED this mir/dir bit.

  • It seems fast.
  • Es kommt schnell vor…. NOT A TRANSLATION
  • Es kommt mir schnell vor. .. this works

All right.
So this was vorkommen and it’s cool meanings and everyday usages. Now for the boring rest… the r-version.

hervorkommen

Which isn’t even an r-version, because pronouncing a single r in front of a v  would be kind of hard. There’s only hervorkommen and this is about the idea of coming out from somewhere hidden into the open.

What it doesn’t mean, even though that would make sense, is the super literal idea of come to the front. The proper word for that is nach vorne kommen (though you can also find vorkommmen in some contexts)

And since we’re at it, we might as well also mention the word vorankommen, which what all learners want… make progress.

Cool.
And I’d say we’re done. This was our look at the prefix verb vorkommen which organically stretches from  to happen and to feel, even though it may vorkommen you super crazy at first ;).
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to try out some examples, just leave me a comment.
I hope you enjoyed it, and see you next time.

** vorkommen – fact sheet **

meaning:

vorkommen – to occur, to happen
mir/dir/… vorkommen – occur to me, seem to me
sich vorkommen wie – feel like something

past:
form of sein + vorgekommen

kam- … vor

related words:

das Vorkommen(-) – the deposit (natural resources only)
die Vorkommnisse – the occurrences (usually with a negative tone, rare)
keine besonderen Vorkommnisse – nothing to report
hinter etwas hervorkommen – come out from behind something
vorankommen – make progress

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person243
person243

4.4 mindbend units. That is enough to shake off some cups from the bord. But not to stray you off course. Cool article.
I would like to add a word that can be really nice and rather harsh. I am speaking about: “zuvorkommen”. The verb itself is used the following way: “jemandem zuvorkommen” or in an example: “Er ist mir schon wieder an der Schlange zuvorgekommen.” = “He was faster at the queue than me again.” And the word is rather straight forward: “zuvor”=”before” so it is to reach a destination before somebody else. But with intent. Which is what I meant with harsh. Somebody intentionally takes up a place in front of yourself. That can be really annoying.
But what is really nice is the Partizip I of the verb. “Zuvorkommend” which does not mean presumptuous as one could assume as of the verb. But it means “courteous”, but in a very specific sense. To do something before it could be done by somebody else can be really nice. So opening the door for somebody before being asked, preparing a hot drink in winter to a guest or taking care of a hassle for somebody is “zuvorkommend”. And to tell somebody this would be a very nice way of thanking too: “Das war aber sehr zuvorkommend von Ihnen.” = “That was really nice of you to do.”

berlingrabers
berlingrabers

So just to check, does “jmdm. an der Schlange zuvorkommen” mean “cut in front of someone in line/in the queue” or just “beat someone to the line/queue”? Like, get into the line faster? Or actually step in front of somebody who’s already in line?

berlingrabers
berlingrabers

Oh, never mind. I see you answered below.

Barratt
Barratt

If you would like to cut someone in line, you can always ask the person in front of you, “Darf ich mich vorstellen?”, and if they answer in the affirmative, you say, “Vielen dank!” and step in front of them. (A colleague did this to me at a buffet once. I was too flummoxed to be angry.)

Bran
Bran

Hi! As always, I enjoyed the mental stimulation, you and German together never disappoint. What a couple :P

I have 2 questions:

a) Bartender kommt hinter dem Tresen hervor.

In this phrase you are using the dative case for “Der Tresen” but to me it seems that it should be Akkusative case as it is an action and hinter is a double preposition so it should be able to take Akkusative. Even when I consider that this case would be because of “vor” (which I understand is not) it is also a double preposition.

b) sich vorkommen wie – feel like something

Maybe it is just me, but when I see reflexive verbs like this I automatically assume that it will be using the Akkusative reflexive pronouns but in this case they would be dative right? Actually I just realized that this is a piece of information that is always lost when we write the “infinitive form” of the reflexive verb. Oh man!

Vielen Dank!

Bran

Jake
Jake

Was wäre der Unterschied zwischen “…, komme ich mir vor wie ein Idiot” und “…, fühle ich mich wie ein Idiot”?

In American English, “Er ist mir an der Schlange zuvorgekommen” could be translated as “He cut me in line” or “He cut in front of me (in line)”.

person243
person243

No, “to cut in line” is “vordrängeln”. Maybe the example was not the best. “Zuvorkommen” just means that you come earlier, are faster with something. For example if your colleague finishes the project faster than you and hence his project was taken instead of yours, then you can say: “Er ist mir mit dem Projekt zuvorgekommen.”. Or in a discussion, you want to say something or bring up an argument, but somebody is always faster than you, man this guy: “Er kommt dir andauernd zuvor.”

Jake
Jake

Ah, thanks for clarifying. He always beats me to it. He always beats me to the punch.

Could this work? Eigentlich wollte *ich* das Peter sagen, aber da ist mir seine Freundin zuvorgekommen.

person243
person243

Yes, exactly. You got the meaning down. Your sentence is completely right and sounds most natural to boot. The only thing you have to be careful about with this verb, which I forgot to stress before, you absolutely need the indirect/dative object here. Without “mir” the sentence would not work. Of course you don’t necessarily have to beat a person to something. It can also be an occasion. Like a fire in your house: “Um einem Feuer zuvorzukommen, haben wir überall Rauchmelder installiert.” = “To be prepared for a fire, we installed fire alarm boxes everywhere.”

Ano Menschkind Königin
Ano Menschkind Königin

Hey…. passt ‘ vorkommen ‘ auch bei Coming Out, wie bei Schwulen & Lesben usw? Iwo ist das auch figürlich, wie in dem Wein Beispiel.

Können ‘vorkommen’ & ‘merken’ auch die gleiche sein? Sie haben so eine Bedeutung wie ‘realisation’, ja?

zB:
Es kam mir vor, dass nichtsdestoweniger ein eigenes Wort ist.

Ich werde von der Tatsache bemerkt, dass nichtsdestoweniger ein Wort ist.

Verneine nicht, es zählt ^•^ … und was bedeutet nichtsdestoweniger & nichtsdestotrotz eigentlich denn? Die waren einfach Wörter in meinem Android Wörterbuch also… gesprochen xD

berlingrabers
berlingrabers

Just for clarity, “to occur to someone” doesn’t mean “jmdm. vorkommen” (and vice versa), even though it’s also subjective. It’s better translated with “jmdm. einfallen.”

berlingrabers
berlingrabers

While we’re on the topic of happenings/occurrences, how would you compare “passieren” and “geschehen”?

Anonymous
Anonymous

Was ist passiert? This means the past. But what if I wanted to say “what is happening?” German doesn’t use the present continuous like English. Ex: Was passiert hier?

paolob
paolob

Hello, and thanks for this great explanation. I have just one question: in dictionaries (e.g. Langenscheidt) I could find that “jemandem vorkommen” means also “to happen to someone”. E.g. “so etwas ist mir noch nicht vorgekommen” (d.h.: habe ich nie gesehen) = “I have never seen the like of that”. So not only a personal impression (i.e. to seem to someone) but also an objective experience.
Is it yet again a regional thing?

person243
person243

I would have used “untergekommen” here. It seems unusual with “vorkommen”.

Sarahswids
Sarahswids

“5 Euro für einen Kaffee?! Ich komme mir ein bisschen verarscht vor.”

Kannst du erklären die Bedeutung von verarscht ein bisschen bitte? Danke!