Last week we started looking at a list of words I was asked about by one of my Stammtisch regulars, Edvin. Last week we looked at the words dauernd and dauerhaft, which brought up the interesting topic of the German suffix -haft for adjectives. Edvin also has another similar question on the long list of questions he gave me, and that is, what’s the difference between spürbar and merkbar. As you can probably tell, I’m also going to talk about the suffix -bar in German today.
First, let’s answer Edvin’s question. The difference between these two words.
spürbar = adjective: a. noticeable by the body, felt, clearly noticed/perceived; b. having had a defined and noticeable effect; visibly noticeable
bemerkbar, deutlich, erkennbar, fühlbar, handgreiflich, merkbar, merklich. sichtbar, sichtlich, wahrnehmbar, zusehends
a. Der Schlag war zwar schwach, aber noch spürbar. (Though the hit was quite weak, it was still felt.)
b. Es wird zu spürbaren Kürzungen der Sozialleistungen kommen. (Noticeable cuts will be made to social benefits.)
Note: spürbar comes from the root verb spüren (to feel, to sense, to notice, to perceive). It’s often used with the sense of touch; however, it can be abstracted for other forms of sense as well, which is why there are a & b meanings.
merkbar = adjective: 1. noticeable, being clearly noticed; 2. easily remembered
beträchtlich, merklich, wahrnehmbar, spürbar
- Das Interesse hat merkbar nachgelassen. (There has been a noticeable decrease in interest.) [used as an adverb here]
- Migros hat einen gut merkbaren Werbespruch: ein M besser. (Migros has an easy to remember slogan: one M better.)
Note: merkbar comes from the verb merken (to notice, to perceive, to realize; to make mental note of something). Because there are two different interpretations of this word, there are are also two different uses.
Though the two are often synonyms for each other, a good tip is to use spürbar when you are talking about things that will be felt, and use merkbar for things that are generally noticeable (where the idea of feeling may be left out or not be at all important.)
The German suffix -bar:
The suffix -bar is used the most for turning German verbs into adjectives. That said, many Sprachwissenschaftler (linguists) find that it is over used to make adjectives out of verbs for which there are already perfectly good adjectives (Read this post on Zwiebelfisch). My suggestion would be to use the Duden and see if your new adjective creation is listed there if you’re considering making your own. That said, once you understand this suffix, you’ll be able to understand a great many more German adjectives in both the spoken and written language.
The German suffix -bar is essentially the German equivalent of the English -able. It expresses: 1. that the verb’s action can be done with the object it describes (transitive verbs: z.B. anwendbar (applicable, employable, exercisable), beheizbar (heatable)); 2. that the verb’s action can be done by means of the object it describes (intransitive verbs: z.B. brennbar (flammable), gerinnbar (congealable)); 3. that something is expressly suited for the purpose of the verbs action z.B. tanzbar (danceable), geniessbar (enjoyable).
Building adjectives with bar:
As I wrote above, -bar is the most used suffix for turning German verbs into nouns. This is probably the case, because it’s so easy. In most cases you simply drop the en ending and add bar.
- anwenden (to apply) - en + bar = anwendbar
- brennen (to burn) - en + bar = brennbar
- geniessen (to enjoy) - en + bar = geniessbar
If the verb ends in nen then we need to make the verb end in en and the bar is simply added on. This can be seen as adding an e and dropping the en, or dropping the first n.
- anrechnen (to charge) - first n + bar = anrechenbar (chargeable)
- zuordnen (to allocate, to allot) - first n + bar = zuordenbar (assignable)
Often the negative form can be constructed by adding the prefix un. In these cases the seemingly postive form is often not a German word.
- antasten (to touch) - en + bar + prefix un = unantastbar (untouchable) [antastbar ≠ German word]
- sagen (to say, to utter) - en + bar + prefix un = unsagbar (unutterable) [sagbar ≠ German word]
- überbrücken (to bridge) - en + bar + prefix un = unüberbrückbar (insurmountable, irreconcilable) [überbrückbar = bridgeable]
- geniessbar (Ja ✓) geniessen (to enjoy)