With ver- You Go down the Drain


In the German language you can make an expression shorter or more elegant by using verbs with prefixes. Even your demise will be a brief affair. Just add the prefix ver-.

It is bad enough when Don Giovanni stabs the Commendatore with his sword. The man bleeds.

Der Mann blutet.

As we all know the worst happens. When he bleeds to death three little letters (ver) join bluten and lead it to it’s deadly conclusion: verbluten. Der Commendatore verblutet.

In many instances, adding the prefix verworses things or messes them up, or leads into inevitable death.

Die Blumen blühen. Nice, a wonderful symbol of life.
Die Blumen verblühen. Down they go. No happy ending.

Das Haus brennt. Call the fire department!
Das Haus verbrennt. Only ashes will be left.

Die Suppe dampft. Steaming. A joy on a cold day.
Die Suppe verdampft. Too long on the stove; soon the soup will be evaporated, the pot will be empty, and we’ll go hungry:

Wir hungern.
If we do not find food, we will starve to death. Wir verhungern.

A ship can sinken, but there is still a chance to grab a life boat. Once the ship is submerged, it is versunken (which is the participle of versinken).

The noun Massel (der or das, both articles are possible) means unexpected (and sometimes undeserved) luck, and stems from the Hebrew word massal (star, destiny).

Du hast Massel, du kannst an der Staatsoper vorsingen. You are pretty lucky, my friend. You can audition at the Staatsoper.

But: Der Pianist vermasselt die Arie. The pianist messes up the aria.

Often we have to use the verb only in retrospect, because we do not know if the house verbrennt while it is burning or the soup verdampft while it is cooking. We must create the perfect tense. Because these ver-verbs describe a changing state (a change from A to B), we need to use sein as auxiliary verb.

Die Blumen sind verblüht. Die Suppe ist verdampft. Das Haus ist verbrannt.

Do not mix up ver-verbs. If you got lost on your way to the agent’s office, you are not verloren (lost). Just add ver– to laufen and approach a stranger and say, “Ich habe mich verlaufen.” The stranger will give you directions. If you say, “Ich bin verloren,” as you would do in English, the stranger will hug and comfort you. You just stated that you are doomed.

You get lost according to the means of transportation:

laufen – sich verlaufen
fahren – sich verfahren
fliegen – sich verfliegen (if you are a pilot or a pigeon.)

Please note, that these verbs are reflexive. If you express them in perfect tense you need to use the auxiliary verb haben as you have to with all reflexive verbs.
Often the ver-prefix can take another meaning, depending if the verb is reflexive or not.

sprechen: Ich verspreche mich. I misspeak.

But: Ich verspreche viel Geld. I promise a lot of money.

lassen: Ich verlasse mich auf den Repetiteur. I rely on the répétiteur.

But: Ich verlasse meine Freundin. I leave my girl friend.

However, be not afraid of the prefix ver– in matters of the heart. Lieben (to love) is impossible without sich verlieben (to fall in love).

The prefix ver– has also another job. It can breathe life into adjektives and turn them into an actvity, a verb:

besser: verbessern, schlecht: verschlechtern, kurz: verkürzen, lang: verlängern.

Some verbs with ver– do not relate to its stem verb:

versagen (to fail), verbringen (to spend time), vergessen (to forget).

The ver-prefix is the champion. Among the non-separable prefixes of verbs it takes number one with 45 per cent, followed by be- (25 percent) and ent- (15 percent), and er- (10 percent).

To conclude this little article, I have decorated some verbs and one adjective with the prefix ver– with the hope you can find out their meaning:

verklingen, versorgen, verdreifachen, vervierfachen, versichern, verheizen, verdünnen, verschreiben.

If you have typed the wrong word into the search engine and landed on this blog, you must admit: Ich habe mich vergoogelt.

Return next week when we examine in part III of this mini series the prefixes ent- and er-.


Published by


Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s