Tag Archives: prefix

Extra, extra, read all about it

Walking by a local branch of Heymann, I noticed this book about Adele:


While I am an Adele fan, it was the subtitle that caught my eye — Eine außergewöhnliche Karriere — for the word außergewöhnlich, which I would translate as “extraordinary” in this context (although dict.cc offers “strange” as the top translation by a substantial margin). “Extraordinary” as in “out of the ordinary” just as an “extraterrestrial” — Außerirdischer is “out of this world.” As a prefix “extra-” comes from the Latin extra meaning “outside” and has taken on the additional meaning of “beyond” over time.

The pronunciation of “extraordinary” is in itself somewhat remarkable. Pons.eu gives these two options: /ɪkˈstrɔ:dənəri, Am -ˈstrɔ:rdəneri/. What you should note is that, in contrast with extraterrestrial /ekstrətəˈrestriəl/, there is glottal stop or pause before the /s/ sound, separating the prefix into two parts.

“Extra” and extra can also be stand-alone words. According to Google, there are 10 meanings for the noun form, 2 for the adjective form and 2 for the adverb form of the word “extra” in English. According to Pons.eu, in German extra has 5 meanings as an adverb and 1 as a noun. The way I first learned one of the German meanings for this word was from Extr@ the soap opera “especially for” (extra) language learners that tells the story of Sascha and Anna, their neighbor Nic and Sascha’s pen pal from the US, Sam. The other word from this series that stuck with me is der Tierpräparator — “the taxidermist” — a job that is rather out of the ordinary and thus a word that is relatively useless in everyday conversation, except perhaps to show off that you have been watching Extr@.

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Darauf kannst du Gift nehmen?

Seit ich Die Fremde Braut las, wusste ich, dass „wett“ eine Vorsilbe ist, weil die Autorin das Wort „wetteifer(t)en“ anwandete. Ziemlich oft begegnete ich das Wort „der Wettbewerb“, aber ich dachte nicht, dass „wett“ und „bewerb“ zusammengesetzt war. Laut www.verblisten.de gibt es:

wettlaufen — unregelmäßig, untrennbar, sein
wettmachen — regelmäßig, trennbar, haben
wettrennen — unregelmäßig, untrennbar, sein
wettrudern — regelmäßig, untrennbar, sein
wettschwimmen — unregelmäßig, untrennbar, sein
wettstreiten — unregelmäßig, untrennbar, sein
wettturnen — regelmäßig, untrennbar, haben

Wie ihr seht, die „wett-Wörter“ sind vielfältig. Ein paar sind regelmäßig, einige sind unregelmäßig. Ein paar sind trennbar, einige sind untrennbar. Schließlich sind einige mit dem Hilfsverb „haben“ und ein paar mit „sein“ gebildet werden.

Es gibt auch Nomen, die mit „wett“ gebildet sind. Etliche haben etwas mit „wetten“ zu tun, wie: „der Wettannehmer, der Wettbetrug, der Wetteinsatz, die Wettquote“.

Eifersucht ist eine Leidenschaft,
Die mit Eifer sucht, was Leiden schafft.
Franz Grillparzer

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Wenn Lesen glatt läuft

Dank dem Empfehlungsregal der Bücherhalle Barmbek, lese ich jetzt ein tolles Buch von Petra Hartlieb: »Meine wundervolle Buchhandlung«. Da drinnen begegnete ich dem Wort „umschiffen“ im übertragenen Sinne — „Wir umschiffen das Thema gekonnt“ — We skillfully avoid the topic.  Man kann auch Felsen oder ein Kap umschiffen, anders ausgedruckt umfährt man sie. Ich finde das Wort großartig, weil es ein schönes Bild vor meinem geistigen Auge malt. Das Thema sieht wie einen Eisberg aus, und die Familie lotst sich selbst darum herum.

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Upstairs, downstairs

I needed to use the words “upstairs” and “downstairs” – treppauf and treppab – today and I realized that the morpheme »ab« was confounding me as I tried to learn which form was which. The verb with »ab« as a prefix that I use most often is abholen– “to pick up something or somebody” and so »ab« has become associated with “up” in my mind. Learning that treppab means “downstairs” made it crystal clear that this association was not a helpful one from which to generalize. A search turned up a discussion of separable verbs and the most common meanings of the separable prefixes. »Ab«, according to this page at Dartmouth “usually…carries the notion of ‘away from.'” On the list was another »ab« prefixed word that I use with some regularity: ablenken. One of its primary meanings is “to distract” with the sense of “taking someone’s attention ‘away from’ something.” This should work long enough to help me master up- and downstairs and to discourage me relying on abholen to derive the meaning of »ab« when added to another word. Let’s hope it’s not enough distract me into thinking that abstimmen means “to vote down” something – that’s niederstimmen – or to make me want to niederbrennen – `’burn down” – or niederreißen – “tear down” – anything.

