Unit 3: Articles, Simple Past

4. Verbal Prefixes and Compound Nouns

Word Formation

These sections of the textbook help improve your speed during the skimming phase of reading and gradually build vocabulary.

Verbs with Prefixes

As you encounter verbs in German texts, they will of course usually be in a conjugated form, rather than their infinitive form, which is the form you need in order to find the verb in your dictionary. Now that you have learned about both regular and irregular verbs, and furthermore those in two different tenses, you have become quite dependent on the “irregular verb” or “strong verb” chart in your dictionary. In particular, keep in mind that you will need to recognize the root verb within a verb.

For example, when you encounter a verb form such as verbrachte, you won’t find that in your dictionary. Instead, you must recognize that ver- is a prefix and that -brachte is the part you can find in your irregular verb chart, which in turn will tell you that it is the simple-past, 3rd-person, singular, form of the verb bringen. Then you know to look for the infinitive form verbringen in your dictionary to find out what it means.

The most common verbal prefixes are be-, ent-, and ver-.

Compound Nouns

As shown in the introduction, German has a propensity to form compound nouns such as Unterseeboot (submarine) and Arbeitsmethode (work method). Not all compound nouns are listed in dictionaries. Hence it is useful to understand how such nouns are formed and how we might best translate them.

Often a compound noun has an s after the first component. This shows possession as in Arbeitsmethode (method of work, or work method) and Entwicklungszentrum (development center). The last component of a compound noun is usually the key word with the preceding component(s) being modifiers (descriptors) of the last as in Unterseeboot (undersea boat = submarine).

Sometimes the occurrence of consonants next to one another which would be difficult to pronounce will indicate the dividing point between the components as in Computerbauer (computer builder) and Teststrecke (testing ground), i.e., rb and tst respectively.

The gender of compound nouns is always determined by the last component. Thus, Teststrecke is die Teststrecke because Strecke is feminine.

Look at the following compounds and by using your dictionary and the guidelines above determine their component parts and their meanings.

  1. Durchrostung
  2. Fahrstil
  3. Flugmanager
  4. Grundmodell
  5. Kernkraftwerk
  6. Kommunikationssystem
  7. Sicherheitsfunktion
  8. Staubproblem
  9. Vorstandschef
  10. Weltraumtechnologie
  11. Weltunternehmen
  12. Zeitungsanzeigen

Finally, since compound nouns are so common in German, you will often see compound nouns that are related printed in a hyphenated, abbreviated form, such as:

Der Windsturm verursachte Dach-, Auto- und Baumschäden.
The wind storm caused damage to roofs, cars, and trees.

Weltraumraketen und -satelliten benutzen diese Technologie.
Space rockets and space satellites use this technology.


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