The need to learn German verbs is essential. If you don’t have the ability to make sense of German grammar verb tenses and German verb conjugation, you are in danger of forming nominative sentences: "Me Tarzan, you Jane!” At some point in your German lessons you are going to be confronted with a list of verbs in German, but more importantly, what to do with them!
Like many other languages, German verb conjugation means that you need to take the core or the verb, or verb stem and either add a prefix or a suffix to it, depending on whether your sentence is in the past or present tense!
Bear in mind as you learn German verbs, that there are also so-called ‘irregular’ verbs where the stem is modified in certain tenses, but the endings do not always conform.
This irregular list of verbs in German, however, cannot really be called an exception simply because there are just too many of them, many of which are commonly used in German.
German Verbs: The Infinitive
On a list of verbs in German, there is what is called the infinitive. This is what you could also call the ‘default setting’ when it comes to a verb. In English, infinitives are typically preceded by the word ‘to’. This could be ‘to come,’ or, ‘to do’. As you learn German verbs, you will find that infinitives are made up of the verb stem, as well as ‘en’ as the ending. For instance, ‘machen’, or ‘kommen’.
German Grammar Tenses
The complex topic of German grammar verb tenses is enough to convince any German student that a German tutor might be the answer! Here are the kinds of German grammar tenses that you are likely to encounter in your lessons.
Learn German Verbs in the Simple Present
In a nutshell, verbs are influenced by German grammar tenses. In the simple present tense, they are used:
- to show that actions are happening in the present.
I’m going to the cinema, is translated, Ich gehe jetzt ins Kino.
- to indicate activities that will take place in the near future.
Tomorrow, we’ll go to the cinema is translated, Morgen gehen wir ins Kino.
- to show something that is either a universal truth or is constantly happening.
Cinema’s a popular past time, translates, Das Kino ist ein beliebtes Freizeitangebot.
This is a list of verbs in German that correspond to the present in English, known as the present continuous. An example of this would be I am going to the beach. This present continuous does not exist within German grammar tenses which is why many Germans battle to grasp this concept in English.
In German grammar tenses, the simple present is formed using the verb stem, as well as the following endings:
Let’s use the example of ‘machen’, which means to do:
|1st Person Singular||Ich mache|
|2nd Person Singular||Du machst|
|3rd Person Singular||Er macht|
|1st Person Plural||Wir Machen|
|2nd Person Plural||Ihr macht|
|2nd Person Singular Formal and the 3rd Person Plural||Sie Machen|
Believe it or not, this was the easy part! On a list of verbs in German, the irregular ones can be modified to a degree. This enables conjugation. Not dissimilar to most languages, the verb ‘to be’ translated in German as ‘sein’ is an irregular verb, but fortunately, in terms of German grammar verb tenses, the present tense is mostly straight forward.
When it comes to auxiliary verbs and German grammar tenses, as a rule, many of the other tenses are actually crafted from the auxiliary verb in the present tense, followed by the main verb is an infinitive or participle.
How to Communicate the Future with German Grammar Tenses
As you can see, German can sometimes use the simple present to describe future actions. However, you will find as you learn German verbs that the future tense is included in German grammar tenses too.
The Simple Future and German Verb Conjugation
There are three main reasons to use the future tense in German:
- to express intent
- to communicate actions that are in the distant future
- to communicate actions that are in the distant future, rather than using the present tense which would lead to confusion.
As a rule, the future tense is shaped by the auxiliary verb “werden” as well as the infinitive, to create German verb conjugation like:
|Er wird Machen|
|Sie werden machen|
|Ich werde machen|
|Wir werden machen|
|Ihr werdet Machen|
|Du wirst machen|
In terms of German verb conjugation, ‘Werden’ takes the second place in main clauses and uses the infinitive only at the sentence’s end. For instance, Ich werde morgen ins Kino gehen.
When it comes to insubordinate clauses, the word ‘werden’ is situated at the very end of the clause after the infinitive.
German Grammar Tenses: The Future Perfect
The future perfect tense is used to express an action that is already finished. This could be either when talking about events that are in the future, or about events that are in the past at the time of speaking about them.
In German grammar tenses, the future is expressed by using the following formula:
“werden” (which is conjugated), plus the participle of the main verb, plus the infinitive of either ‘sein’or ‘haben’.
Take a look at these examples:
|Sie werden gemacht haben.||Sie werden gegangen sein.|
|Wir werden gemacht haben.||Wir werden gegangen sein.|
|Du wirst gemacht haben.||Du wirst gegangen sein.|
|Ich werde gemacht haben.||Ich werde gegangen sein.|
|Er wird gemacht haben.||Er wird gegangen sein.|
|Ihr werdet gemacht haben.||Ihr werdet gegangen sein.|
Remember that verbs that become direct objects will use the auxiliary verb ‘haben’ while verbs of action, existence or showing change, will use the auxiliary, ‘sein’.
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German Verb Conjugation and Past Tenses
How to Use German Grammar Tenses to Conjugate the Simple Past
When it comes to the German language, the simple past should be the one chosen in German grammar tenses that indicates that something has happened and is finished at the time of describing it. This kind of German verb conjugation is becoming increasingly rare in the spoken language but is still used extensively in written language.
