all Scandinavian: prefixed verbs vs. phrasal verbs

Gavril

Senior Member
English, USA
The Scandinavian languages have various verbs/nouns that include a prepositional prefix, and that seem to be based on, or influenced by, a German source: Swedish förstå (German verstehen), erhålla (erhalten), bistånd (Beistand), etc.

Alongside these are various phrasal verbs, often composed of a verb and preposition, that are not necessarily based on German (for example, Sw. gå av "break", säga upp "cancel", tycka om "like", etc. do not have analogues in German that I know of).

This is perhaps a difficult question to answer, but: do speakers of Scandinavian languages find that the words in group 1 above are less transparent -- i.e. less easy to guess the meaning of based on their parts -- compared to the words in group 2?

Or, do you not notice any significant difference between the two groups in terms of their transparency?
 
Last edited:
  • raumar

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    This is perhaps a difficult question to answer
    Yes, it is impossible for native speakers. We never face a situation where we have to guess the meaning of words based on their parts.

    Having said that, there are some differences between prefixed and phrasal verbs that may interest you. You will often find one prefixed and one phrasal verb that are composed of the same parts. Sometimes the meaning is different. In these cases, the phrasal verb is often concrete and the prefixed version means something abstract or figurative. Sometimes the meaning is the same. In these cases, the prefixed version is often more formal than the phrasal.

    Let us look at your example "gå av". In Norwegian, one meaning is "break", another is "resign" (from office), a third is "get off" (the bus). The prefixed version "avgå" doesn't mean "break" or "get off". It might be possible to use "avgå" for "resign", but then it is formal (or even stilted). "Avgå" is mainly used in the set phrase "avgå ved døden" (pass away), and "gå av" is impossible in that context. This is of course a rather formal expression.

    You can find more information (in Norwegian) here:
    Nedlegge eller legge ned?
     

    DerFrosch

    Senior Member
    It might be possible to use "avgå" for "resign", but then it is formal (or even stilted).
    That's interesting, because in Swedish only avgå is used in the sense of "resign", never gå av.

    The general information raumar provided above, however, very much applies to Swedish too.

    Is there any specific reason why you asked this question, Gavril? I ask because it seems to me that you, as a non-native speaker, would actually be in a better position to answer your own question then us natives.
     

    Gavril

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Thanks to those who've responded so far.

    Is there any specific reason why you asked this question, Gavril? I ask because it seems to me that you, as a non-native speaker, would actually be in a better position to answer your own question then us natives.
    My knowledge of Scandinavian is too limited (at this point) for me to have much of a sense of how to answer to this question.

    As for why I asked: I'm interested in the semantics of phrasal verbs (come to, eat up, etc.) and similar prefixed verbs, and I thought Scandinavian could bring an interesting perspective on this due to the sourcing of its vocabulary.

    I don't entirely agree with the idea that (if I understand you and Raumar correctly) native speakers are never in a position to guess the meaning of verbs like these. My experience as an English speaker is that there is a scale of transparency for these verbs, and verbs that are on the more transparent end of the scale (such as eat up) can be used to help deduce the meaning of other verbs with a similar structure (e.g. clean up), even if such deductions are not always reliable.

    (But with that said, I meant to address the question to Scandinavian speakers -- i.e. anyone with a fluent knowledge of these languages, including 2nd-language learners who have probably thought more about questions like this on average than native speakers have.)
     
    Last edited:

    raumar

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    there is a scale of transparency for these verbs, and verbs that are on the more transparent end of the scale (such as eat up) can be used to help deduce the meaning of other verbs with a similar structure (e.g. clean up)
    Yes - but what I meant to say, is that native speakers make those deductions unconsciously, when we are small children.

    That's interesting, because in Swedish only avgå is used in the sense of "resign", never gå av.
    As Gavril mentioned, the prefixed versions seem to be influenced by German. In Norwegian, there is a tendency to regard German-looking constructions as unnecessary formal, and avoid them whenever it is possible. This is especially the case in Nynorsk Norwegian, but to some extent also in Bokmål.
     

