GERMAN PHRASAL VERB: The german verb + preposition

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Have you seen a German verb like this “nachdenken über“? You probably did and wondered what in the world it is or how on earth are you going to use it in a sentence. Should you use it like the normal preposition or? Well, you ain’t alone. I equally felt this same way when i first started learning german. It didn’t get easier either not until I realised it was the same as the English “PHRASAL VERB” then just like the ocean, it became clearer. What then is a phrasal verb?

Content in this post
1. What verbs with preposition are
2. Prepositions that are always Akkusativ
3. Prepositions that are always Dativ
4. Prepositions that are both Akkusativ and Dativ
5. Non-reflexive verb with preposition and how to use them in a sentence
6. Reflexive verbs with prepositions and how to use them in a sentence
7. How to ask questions using verb with preposition
8. How to respond to yes/no questions formed with verb with preposition
Table of content

From the English definition, a phrasal verb is the combination of a verb and a preposition or an adverb which therefore takes a new meaning. This is equally the same in German with the preposition serving it’s normal purpose of relating two items to eachother thereby giving rise to a prepositional object in the sentence.

A phrasal verb in german can either give rise to an Akkusativ or a Dativ case. This is dependent on the grammatical case that is assigned to the prepositions with respect to this topic. What this means is that a preposition that is known to belong to Akkusativ might not be anymore. This is often seen in two-case prepositions.

One good thing is that the known akkusativ prepositions (für, um, gegen, bis, durch) and those of dativ (nach, mit, bei, aus, von, zu) stay assigned to each other. The challenging part is with the two-case prepositions since they are assigned to both akkusativ and dativ at different times.

However, these prepositions may or may not be literally translated with their earlier known meanings when they are used as verb with preposition. Take for instance warten auf; literally, auf means on/in but when used with warten, it becomes for. Hence, the new meaning of “warten auf” becomes “to wait for” as opposed to the literal meaning “to wait on/ wait in”. The german verbs with preposition can be classified into two groups;

  • Non-reflexive verb with preposition
  • Reflexive verb with preposition

Non-reflexive verb with prepositions

This category of german verbs with preposition are not accompanied by a reflexive pronouns. Some examples are shown in the table below…

Akkusativ verb + prepositionEnglish meaningAkkusativ verb + prepositionEnglish meaning
denken anto think ofsein gegento be against
glauben anto believe instimmen gegento vote against
kommen anto come towählen into select in
schicken anto send toberichten überto report about
schreiben anto write tobeschließen überto finish off
sterben anto die ofdenken überto think about
achten aufto pay attention todiskutieren überto discuss about
ankommen aufto depend onerschrecken überto be frightened by
antworten aufto answer toerzählen überto give account of
aufpassen aufto take care ofklagen überto nag about
bestehen aufto insist onlachen überto laugh about
hoffen aufto hope forlesen überto read about
warten aufto wait fornachdenken überto reflect on
ausgeben fürto spend forreden überto talk about
bezahlen fürto pay forsagen überto say about
brauchen fürto need forschimpfen überto swear about
danken fürto thank forschreiben überto write on
halten fürto take forsprechen überto speak about
kämpfen fürto fight forstreiten überto quarrel/argue about
sein fürto be forverfügen überto have access to
sorgen fürto care forweinen überto cry/weep over
tun fürto do forbitten umto request/plead for
kämpfen gegento fight againstgehen umto revolve around
protestieren gegento protest againstleiden unterto suffer about
List of german non-reflexive verb with preposition for Akkusativ
Dativ verb + preposition English meaningDativ verb + prepositionEnglish meaning
ändern anto change aboutriechen nachto smell like
arbeiten anto work onsuchen nachto search for
hindern anto prevent fromschmecken nachto taste like
leiden anto suffer fromabhängen vonto depend on
teilnehmen anto partake inerfahren vonto learn about
zweifeln anto have doubt abouterzählen vonto recount/recall on
bestehen austo consist/be made ofhalten vonto regard as
arbeiten beito work forhandeln vonto be about
helfen beito help withhören vonto hear of
zuhören beito listen toleben vonto live off
zusehen beito look out forreden vonto talk of
zuschauen beito watch out forträumen vonto dream of
anfangen mitto start withverstehen vonto be skilled in
aufhören mitto stop withwissen vonto know about
beginnen mitto begin withfliehen vorto flee from
diskutieren mitto discuss withretten vorto save from
handeln mitto trade by/inwarnen vorto warn of
rechnen mitto count oneinladen zuto invite to
spielen mitto play withgehören zuto belong to
sprechen mitto speak togratulieren zuto congratulate on
streiten mitto quarrel/argue withkommen zuto come to
telefonieren mitto be on call withsagen zuto say to
vergleichen mitto compare withschicken zuto send to
fragen nachto ask afterwerden zuto become
List of german non-reflexive verb with preposition for Dativ

