German Prefixes Explained – “be-“
Hello everyone, and welcome to our German Word of the Day, or more precisely welcome to our very very first episode of
German Prefixes Explained.
Prefixes are one of the numerous Banes of a beginner… you know… Bane, because they are so hard to understand… . Prefixes are those little “words” that can be added to basic verbs like machen, stellen or schlafen. The meaning of the basic verb then changes… sometimes a bit, sometimes quite a bit and sometimes quite super entirely … a bit. This wouldn’t be too bad if there were only 3 or 4 prefixes. But there are more like… 40… oh… don’t worry, only 20 or so are really important.
So now the beginner is like “Okay fine… so I guess I have to deal with about 20 prefixes that, if they work with a basic verb, will either slightly alter or completely shift its meaning…but that’s it right? ” Uhm… nope. There’s more. Many of the prefixes are separable. That means that, in the dictionary, they are at the beginning of a verb but in real speech they are not. They are somewhere else. Sometimes somewhere very very else. Sometimes not even in the same
Long story short, prefixes are a big part of German. But the good news is once you got the hang of them, it’s great because you can invent all kinds of verbs or infer meaning of combinations you have never seen before (trust me, German never runs out of those). So over the coming decade… uh I mean months we’ll take on the prefixes one by one and really look at what they do and how they alter the meaning of the basic verb and today we’ll start with the very common non separable prefix
be- (pron.: beh)
Now, if you feel uncertain about the whole separable vs non-separable thing… I won’t be talking about the grammar and sentence structure of verbs with prefixes here but you can find all you need to know in these 2 articles:
- be–something basically means to inflict that something on something or someone
What we’ll do now is look at many examples of be-words to kind of get a sense of what we can do with this definition. We’ll start with very clear and straight forward examples and then slowly get more and more abstract until we end up doing real mind yoga.
So are you ready? Great.
Obvious examplesHere is a very obvious one. Take the word malen. It means to paint. Now, based on our definition bemalen should mean to inflict painting on something or someone. And it does.
- Ich male meine Katze.
- I paint my cat.
- Ich bemale meine Katze.
- I paint my cat.
- Ich klebe meine Vase, denn sie war kaputt.
- I glue my vase, cause it was broken.
- Ich beklebe meine Vase, denn sie ist hässlich.
- I put stickers or stuff on my vase using glue, because it is ugly.
“Hey Emanuel, no it is Ajisth…“
Oh… let me try again… Ajisth…
“hahaha… sort of …“
So, what can I do for you, man?
“Yeah, I have a question about this inflict idea… So, the cat example was clear but the glue one confuses me because if I glue my vase because it is broken then I could just as well say that I am inflicting gluing on my vase. I do something to it. At least to me it would make sense too. So my question is… how can I know what kind of inflicting the be-word does? Does it always have to do something with putting stuff ON something maybe?“
Wow, now that is a really great question… let me think… uh… so … what the be does is kind of changing direct objects. You see, many resources often say that be- changes a verb that does NOT have a direct object into one that does. “You mean like with antworten and beantworten.. ?”
“Yeah, I read your post on that, that was very helpful...”
Cool thanks, so another example like that would be werben which is advertise. That doesn’t have an object in German. You can’t say
- Ich werbe eine Cola. (is wrong)
- I advertise a coke.
- Ich werbe für eine Cola.
- Ich bewerbe eine Cola.
- I advertise a coke.
Haha exactly… so… using be- turns a thing that was connected by a preposition into a direct object. And now comes the crucial part. This also works when the basic verb itself already HAS a direct object. What happens then could be called object switch… so stuff that was connected via preposition becomes the direct object and the direct object now needs a preposition. Here is what I mean. Kleben (to glue) can take a direct object and also stuff connected with a preposition.
- Ich klebe ein paar Aufkleber auf meine Vase.
- I glue/put some stickers on my vase.
- Ich beklebe meine Vase mit ein paar Stickern.
- I “cover” my vase with some stickers.
Yeah, I mean not always… sometimes the objects are the same like with zahlen and bezahlen, but most of the time this works. ”
Do you have another example?”
Yeah sure… so let’s take legen and belegen. Based on our definition belegen means to inflict lying on something but technically that could also mean to lie down… I lie down my book thus inflicting lying on book. But belegen means something else.
- Ich lege Käse auf meine Pizza.
- I put cheese on my pizza.
- Ich belege meine Pizza mit Käse.
- I top my pizza with cheese.
