All About German Verbs

By OptiLingo

Easy way to study German verbs, including German verbs, including German verb tense, German mood

Strong vs. Weak Verbs

Understanding grammar will help you on your way to foreign language fluency. In the German language there are three types of verbs. Each category of verbs takes characteristic endings for its past participles and its simple past forms. Strong verbs are “irregular” (though not necessarily in all their forms), weak verbs are “regular,” and “mixed verbs” (which account for the “half” in “two and a half types of verbs”) are a small class of verbs that take weak verb endings but are nevertheless irregular. Keep these types of verbs in mind when learning German.

Type 1: Weak verbs – regular

These are the verbs with no stem-vowel changes in any tense. They take –te endings in Simple Past and Subjunctive II, and -t endings for their past participles: sagen, sagte, (habe) gesagt; einkaufen, kaufte ein, (habe) eingekauft; wandern, wanderte, (bin) gewandert.

Type 2: Strong verbs – irregular

These are the verbs that have stem-vowel changes in one or more of the tenses. In the Simple Past, they take the same endings as modal verbs such as “müssen”, “können”, “dürfen” (i.e. in particular no endings for 1st and 3rd person singular); their past participles end in -en: gehen, ging, (bin) gegangen; sehen, du siehst [stem-change in present tense], sah, (habe) geseh en

Type 3: Mixed verbs (also referred to as irregular weak verbs)

These are verbs with weak verb endings, but they are not regular, i.e. they do have vowel changes. The following mixed verbs (and their compounds) are very common:

  • haben, du hast, hatte, gehabt (to have)
  • kennen, kannte, gekannt (to know someone)
  • wissen, wusste, gewusst (to know something)
  • denken, dachte, gedacht (to think)
  • bringen, brachte, gebracht (to bring)
  • nennen, nannte, genannt (to call – in the sense of naming)
  • brennen, brannte, gebrannt (to burn)

Verb Tenses

German verbs fall into one of six different tenses. These include the following:

  1. 1. Present
  2. 2. Present perfect
  3. 3. Simple past
  4. 4. Past perfect
  5. 5. Future
  6. 6. Future perfect

Present: The present tense is the most commonly used tense in German. This tense is generally used to talk about the present, the future, and even the past.

Present perfect: This tense shows that an action in the past has been completed. This tense is used when the speaker wants to focus on the result of the action.

Simple past: The simple past tense is used to express facts and actions that took place in the past. This tense is often used in stories and reports, usually when writing.

Past perfect: With the past perfect, a speaker can express actions that took place before a certain point in the past.

Future: This tense is generally used to express an intention for the future, or an assumption about the present or future.

Future perfect: The future perfect expresses the assumption that an action will have been completed by the time of speaking, or by a particular point in the future.

Note that in German, the present perfect and the simple past have equivalent meanings. They differ in usage and style: the perfect tense is used more in spoken German, whereas the simple past is more common in writing. A further explanation of each tense is provided below.

Present:

The present tense is the most commonly used tense in German. This tense is generally used to talk about the present and the future. To construct this tense, we remove the infinitive ending en and add the following endings:

 

Person

Ending

Example

1st person singular (ich)

-e

ich lerne

2nd person singular (du)

-st

du lernst

3rd person singular (er/sie/es/man)

-t

er lernt

1st person plural (wir)

-en

wir lernen

2nd person plural (ihr)

-t

ihr lernt

3rd person plural/polite form (sie/Sie)

-en

sie/Sie lernen

The verbs sein and haben are irregular:

Person

sein

haben

1st person singular (ich)

ich bin

ich habe

2nd person singular (du)

du bist

du hast

3rd person singular (er/sie/es/man)

er ist

er hat

1st person plural (wir)

wir sind

wir haben

2nd person plural (ihr)

ihr seid

ihr habt

3rd person plural/polite form (sie/Sie)

sie sind

sie/Sie haben

Present perfect:

This tense shows that an action in the past has been completed. This tense is used when the speaker wants to focus on the result of the action.

The auxialiary “haben” is used in most cases, “sein” is used for main verbs that indicate movement from a to b. Exceptions are a few verbs such as “bleiben” stay/remain, which are stationary, but use “sein” anyway.

