Verbs with inseparable prefixes

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List of commonly used inseparable prefixes

There are also a number of prefixes which never detach themselves from the main verb. They include:

be- besuchen to visit
emp- empfinden to feel
ent- entleeren to empty
er- erzählen to tell (a story)
ge- gehören to belong
miss- missachten to disregard
ver- verlieren to lose
zer- zerstören to destroy

Here are some of them in use:

Sie besuchen ihre Eltern fast jedes Wochenende. They visit their parents almost every weekend.
Erzähl uns noch eine Geschichte! Tell us another story!
Dieses Buch gehört Martin. This book belongs to Martin.

Past participles
Verbs with inseparable prefixes don’t add ge- when forming their past participle:

Sie hat das nicht bereut. She hasn’t regretted it.
Paul hat gestern seinen Pass verloren. Paul lost his passport yesterday.

Verbs with variable prefixes
There are also some prefixes which can either be separable or inseparable. They include:

durch- durchlassen (sep.) to let through durchdenken (insep.) to think through
über- überkochen (sep.) to boil over übernachten (insep.) to stay overnight
um- umfallen (sep.) to fall over umarmen (insep.) to embrace
unter- untergehen (sep.) to sink unterrichten (insep.) to teach
wieder- wiedersehen (sep.) to see again wiederholen (insep.) to repeat
wider- widerspiegeln (sep.) to reflect widersprechen (insep.) to contradict

Here are some of them in use:
Die Suppe kochte über. The soup was boiling over.
Sie übernachteten in einem Hotel. They stayed overnight in a hotel
Das Schiff ist untergegangen. The ship has sunk.
Er hat früher Physik unterrichtet. He used to teach physics.

How to spot the difference

A way of identifying a separable or inseparable prefix is to see where the stress falls:

• if the verb is separable, the stress usually falls on the prefix: durchfallen, überkochen, umfallen, untergehen, wiedersehen, widerspiegeln;
• if the verb is inseparable, the stress falls on the main verb: durchdenken, übernachten, umarmen, unterrichten, wiederholen, widersprechen.

Same word, different meanings
A few verbs exist as a separable as well as an inseparable verb. Although the prefix is the same, their meaning and stress differ:

Separable Inseparable 
übersetzento ferry acrossübersetzento translate
überziehento put/pull onüberziehento overdraw
umschreibento rewriteumschreibento paraphrase

The above separable forms often convey the literal meaning of the verb, while the inseparable forms usually have a more figurative meaning:

Das Boot setzt über. The boat ferries across.
Marco übersetzt einen Text. Marco is translating a text.
Sie hat ihre Jacke übergezogen. She has put on her jacket.
Sie hat ihr Konto überzogen. She has overdrawn her account.