“Hmmm… I don’t know about the baby example, but I think I got it now… thanks a lot and sorry for interrupting...”
Oh don’t worry, I’m glad you called, because this object switch was an important part of what be does and I totally would have missed out on that, so thanks a lot and enjoy the rest of the show… “hahaha… I will… (hangs up)” All right… wew. That was tough I bet… but there will be no more grammar from now on, I promise… just examples. How about some with nouns. Der Neid is the envy. So beneiden should be to inflict envy, right? And it is.
- Ich beneide dich.
- I envy you.
- Ich musste die letzten 3 Tage meine Eltern bespaßen. Die waren zu Besuch.
- I had to entertain my parents the last 3 days. They were visiting.
- Ich muss mich beeilen.
- I have to hurry.
- Ich betone die erste Silbe.
- I put a stress on the first syllable.
- Der Politiker betont, dass er keine Steuererhöhungen mitmacht.
- The politician emphasizes that he won’t be agree on a tax increase.
Less obvious ExamplesThere are SOOOO many verbs with be as a prefix that are somewhat abstract but still totally work with our idea… I had problems to decide which ones to cover :). But I think you will recognize many of them … So… the first example for a more abstract word is begeistern. It comes from the word Geist which can mean either ghost or spirit in German. So what does to inflict ghost or spirit mean? Does it mean to haunt? Well… no.. the best translation I found was to wow someone … we could maybe say to really positively impress and inspire someone. You inflict spirit on that person :). Begeistern is more often used as an adjective so here you go:
- Ich bin begeistert.
- I am excited /enthusiastic/amazed.
- Ich begreife nicht, wieso du dir schon wieder ein neues Auto gekauft hast.
- I really don’t understand, why you got yourself a new car once again.
- Inflicter of heavy for letters.
- Deutsche beschweren sich immer über das Wetter.
- Germans ALWAYS complain about the weather.
- Ich bewege. (is wrong)
- I move.
- Ich bewege meinen Kopf.
- I move my head.
- Ich bewege mich ein bisschen.
- I am moving a little.
- Das Buch kannst du behalten.
- You can keep the book.
- Ich besitze kein Auto.
- I don’t own a car.
- Hausbesitzer und Hausbesetzer sind sich ähnlicher als man denkt.
- Land lord and squatter are have more in common than one would think.
Really really abstract onesSo… now that we all feel comfortable with the be-prefix and we think that we have a good idea of what it means.. it is time to challenge that.And by challenge I mean challenge… wait… I …I guess I should emphasize the second challenge… so… CHALLENGE… there you go. Let’s start with bestellen. Stellen means something to put or to set and so bestellen logically means… to order?! How does that make any sense? I admit it is really weird but before the age of pizza service and amazon there was a time when bestellen mainly meant to cultivate your field…or something like that. Bestellen meant doing all the stuff you need to do to grow corn or whatever, and especially the planting or seeding… and now it start to work… you inflict putting on your field, you put stuff on your field so that some months later you will get to harvest something. Like today… you place your pizza order so that you can eat later. Sounds crazy but that probably the shift that happened. Of course it happened gradually but nowadays many people don’t even know about the original bestellen anymore. It is to order, full stop.
- Was für eine Pizza hast du dir bestellt?
- What pizza have you ordered?
- Du benimmst dich wie ein Urmensch.
- You act like a Neanderthal.
- In diesem Restaurant muss man sich benehmen.
- In this restaurant one has to comport oneself.
- Marie hat eine E-Mail bekommen.
- Ich habe zum Geburtstag ein Buch bekommen.
- I have come by a book for my birthday … lit.
- I got a book…
- Ich bleibe 3 Wochen in Paris.
- I inflict body on Paris for 3 weeks.
- I am going to stay in Paris for 3 weeks.
German – sometimes it just plain sucksSo, I hope you have a good idea by now of what the be-prefix does with verbs. So… time to add more prefixes. That’s right. I case you didn’t know, you can take a verb that already has a prefix and add another one…
- Ich bestelle meine Karten ab.
- I cancel my ticket reservation.
- Ich behalte meine Schuhe an.
- anbehalten – keep wearing.
- I don’t take off my shoes.
- Ich bereite mein Referat vor.
- vorbereiten = vor (in advance) + be (inflict) + reit (old German brother of ready)-en = to inflict ready on something in advance
- I prepare my presentation.
- Ich benenne mich um.
