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Fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn

The German electronic band Kraftwerk ("power plant") had a US radio hit back in the 1970s with their song "Autobahn," and as kids we used to like to sing along to it. I suspect, however, that we weren't the only ones who superimposed sound-alike English lyrics onto the German. Instead of the correct text Fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn, we sang "fun, fun, fun on the autobahn." At least we got the Autobahn part right!

 

Although the verb fahren is the root word of many other German verbs, verbs based on fahren can have a significantly different meaning than "to drive." One such word is the verb verfahren, which itself has several distinct meanings: 

 

Lange klingeln lassen und dann wie gehabt verfahren.
Let it ring for longer and then proceed as usual.

 

Fast hätte ich mich noch verfahren.
Then I would've almost lost my way.

 

Following up with various translations of the verb erfahren

 

Das mussten wir wieder mit Schrecken erfahren.
We were forced once again to experience this with horror.
Caption 57, Angela Merkel: Neujahrsansprache

 

Wir haben nichts gefilmt. -Niemand wird davon erfahren.
We didn't film anything. -Nobody will find out about it.
Caption 30, Die Pfefferkörner: Gerüchteküche

 

Ich hab' das erst mal durch die „Aktuelle Kamera“ erfahren.
I learned about it for the first time through "Aktuelle Kamera.”
Caption 23, 25 Jahre Mauerfall: Bürger Lars Dietrich erinnert sich

 

And then there is the verb anfahren, which can mean "to start driving" or "to approach," but also has another meaning:

 

In Kopenhagen ist es wahrscheinlicher, von einem Fahrrad angefahren zu werden, als von einem Auto.
In Copenhagen, you are more likely to get run over by a bicycle than by a car.
Captions 5-6, TEDx: Der Supermarkt der Zukunft

 

Further Learning
A search on the crowd-sourced German-English dictionary dict.cc yields over a thousand words of all grammatical types that include fahren in some way. Find some new words in that list and look up the various meanings they have on Duden, then go to Yabla German to find examples of the words used in videos. You can also look at this Dartmouth University article on German word formation and how prefixes significantly alter the meaning of the root word upon which they are based.

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