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German Verbs

German Verbs

Verbs express action, activity, occurrence or condition, and German verbs must agree with their nouns in person (first, second, third) and number (singular, plural). Like other languages, German verbs may also reflect time (e.g. present, past, future) and mood (e.g. indicative, imperative and subjunctive).

Changes in verbs to reflect any of the above are referred to as conjugation; in German, verbs may be transitive or intransitive. The former take direct objects while the latter do not.

Transitive verbs: take direct objects – the verb is being done by the subject, and the action of the verb is being received by the direct object. Example: Ich lese das buch. (I read the book.)

Intransitive verbs: do not take direct objects – the verb is being done by the subject, but the action of the verb is not being received by anything present in the sentence. Example: Ich singe. (I sing.)

In English, verbs in the infinitive form begin with “to”; for example, “to be” or “to go”. In German, the infinitive is formed with the –en suffix. For example: 

English:                   to learn                                    German:                   lernen

English:                                    to be                                    German                  sein*

English:                   to have                                    German:                  haben 

*Note that the German verb “to be” has a word root that ends in the vowel “i”, so it the –en suffix is simplified to –n.

German verb tenses

German verbs may take place in the present, future or past. Here’s a quick summary of these tenses:

Present tense is used for actions taking place now.

Example:                   Ich schreibe den Brief.                                                       à                   I’m writing the letter.

Example:                   Ich schreibe jetzt diesen Brief.                                     à                   I’m writing the letter now.

Habitual or ongoing actions:

Example:                   Ich schreibe immer solche Briefe.                  à                   I always write letters like that.

Statements that are considered always or generally true.

Example:                   Die Sonne geht jeden Tag auf.                                     à                   The sun rises every day.

In German, the future tense may be explicit or implied.

Example:                   Morgen schreibe ich den Brief.                                     à                   I will write the letter tomorrow.

Statements in the past tense have already taken place; as in English, German past tense may be simple or compound.

Example:                   Ich lernte Englisch.                                                       à                   I learned English.                   (Simple)

Example:                   Ich habe Englisch gelernt.                                    à                   I have learned English.                  (Compound)