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All’s well that ends well?!

I was working on the vocabulary for the next section of my new favorite exercise book Wörter und Sätze and I came across the word einschenken. Since the main meaning of schenken for me is “to give a gift,” I completely misinterpreted the example sentence Der Gastgeber schenkte uns Rotwein ein. This means “The host poured [some] red wine for us.” That little ein changes everything! This reminded of a prefixed word that one would much prefer to hear relative to its unprefixed base form, ankündigen – “to announce.” Without the little an at the front, kündigen, you’d be “be giving your notice to quit” or “getting notice that a something (e.g., a contract) has been terminated.” At least, unlike with einschenken, the surprise of the an appearing at the end is a good one!

I also learned a new idiomatic expression, perhaps useful in the situation where someone needs to terminate something with someone else: Ich möchte Ihnen reinen Wein einschenken – “I want to come clean with you” or “I want to be straight with you” or literally “I would like to pour [some] pure/unadulterated wine for you.” After this you can begin again by “making a pure table” – reinen Tisch machen – or “wiping the slate clean.”

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Negative growth?

Since fostering growth is a key part of what I do professionally, I learned the words die Entwicklung and entwickeln – “development” and “to develop” soon after I moved to Germany. What I didn’t notice until this morning is that in both languages the words for “development” are prefixed with something that typically indicates a negation of the meaning of the stem. For instance, this is the definition of “de-” from the Cambridge dictionary: “used to add the meaning ‘opposite’, ‘remove’, or ‘reduce’ to a noun or verb.” Duden offers a number of meaning for ent- : “something is undone or returned to its original state, the removal or displacement of something, or taking something away.” The German Language page of about.com relates it to the English prefixes “de-” and “dis-” and gives its meaning as “away from.”

Now “*velop” appears in both “develop” and “envelop” but it is not currently a standalone word with a meaning that can be negated (Google gives the etymology as arising from Latin “dis- ‘un-’ + a second element of unknown origin found also in envelop,” which became the French word développer – “to unfold, unfurl). Wickeln, on the other hand, is a standalone word with the meaning, according to Pons, “to wrap something around something” and colloquially “to change a baby’s diaper.” This is a rather productive stem with one word from the family, einwickeln, being one possible translation for “to envelop.”

When I think about development or die Entwicklung now, I will pay even more attention to how it must involve paring away and replacement rather than simply accretion of the new.

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I’ve been reading a lot of Krimis written for those learning German and came across the word gestehen in one of them (http://www.klett.de/produkt/isbn/3-12-675496-1). It means “to confess” and it joins the small family of verbs I know that happen look like past participles: gefallen and gehören – “to be pleasing [to someone]” and “to belong [to someone].”  In the case of gefallen,it is both an infinitive and a past participle (for fallen); the past participle of both gehören and hören is gehört and the past participle of both stehen  and gestehen is gestanden. One factor that has helped me keep clear on gefallen and gehören is that they require use of the dative: das gefällt mir and das gehört mir – “that pleases me” and “that belongs to me.” Using cannoo.net, I discovered that there are 25 verbs which are formed by the addition of the prefix ge– (http://www.canoo.net/services/WordformationRules/Controller?wordFormationClass=Verb-zu-Verb-Ableitungen+mit+dem+Pr%E4fix+ge&entryClass=Cat+V&resultId=99dc65). Given there are 18202 verbs in the cannoo database, this makes it a rather rare prefix. (One verb I might have expected to see on this list is genießen (“to enjoy”), however while there is niesen – “to sneeze” – there is no nießen.)

Offen gestanden, or “to tell you the truth,” I usually still have a moment of confusion when I hear gehört and need to pause to discern whether we are talking about a case of “hearing” or a case of “belonging” (which just now brought to mind die Belohnung – “the reward” – of which getting the meaning surely is it’s own!).

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That’s just super

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

This famous first line begins with the comparison “best and worst” and goes on to weigh up “wisdom and foolishness,” “belief and incredulity,” “Light and Darkness,” “the spring of hope and the winter of despair,” “everything and nothing,” “Heaven and the other way,” and “good and evil.” What struck me on reading this anew is the fact that the nearly all of polarities Dickens presents are the not the traditional adjectives and adverbs one sees in textbook lists of opposites – although those are represented through “best” and “worst” – but instead are abstract nouns. Yet, he ends the sentence by mentioning the notion of “superlative,” a notion, along with “comparative,” that applies only to adjectives and adverbs and in most cases, at least for one-syllable words, involves morphological changes, for example “early, earlier, earliest” or the irregular “good-better-best.”

We are fascinated by superlatives, the Wikipedia has 251 lists of the biggest, the longest, etc., particularly in the US where it is quite easy to find a diner advertising “The World’s Best Coffee,” a roadside attraction that is the largest you-name-it and where we watch two teams play in the “Superbowl.”