    MattiasNYC

    Senior Member
    Swedish
    I don't entirely agree with the idea that (if I understand you and Raumar correctly) native speakers are never in a position to guess the meaning of verbs like these. My experience as an English speaker is that there is a scale of transparency for these verbs, and verbs that are on the more transparent end of the scale (such as eat up) can be used to help deduce the meaning of other verbs with a similar structure (e.g. clean up), even if such deductions are not always reliable.
    I largely agree with Raumar. I would say however that this is probably one of those situations where as a native speaker you really need to read through a large amount of examples and see if some of them confuse you, and only then do you know how you react to them. I can absolutely see the argument that we sometimes use some verbs to help us understand similarly structured but until now unfamiliar verbs, but of course there are only so many and who can remember which and when they were learned.... If you know what I mean...

    Then again, reading through your examples in the first post I'm honestly not sure I think that the prepositions help that much. Intuitively - and this could be wrong actually - I find that the second group, with prepositions separated from verbs, is actually more difficult to make sense of logically. I obviously can't say because I grew up learning the language, but it seems to me easier to learn and understand the word "förstå" simply because it's just one word to learn, whereas "gå av" for example requires a context to understand whether we're talking about for example a selfie stick "breaking" or "disembarking" a train.
     

    bicontinental

    Senior Member
    English (US), Danish, bilingual
    do speakers of Scandinavian languages find that the words in group 1 above are less transparent -- i.e. less easy to guess the meaning of based on their parts -- compared to the words in group 2?
    I wouldn’t say that one group is necessarily more ‘transparent’ than the other, (bistå vs. stå bi, fremkalde vs. kalde frem, strege under vs. understrege). As others have said, I also think most people just learn the meaning and the proper usage of these compound verbs the same way they learn to use phrasal verbs… and any other category of words for that matter.

    In many cases a given compound verb and the related phrasal verb are semantically different and for that reason most people probably don’t even make a connection between them. As raumar points out, there are compound verbs that also function as separable verbs (phrasal verbs) with little or no difference in meaning, but where the compound forms tend to be more formal (e.g. skrive under/underskrive). This is the part I find quite interesting, since historically speaking …dating back to the Reformation…there is an apparent trend toward using the compound forms in the higher registers whereas the phrasal verbs are more commonly used in the lower end of the formality spectrum.

    Ref: Løst og fast om sammensætninger

    Bic.
     

    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    I would argue that phrasal verbs are harder to handle for non-native speakers, this is true for English as well as Swedish! I'm sure there are lots of questions about phrasal verbs in this forum, in fact. Compound verbs starting with the preposition as a prefix are of course easier to find the meaning of in dictionaries. Dictionaries don't always list phrasal verbs, or else you're not aware that you should look for that alternative. First example that comes to mind: 'Gå upp' as V+P = go up (walk in an upwardly direction), but 'gå upp' as a phrasal verb means 'gain weight'. In this case the compound verb means something else again - 'uppgå' ='amount to'.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    [QUOTE="Gavril, post: 17415408, member: 72810"...

    This is perhaps a difficult question to answer, but: do speakers of Scandinavian languages find that the words in group 1 above are less transparent -- i.e. less easy to guess the meaning of based on their parts -- compared to the words in group 2?

    Or, do you not notice any significant difference between the two groups in terms of their transparency?[/QUOTE]

    Whether this is transparent or no certainly depends on who you are. And I don't understand why you believe this came from German. I don't know any language where you can't construct words like fhat - verbs included. And there are always people to whom they are just words and there are people who figure out that zu is or that suffix or prefix changes the meaning of the original word in such and such a way.
    I do dot exclude that there may exist a language where words are NOT made that way, but I have never heard of any.

    Pre- and suffixes always change the meaning of a word andI cannot imagine anyone who speaks a certain language well who did not have an consciously acquired or intuitive understanding of the pre- and suffixes that he heuld not often be able to understand words he hes never heard before - even new words you make up on the spot by adding a prefix.
     
    Last edited:
    < Previous | Next >
    Top