To do this, the verb is conjugated by adding a ‘t’ to the stem of the verb. This is then followed by suffixes that are used from the simple present. Take a look at some of these examples:
Do note that when it comes to the simple past, it is one of those German grammar verb tenses where irregular verbs truly show their colours!
German Grammar Verb Tenses: The Present Perfect
In the German language, the present perfect tense is used in everyday, ordinary speech to communicate actions that are already over at the time of speaking about them. Generally, when the English language would use the simple past, German would use the present perfect.
The present perfect tense in German is formed by conjugating the auxiliary verbs ‘sein’ or ‘haben’ in the present and then by adding the past participle. Take a look at these examples:
|Du hast gemacht||Du bist gekommen|
|Er hat gemacht||Er ist gekommen|
|Ihr habt gemacht||Ihr seid gekommen|
|Ich habe gemacht||Ich bin gekommen|
|Sie haben gemacht||Sie sind gekommen|
|Wir haben gemacht||Wir sind gekommen|
Using the Past Perfect Tense in German Grammar
Not dissimilar to English, the past perfect tense is used in German to express a past action that is taking place before another past action.
In short, the basic formula to create the past perfect tense in German is as follows:
Take either of the auxiliary verbs ‘sein’, or ‘haben’ in the simple past tense, plus by using the past participle.
|Er hat gemacht.||Er war gekommen.|
|Sie hatten gemacht.||Sie waren gekommen.|
|Ihr hattet gemacht.||Ihr wart gekommen.|
|Ich hatte gemacht.||Ich war gekommen.|
|Wir haben gemacht.||Wir waren gekommen.|
|Du hast gemacht.||Du warst gekommen.|
Knowing When to Use Which German Auxiliary Verb
When conjugating your German verbs, it’s important to remember the following:
- Always use the auxiliary verb ‘werden’ for the German future tense and then conjugate it in the future perfect.
- Always use the auxiliary verb ‘haben’ in the German perfect tense for verbs that have a direct (accusative) object.
- Remember to use the auxiliary verb ‘sein’ with German verbs that express motion, reality or change.
How German Participles Work
The Present Participle and How it is Used in the German Language
When it comes to the present participle, there are two ways these can be used:
It can either perform the task of an adjective, by giving additional information about a noun, for example:
- eine tanzende Ratte, which means, a dancing rat
- ein denkender Mensch, which means a thinking person
You will also notice that it can function as an adjective when translated using the English participle ending in ‘ing’. The difference is that in English, for instance, the participle clauses need subordinate clauses to make sense.
It can also function as an adverb! By providing additional information regarding the predicate (generally the verb) while also indicating concurrent action.
The present participle can also be made by adding the suffix ‘end’ to the stem of the verb. You will notice that this generally corresponds to the participle ‘ing’ in English.
Crafting the German Past Participle
In German, most past participles are formed by adding the prefix ‘ge’ and the suffix ‘t’ to the stem of the verb. Take a look at these examples:
|Ich kaufe. Ich habe gekauft.|
|Du machst. Du hast gemacht.|
|Es schneit. Es hat geschneit.|
The Imperative in German Verbs
Before embarking on your German language course, it’s possible that the most German you heard was probably when the imperative was used, which is for giving directions or orders. Consider this one:
Gib mir die Fernbedienung, which means, give me the remote!
Generally, the imperative is formed by using a bare stem of a verb for the 2nd person singular, as well as the ending ‘t’ for the 2nd person plural. Due to its nature as an order, there is actually no first or second person in the imperative:
|2nd Person Plural:||Macht!||Kommt!|
|2nd Person Singular:||Mach!||Komm!|
As a rule, if the verb happens to end in a single consonant, then 2nd person singular takes an ‘e’:
*Note: if the last letter of the stem of the verb is a ‘t’ an extra ‘e’ is then added between the two ‘t’s in the 2nd person plural.
When addressing somebody in a formal manner, you can use the formal ‘Sie’, then the verb takes the ending ‘en’ like:
|Machen Sie!||Kommen Sie!|
You can also offer commands in the infinitive, which will mean that the verb will come at the end of the sentence, which is very common with signage:
|Stifte fallen lassen!|
Learning German Irregular Verbs
When you learn German verbs, you will discover that irregular verbs are also known as ‘strong verbs’ and in certain tenses, these are verbs that can change their stems.
This happens when they are used in:
- The simple past
- The imperative
- Past participle use
- The subjunctive (look out for future posts on that)
Actually, these occur in English grammar, too:
I drink - Ich trinke
I drank - ich trank
I have drunk - ich habe getrunken
Drink - Trink!
As you learn German verbs, you will find that many strong verbs will amend the vowel in the verb stem and also add the suffix ‘en’ instead of ‘t’ in place of the past participle. However, some are so irregular that they simply just need to be learnt by heart. you just have to learn them by heart. Oddly enough (or perhaps not, because both German and English share the same root), a lot of verbs that are irregular in English, are also irregular in German grammar, too!