While the people in German speaking countries might not make as many superlative claims, German does offer you a prefix, aller-, to express that something is “the X-est of all” or “the single most X.” One might call it the “superlative of superlatives!” Thus the Allergrößte is “the mother of all…” or “the biggest/greatest/largest of all.” The Allerschönste is “the most beautiful of all.” The Allererster is “the very first [ever]” (typically describing the first person to do something). With allermeisten you can say “the vast majority” in just one word. In addition, aller– is the only prefix that can be used to form adverbs from adverbs; canoo.net lists six such words, three of which are allerbesten “the best of all,” allerfrühestens “at the very earliest” and allerwenigstens “at the very least.”

I also like this trio of words which give you a way to modify verbs: gernlieberam liebsten.

Ich höre gern Klassik – “I listen to classical music with pleasure”
Ich höre lieber Folk – “I prefer to listen to folk music” or “I get more pleasure when I listen to folk music”
Ich höre am liebsten Blues – “I get the most pleasure when I listen to Blues”

or, in other words, meine Lieblingsmusik ist Blues – “My favorite music is Blues!” I hope that one of your favorite things is reading about learning German on Earthquake Words.

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Week 7 Anniversary

Earthquakes make the ground tremble and according to Online Etymology, the word “terrible” comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *tres–  which means “to tremble.” What both earthquakes and trembling bring to mind for most of us is fear – think of the related word “terror” – thus, it can be rather confusing for people trying to learn English when they come across  the adverbial form of “terrible” – “terribly”-  as the former usually signals something negative and the latter something positive (think “terrific”).

“That was a terrible meal” VS. “That was a terribly good meal”

Similar issues arise with “awful” and “awfully,” which can be substituted above with no significant change to the meanings of these sentences. In both cases, the adverbial form has come to be used as an intensifier rather like “very” or “really.”

It turns out that there is at least one similar situation in German. Because German does not have a suffix like “-ly” to mark adverbial forms, disambiguating the two meanings/usages is perhaps even more confusing for a non-native speaker; one must rely on the surrounding words to get the correct sense. The word I’m thinking of here is unheimlich. As an adjective, pons.eu says it means “terrible” or “eerie” or “sinister” or “gives you the creeps” and also “incredible” and “terrific.” As an adverb, the meaning given by pons.eu is “incredibly” (or “eerily,” however this meaning is not given in the entry for unheimlich but only when you look up “eerily” itself).

Also note that unhelpful un at the beginning of unheimlich. This prefix usually signals negation as it does in English (you may recall unsichtbar from a previous post, meaning “not (or in-) visible”), thus increasing one’s tendency to believe this word has a negative connotation. However, appearances can be deceiving as heimlich also expresses something on the negative end of the spectrum, among the possibilities dict.cc gives are: “furtive(ly),” “surreptitious(ly),” “secret,” “clandestine,” “steathily” and “covert(ly).” Using heimlich with a verb adds a sense of sneakiness or doing something on the QT, for example, “to elope” – heimlich heiraten, “to plot something in secret” – etwas heimlich planen.

There is a German expression that plays off this pair – Lieber heimlich schlau als unheimlich doof – which means something to the effect of “It is better to be brilliant and keep quiet about it than it is to be an obvious and loud-mouthed idiot” (I did like this effort to preserve the word play: “Better guardedly canny than uncannily stupid” – although I altered the last word as the original made me uncomfortable).

So here’s wishing you an awfully, terribly, tremendously, earth-shakingly, unheimlich good week!

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Seeing and looking out

For me, one of the best parts of learning a new language is the way it leads you to wonder anew at your mother tongue. In Dialog in Deutsch this morning we were talking about the various compounds that can be formed by adding a prefix to the noun die Sicht – “sight,” “visibility,” “view” and “point of view.” Now this is a favorite word of mine because it was one of the first I learned as part of a compound because Ex, one of the characters in Warum Nicht? the language learning radio program from Deutsche Welle, is an invisible – unsichtbar – elf (and, yes, that this is rather odd really does help to fix the vocabulary in one’s mind!).

The compound that caught my attention today in terms of what it highlighted about English, however, was die Umsicht. This can translated as “circumspection” – the more formal option – as well as “prudence.” I don’t think I ever put “circumspection” together with its relatives “introspection” and “inspection,” nor had a I thought about its connections with “circumnavigate” or “circumscribe.” If you look at the etymology of “circumspection,”  you will find a Latin root meaning “to look around” which shows a clear relationship to Umsicht if you pull it apart into um – “around” and Sicht – “view”. (You can also find “*spect” in the “prospect” meaning of die Aussicht.)

Intriguingly, die Vorsicht, is also given as a translation of “prudence” – amazing what one can “see” if one is prudent enough to take the time to “look out!” for beautiful language “sights!”

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