A german sentence with a non-reflexive verb with preposition places the preposition directly after the conjugated verb when there is no direct/indirect object but when there is a direct/indirect object, the preposition is placed after the object (that is usually at the end of the sentence in the absence of other displacing factors). See the exemplary sentences below…

1. I am writing to mr Craig.–– Ich schreiben an Herrn Craig.
2. Please pay attention to every error.–– Bitte achten Sie auf jeden Fehler.
3. Ana is on call with her friend.–– Ana telefoniert mit ihrer Freundin.
4. A neighbour saved the baby yesterday from the burning house.–– Ein Nachbar hat gestern das baby vor dem brennenden Haus gerettet.
5. it is important to reflect on the questions from journalists before you answer them.–– Es ist wichtig, über die Fragen nachzudenken, bevor du sie beantwortest.
6. The nanny takes very good care of our daughter.–– Die Kinderpflegerin passt sehr gut auf unsere Tochter auf.
sentences with non-reflexive verb with preposition

Note that example 4 and 6 contain an adverb each. Hence the natural law of placing a german adverb must apply. Scroll down to see the links to all laws that can displace the position of the preposition.

Reflexive verb with prepositions

This category of verbs with prepositions are always accompanied by a reflexive pronoun when there is neither a direct nor an indirect object in the sentence. Some german reflexive verb with preposition are listed below.

Akkusativ verb + prepositionEnglish meaningDativ verb + prepositionEnglish meaning
sich erinnern anto remind oneself ofsich beteiligen anto participate in
sich gewöhnen anto get used tosich bedanken beito thank someone
sich halten anto abide bysich beschweren beito complain to
sich wenden anto turn tosich bewerben beito apply to/at
sich beziehen aufto refer tosich entschuldigen beito apologize to
sich freuen aufto look forward tosich informieren beito inform oneself with
sich konzentrieren aufto concentrate onsich melden beito report to
sich verlassen aufto rely onsich irren into be wrong in
sich vorbereiten aufto prepare oneself forsich tauschen into be disappointed in
sich bedanken fürto thank forsich beschäftigen mitto be concerned with
sich eignen fürto be suited forsich einandersetzen mitto sit down with
sich entscheiden fürto decide onsich streiten mitto have a fight with
sich entschuldigen fürto apologize forsich treffen mitto meet with
sich interessieren fürto be interested insich unterhalten mitto talk with
sich sorgen fürto worry forsich verabreden mitto arrange (to meet) with
sich verlieben into fall in love withsich verloben mitto get engaged to
sich ägern überto get angry about/withsich verstehen mitto get along with
sich aufregen überto be excited aboutsich erkundigen nachto ask after
sich beschweren überto complain aboutsich richten nachto be based on
sich freuen überto be glad aboutsich sehnen nachto long for
sich informieren überto be informed aboutsich erholen vonto recover from
sich unterhalten überto talk aboutsich trennen vonto separate from
sich wundern überto wonder aboutsich unterscheiden vonto be different from
sich bemühen umto strive forsich verabschieden vonto say goodbye to
sich bewerben umto apply forsich fürchten vorto be afraid of
sich drehen umto turn around sich hüten vorto beware of
sich handeln umto be aboutsich schützen vorto protect oneself from
sich kümmern umto cater for/tosich entschließen zuto resolve to
sich sorgen umto be worry aboutsich entwickeln zuto develope into
sich treffen zuto meet for
sich beraten überto deliberate about
List of german reflexive verb with preposition for akkusativ and dativ

