How to memorize German verbs: Untrennbare verben

Herzliche Grüße!

I’d like to share with you my method for learning German verbs. To many, my approach may be self-apparent, but so far, I have not found this method in writing on the net. This method works for verbs whose stem is preceded by a prefix, i.e., trennbare (separable) and untrennbare (inseparable) verbs. My verb cataloguing system classifies each verb based on its prefix. It is based on the premise that if a given verb’s surroundings (within your memory world) give you a cue regarding the verb’s prefix, and if the suffix for German infinitive verbs is for the most part -en (some end in -ern/-ln/-rn), then one can easily recall the verb by focusing on embedding the image for the verb stem in a unique prefix palace. To test the method, I decided to memorize a list of untrennbare verben.

First, here are the prefixes that designate a verb as inseparable; keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list:

ge-, miss-, zer-, be-, er-, ent-, emp-, ver-

I’ve used a simple well-known French mnemonic to remember this list: J’ai mis Cerbère en Enfer (I’ve put Cerberus in Hell).

I then chose a beautiful stretch of land along a canal in my memory world, and created unique memory palaces, each one adjacent to the other, for each prefix:

  • ge-: Grotto with gems encrusted in the walls
  • miss-: Missile Silo
  • zer-: Starcraft Zerg base (or any extraterrestrial structure in which one can imagine carnivorous aliens feeling right at home)
  • be-: Giant subterranean beehives with interlinked tunnels and rivers of honey (think of those Honeycomb cereal ads you used to see on TV)
  • er-: An erg (sand dune sea) surrounding a giant sand castle on top of which a chairlift services a plateau with oases and giant pyramids (this world is large!)
  • ent-: A giant hollow living tree (ents from the Lord of the Rings) with wooden staircases, rope bridges, swiss-family-robinson-type treehouses) emp: This one was an afterthought, as the category does not encompass many verbs. It’s a balcony of said tree.
  • ver: A giant fairground with rollercoasters, bumper cars, ferris wheels (each cabin of the ferris wheel housing four verbs) etc.

Once these prefix palaces have been fleshed out, one can begin placing images for verb stems within them. The image must necessarily have two governing characteristics, i.e., a pointer to the German stem coupled with an image or action describing the English action implied by the verb.

As an example, let me take you through a section of my ge- palace:

In a certain corridor, a cavern antichamber with massive ruby gems that bedeck the walls, I see the following three consecutive composite images of verbs:

  • Gelingen (to succeed): The stem “ling” is characterized by the panda Lingling. The panda is sucking in thousands of seeds from the surroundings into his mouth (much like the videogame character Kirby sucks in air).
  • Gehören (to belong): The stem “hör” is characterized by Ben Hur, standing on a chariot. The umlaut is embedded in the image as two balls of energy swirling around him. Ben Hur has grabbed a giant bee by the sternum and forelegs and is stretching him (bee + long… not my best).
  • Genießen (to enjoy): An old 1910 poster of a biplane pilot flying over the city of Nice (I googled this image), coupled with an image of an airplane engine being fixed by reverend Lovejoy (The Simpsons).

In this fashion, I have succeeded in memorizing some 150 verbs, including the verbs from this list:

What’s great about this method is that I can do this on the fly when reading my German Tintin comic books (Tim und Struppi). If I come across a verb for whose prefix I have already created a palace, I simply fashion a composite image of the stem and its meaning, and create a new chamber in that palace. I hope this has been useful to you!



Very nice. Thank you for info.