Unlearn German

Any new language presents new problems. Babies learn languages organically. They listen and figure it out. Adults learn languages mathematically through reference points and rule values. Thing is, the rules don’t always apply.

For someone learning a language it would be the same as walking down the street and having gravity cease to apply for 20 yards. Once you learn a new rule, you need to learn the 54.2 exceptions. That would be the same as being on an airplane and told your life jacket is under your seat, unless your seat number is a prime number or a valid chess move.

Very many German words have prefixes. What you might want to look out for is what these prefixes actually do.

Take the word ‘Suchen’. Stick a ‘be-‘ in front of it and the meaning is totally different.

  • Ich gehe Obst suchen. – I am going to look for fruit.
  • Ich gehe Obst besuchen. – I am going to visit fruit.
  • How about ‘stören’:

  • Ich wollte ihn nicht stören. – I didn’t want to disturbe him.
  • Ich wollte ihn nicht zerstören. – I didn’t want to destroy him.
  • Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. It goes on. Vertippen, verlaufen, verschlafen – all these words have their meanings changed in the same way by the ‘ver-‘ prefix; namely (and literally/directly translated) type make wrong, walk make wrong and sleep make wrong. So this could be regarded as a rule, yes? No. You have words like versprechen or verlieben and these most definitively do not follow the same pattern as they mean to promise and to love.

    Another tricky one is kommen. Very similar to ‘to come’. Ich bekomme is in no way near to similar to ‘I became’ because it means ‘I receive’.

    So, the point? If you are learning German the general rule is – If it has a prefix, it probably means something completely different if not the exact opposite.

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