While the preposition in a non-reflexive verb sentence is placed directly after the verb, that of a reflexive verb is placed directly after the reflexive pronoun (that is also at the end of the sentence in the absence of other displacing factors). This is illustrated below…

1. Ich freue mich im März mich auf deine Hochzeit.–– I look forward to your wedding in march.
2. Frau Miller wird sich um meine Katze kümmern, wenn ich nach Spanien reisen.–– Mrs Miller will cater to my cat when i travel to spain.
3. Herr Berger trennt sich von seiner Frau.–– Mr Berger is separating from his wife.
4. wir treffen uns im Restaurant Rafael mit unserem einmaligen Kollegen.–– We are meeting with our former colleague In Rafael’s restaurant.
sentences with reflexive verb with preposition

How to ask questions using verb with prepositions

Questions that involve verb with preposition are quite different from those that are not with prepositions. This is often seen with W-Fragen otherwise known as question-word questions. For a yes/no question, this difference is not as obvious.

Note that, not all the question words are used with verbs with preposition as some question-words such as was and wer will lose their efficacy. Some of the question-words that can be used include;

  • Wo
  • Wen
  • Wem
  • Warum
  • Wann
  • Wie
  • Welch-

When asking a question with a question-word using a verb with preposition, it is necessary to first identify what the object is. For human objects that require interrogative pronouns as question-word, the preposition must be placed before them while for non-human objects, the preposition is placed after the question word with both attached together.

since the question word “was” is not used with verb with preposition, it is replaced by welch- and wo which then become the english for “what” where “wo” is assigned to inanimate objects and “welch-” to both animate objects and humans.

Yes/No questionQuestion-word questions
1. Sprichst du mit deinem Mann?–– Are you speaking to your husband?1. Mit wem sprichtst du?–– Who are you speaking to?
2a. Sucht ihr nach etwas?–– Are you guys looking for something?

2b. Sucht dieser Mann nach jemandem?–– Is that man looking for someone?––
2a. Wonach sucht ihr?–– What are you guys looking for.

2b. Nach wem sucht dieser Mann?–– Who is that man searching for?
3. Arbeitest du bei einer deutschen Firma?–– Are you working for a german company?3. Bei welcher deutscher Firma arbeitest du?–– What german company do you work for?
4. Kannst du dich bei uns melden, wenn du arbeiten darfst?–– Can you report to us when you are allowed to work?4a. An wem meldest du, wenn du arbeiten darfst?–– Who are you reporting to when you are allowed to work?

4b. Woran meldest du?–– What are you reporting to?
Questions with verb with preposition

How to respond to yes/no questions asked with a verb + preposition

To respond to tag questions formed with verb with preposition, the prepositions are repeatedly used. This is particular when the response would involve using the english pronoun “It” which is translated as “es” in german. The proposition is then combined with the adverb “da” which then takes the meaning “it” in combination with the translation of the verb-preposition.

If the preposition ends with a vowel, an r is first added to da before it is combined with the preposition. Therefore, da becomes dar. For example; daran, darauf, darin darüber, davon, dagegen, dabei, dazu, dadurch etc. See the contrasting examples below…

1. Bedankt ihr euch für das Brot?Nein, wir bedanken uns dafür nicht.
2. Freuest du dich auf die Prüfung?Ja, ich freu mich darauf.
3. Kann sie über das Geschichte erzählen?Nein, sie kann leider darüber nicht erzählen.
4. Sind sie gegen Ungerechtigkeit?Natürlich! Wir sind dagegen.
Links to the factors that can displace the position of the prepositions from being at the end of the sentence

separable and modal verbs
perfect tense
subordinate conjunctions

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