German prefixes and suffixes - an overview

(actualisé le ) by Ray

The German language has a large number of prefixes and suffixes whose function is to enable the formation of an open-ended number of new words by adding new nuances, aspects and dimensions to other words.

These powerful tools can be added in front of or behind just about anything to create new, usually particularly precise and expressive terms that are so numerous that only a small sub-section of these terms are ever included in the dictionaries – there just isn’t room for all the possible combinations!

Below you will find our analysis of the most important and widely-used German prefixes and suffixes [1] with, for each entry:

  • the type of "output" word they create;
  • each type of functional nuance that they add to the resulting new word, defined in both German and English;
  • examples for each type of functional usage (most prefixes and suffixes have multiple functional usages), with English-language translations of the resulting “output” meaning.

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A SELECTION OF THE MOST IMPORTANT GERMAN PREFIXES

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A SELECTION OF THE MOST IMPORTANT GERMAN SUFFIXES

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For example:

  • the prefix lieblings ("favourite") + die Blume ("the flower")
    => the noun die Lieblingsblume ("the favourite flower");
  • the prefix los (with the nuance “away”) + schreiben ("to write")
    => the verb losschreiben ("to write down");
  • the prefix ver (with the nuance “negation”) + bilden ("to form")
    => the verb verbilden ("to deform");
  • the suffix gemäß (“appropriate”) + die Ordnung ("order, orderliness")
    => the adjective ordnungsgemäß ("orderly");
  • the suffix heit (“the property/quality of”) + the adjective geborgen ("protected")
    => the noun die Geborgenheit ("security");
  • the suffix zeug (“thing”) + das Bett ("the bed")
    => the noun das Bettzeug ("bed linen").

The practically unlimited number of words that are generated by the use of these varied and numerous prefixes and suffixes is one of the reasons that the total number of words in the German language is, we do believe, greater than in any other Indo-European language, as we have already noted elsewhere on this site.

Footnotes

[1a compendium quite lacking in all of the major German grammar books in whatever language!