In order to form this tense, the present-tense form of sein or haben is required, as demonstrated in the table below:

Person

sein

haben

1st person singular (ich)

ich bin

gegangen

ich habe

gelesen

2nd person singular (du)

du bist

du hast

3rd person singular (er/sie/es/man)

er ist

er hat

1st person plural (wir)

wir sind

wir haben

2nd person plural (ihr)

ihr seid

ihr habt

3rd person plural/polite form (sie/Sie)

sie/Sie sind

sie/Sie haben

Simple past

The simple past tense is used to express facts and actions that took place in the past. This tense is often used in stories and reports, usually when writing. This tense is constructed by removing the infinitive verb ending and adding the following:

person

weak verbs

 

strong/mixed verbs

1st person singular (ich)

–te

ich lernte

ich sah

2nd person singular (du)

–test

du lerntest

–st

du sahst

3rd person singular (er/sie/es/man)

–te

er lernte

er sah

1st person plural (wir)

–ten

wir lernten

–en

wir sahen

2nd person plural (ihr)

–tet

ihr lerntet

–t

ihr saht

3rd person plural/polite form (sie/Sie)

–ten

sie lernten

–en

sie sahen

The verbs sein/haben are special cases:

person

sein

haben

1st person singular (ich)

ich war

ich hatte

2nd person singular (du)

du warst

du hattest

3rd person singular (er/sie/es/man)

er war

er hatte

1st person plural (wir)

wir waren

wir hatten

2nd person plural (ihr)

ihr wart

ihr hattet

3rd person plural/polite form (sie/Sie)

sie/Sie waren

sie/Sie hatten

Past perfect

With the past perfect, a speaker can express actions that took place before a certain point in the past. In order to construct this tense, again, we need the helping verbs “sein” and “haben”:

person

sein

haben

1st person singular (ich)

ich war

gegangen

ich hatte

gelesen

2nd person singular (du)

du warst

du hattest

3rd person singular (er/sie/es/man)

er war

er hatte

1st person plural (wir)

wir waren

wir hatten

2nd person plural (ihr)

ihr wart

ihr hattet

3rd person plural/polite form (sie/Sie)

sie/Sie waren

sie/Sie hatten

Future

This tense is generally used to express an intention for the future, or an assumption about the present or future. In order to construct the future tense, we need the infinitive form of “werden” and the infinitive (basic form) of the main verb:

person

form of “werden”

 

main verb

1st person singular (ich)

ich werde

gehen
lesen
sehen
gewinnen

2nd person singular (du)

du wirst

3rd person singular (er/sie/es/man)

er wird

1st person plural (wir)

wir werden

2nd person plural (ihr)

ihr werdet

3rd person plural/polite form (sie/Sie)

sie/Sie werden

Future perfect

The future perfect expresses the assumption that an action will have been completed by the time of speaking, or by a particular point in the future. To table below demonstrates how this tense is constructed:

person

form of “werden”

 

main verb + sein/haben

1st person singular (ich)

ich werde

gegangen sein
aufgewacht sein

gelesen haben
gedacht haben

2nd person singular (du)

du wirst

3rd person singular (er/sie/es/man)

er wird

1st person plural (wir)

wir werden

2nd person plural (ihr)

ihr werdet

3rd person plural/polite form (sie/Sie)

sie/Sie werden

Verb Types

Verbs are words that express an action, a process, or a state of being (e.g. gehen, schlafen, sein – to go, to sleep, to be). In this part, we will explain everything you need to know about modal verbs, reflexive verbs, separable and inseparable verbs, the passive, imperative, and subjunctive.

Modal Verbs

The modal verbs are dürfen, können, mögen, müssen, sollen and wollen. We can use these verbs to change the content of a statement – for example, there’s a difference between “you must do this” and “you may do this”.

Reflexive Verbs

Reflexive verbs are verbs that have a reflexive pronoun. True reflexive verbs always have a particular meaning when used with a reflexive pronoun. We can recognise these verbs by the fact that the reflexive pronoun cannot be replaced by another word.

Example: Sie kennen sich >They know each other.

Separable Verbs

In German, we can add prefixes to many verbs and thereby create verbs with a different meaning. This is very similar to English, e.g. schauen, anschauen, nachschauen >look, look at, look up.

In the finite form, some verbs get separated from their prefix – we call these “separable verbs”. Certain other verbs keep the verb and prefix together, even in the finite form – these are “inseparable verbs”. The pronunciation of the prefix determins which group a verb belongs to.

Passive Verbs

We use the passive voice to emphasise an action (processual passive) or a condition (statal passive). Who or what caused the action or condition is unimportant, unknown, or assumed to be generally known.

Imperative Verbs

We use the imperative for demands and orders addressed to one or more people directly. Therefore, the imperative exists for the forms du, ihr, wir and the polite form of address Sie.

Subjunctive Verbs

We use the subjunctive for reported speech and situations that have not (yet) taken place. There are two forms of the subjunctive: Subjunctive I and the Subjunctive II.

Subjunctive I: We primarily find the Subjunctive I used in newpaper articles and reports, when statements are repeated as indirect speech, also known as “reported speech”. But the subjunctive I is also used in certain idiomatic expressions.

Subjunctive II: We generally use the subjunctive II when we imagine or wish something that isn’t currently possible. The Subjunctive II is also used in indirect speech or with particularly polite questions or statements.