- umbenennen – um (something with change) + be (inflict) + nennen (call, name)
- I change my name.
- Das beeindruckt mich sehr.
- be (inflict) + ein (in) + druck (pressure) – inflict imprint/impression
- That impresses me a lot.
to Be or not to be ?Ohhhhh that translation was soooooooooooo bad. I am seriously sorry, but I just couldn’t resist. So… we’re close to wrapping this up but I am sure that many of you are asking “So, can I just slap be to random words? Would that work?” And the answer is… well, yes and no. You can do it with nouns. Most people would probably understand bekäsen or bewaschmaschinen.
- Ich bekäse meine Pizza.
- I “put” cheese my pizza.
- Ich habe heute meine Wohnung bewaschmaschint.
- I got a washing machine for my flat today.
Wrap upSo… I guess that was a whole load to digest but I hope that it has helped a bit clearing up the big be. The concept it adds can be described “as to inflict something on something”. It doesn’t always work and sometimes you really have to bend your mind a bit but it is a fine guideline, I hope. Grammatically, it often turns something, be it an abject or a place or a person that would be connected using a preposition for the basic verb into a direct object. So it can switch the focus on objects if you will…
- Ich werfe den Ball auf dich.
- Ich bewerfe dich (mit dem Ball).
- Ich zahle meinen Kaffee.
- Ich bezahle meinen Kaffee.
– Die Bezahlung ist sehr gut.
– The pay is good.
Me, I use “bezahlen” most of the time, and of course other prefix-version like “anzahlen” “auszahlen” draufzahlen” or “einzahlen”. I think “zahlen” alone is more common in the south. In a restaurant, it sounds one notch more high class to my ears.
So… of course I couldn’t cover all be-verbs here…not even close. I have listed some more in this table below, but still I’m sure there are many interesting ones missing… so now it’s up to you guys….
If you can think of some cool be-words, go right ahead and post them as a comment…. if you dare, give us an explanation and an example :). And of course if you have a be-verb that you can’t still make sense of… just post it and I’ll try make it work with the inflict concept. I will collect all the verbs, put them in a list and then eventually upload a pdf right here for you to download. And lastly, if you have any questions or suggestions, of course you can leave me a comment to… go ahead – becomment me ;) I hope you liked it and see you next time.
If you want more prefixes:
- German Prefixes Explained – “um-“
- German Prefixes Explained – “zer-” … coming soon
|beäugen||Auge (s) – eye||
||look at sth (from all sides), mostly in books|
|belagern||Lager (s) – camp (and others)||
||inflict camps :), lay siege, besiege|
|begrenzen||Grenze (e) – border||
|bemuttern||Mutter (e) – mother||
||to pamper / inflict mother on so.|
|benebeln||Nebel (r) – fog||
||to daze, to befog, mostly used as adjective|
|bedecken||Decke (e) – cover||
||to cover (physically)|
|benachteiligen||Nachteil (r) – disadvantage||
|beeinflussen||Einfluss (r) – influence||
|bemitleiden||Mitleid (s) – compassion, pity||
|beneiden||Neid (r) – envy||
||to envy… I think beneiden can sound less strong|
|begießen||gießen – to pour||
||to celebrate by drinking alcohol|
|besuchen||suchen -to search||
||to visit… that’s an abstract one :)|
|betäuben||taub – deaf, numb||
||to anesthetize, to benumb|
|befreien||frei – free||
|berichtigen||richtig – correct||
Ich hab’ über “bekommen” mittlerweile ein bisschen was neues gelernt, und du hast Recht, es ist eigentlich keine Ausnahme
beabsichtigen – Absicht(r) – Intension – to intend
beachten – achten (auf) – to mind – to mind/regard something
bearbeiten – arbeiten – to work – to edit
bedanken – danken – to thank someone -to thank yourself by someone
bedienen – dienen – to serve – to serve someone
beenden – enden – to end – to end something
befinden – finden – to find – to be located
befragen – fragen – to ask – to interview
befürchten – fürchten – to fear – to apprehend
begeben – geben – to give – to resort
begegnen (früher begegenen; from gegen) against; to come up against; to meet up with --dubious rsb interpretation
begehen – gehen – to go – to commit
begleiten – gleiten – to slide – to supervise / guide
begründen – Grund (r) – reason – to justify
begrüßen – Gruß – greeting – to greet
behandeln – handeln – to act/handle – to treat
beherrschen – herrschen – to rule – to control / master something
bemerken – merken – notice – to notice