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.

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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:

 

EnglishSubjectDirect ObjectIndirect Object
Ijemoime
you (sing.)tutoite
heille
lui
sheellelalui
wenousnousnous
you (plur.)vousvousvous
they (masc.)ilslesleur
they (fem.)elleslesleur

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.

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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:

 

 Definite article Indefinite article Demonstrative pronounPossessive adjective Possessive pronoun
Masculineleuncemon
ton
son
notre
votre
leur
mien
tien
sien
nôtre
vôtre
leur
Femininelaunecettema
ta
sa
notre
votre
leur
mienne
tienne
sienne
nôtre
vôtre
leur
Plural (masc.)lesdescesmes
tes
ses
nos
vos
leurs
miens
tiens
siens
nôtres
vôtres
leurs
Plural (fem.)lesdescettesmes
tes
ses
nos
vos
leurs
miennes
tiennes
siennes
nôtres
vôtres
leurs

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:

 

Masculine singular Feminine singularMasculine pluralFeminine plural Translation
ancienancienneanciensanciennesold, ancient
gentilgentillegentilsgentillesnice
grosgrossegrosgrosseslarge, fat
sotsottesotssottesidiot, stupid

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:

 

Masculine singular Feminine singular Masculine plural Feminine plural ExampleTranslation
-eux-euse-eux-eusesmalheureux-malheureuseunhappy
-f-ve-fs-vesactif-activeactive
-er-ère-ers-èrescher-chèredear (both cherished and costly)

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:

 

Masculine singularFeminine singularMasculine plural Feminine plural Translation
Beau
Blanc
Complet
Doux
Faux
Favori
Franc
Public
Sec
Secret
vieux
belle
blanche
complète
douce
fausse
favorite
franche
publique
sèche
secrète
vieille
beaux
blancs
complets
doux
faux
favoris
francs
publics
secs
secrets
vieux
belles
blanches
complètes
douces
fausses
favorites
franches
publiques
sèches
secrètes
vieilles
beautiful
white
complete
soft
wrong
favourite
frank, honest
public
dry
secret
old

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.

 

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Language Trainers£49£49£28
Superprof(in a mutually agreed location)
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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.
carpenter drilling
Er wird Machen = He will make. - Source: Pexels

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.

Machend, kommend.

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:

 

Non-vegetarianVegetarian
Dairy milkSoymilk
Ham and pineapple pizzaOlives and artichoke pizza
Beef lasagneVegetable lasagne
Pork stir fryTofu stir fry
Lamb kebabVegetable and halloumi kebab
Beef burgerBean burger
Sausage sandwichSoy-based patties

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:

 

MondayCrustless red onion and courgette quiche
TuesdayAsparagus and roast pepper muffins
WednesdayBaked canelloni
ThursdayBaked eggs with peppers, spinach and tomato
FridaySouth Indian vegetable curry
SaturdayFeta couscous with griddled veg
SundayMediterranean vegetable filo tart

As a rule, if the verb happens to end in a single consonant, then 2nd person singular takes an ‘e’:

 

 Singular masculineSingular femininePlural masculinePlural feminine
Demonstrativececettecescettes
Possessive 1st person singularmonmamesmes
Possessive 2nd person singulartontontestes
Possessive 3rd person singularsonsasesses
Possessive 1st person pluralnotrenotrenosnos
Possessive 2nd person pluralvotrevotrevosvos
Possessive 3rd person pluralleurleurleursleurs

*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:

 

InstrumentAverage price per hour
Trumpet£31.40
Piano£24.40
Violin£23.86
Guitar£23.36
Drums£21.36

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:

 

CityAverage price per hour
London£32
Manchester£23
Bristol£23
Glasgow£18

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!

Interested in reading related articles? Check some of our articles below:

German Grammar rules - where to start

Correct sentence structure in German

Master cases and genders in German

Learning German grammar rules

Learn German using German books for beginners

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Niki

Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.