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Verbs in German are more diverse than in English; in this page we will learn their categories, and the most used tenses in German, note that this page is including only the important information you should know about in German verbs, and it doesn’t include details about each category or each tense.
In German verbs are categorized into three categories: weak verbs, strong, and mixed verbs.
Weak verbs (schwache Verben) do not change the stem vowel in the past tense and the past participle and they’re considered like regular verbs in English, examples: arbeiten (to work), spielen (to play).
Strong verbs (starke Verben) do change the stem vowel in both the past tense and the past participle, examples: sprechen (to speak), fahren (to drive, go)
Mixed verbs contain parts of both weak and strong verbs. They’re used very often and therefore they should not be overlooked, examples: bringen (to bring), senden (to send)
Some verbs in the 3 categories above may contain separable (trennbar) or inseparable (untrennbar) prefixes. The point of using these prefixes is to create new meanings from the original verb. This concept is not strange to English, let’s look at the verb “to stand” if we add the prefix “under” it will give us a whole new verb “to understand”, the same thing in German, “stehen” means “to stand”, “verstehen” means “to understand”. Easy, right! Well not exactly, because German uses these prefixes more often. And some prefixes can be detached from the original verb and take a specific spot in the sentences, sometimes even far from the verb.
Separable prefixes (trennbar) are (ab, bei, ein, vor, an, auf, mit, weg, etc.) can stand independently as words, or can stay connected to the verb, Kann ich mitkommen? (Can I come with “you”?), kommen Sie mit ans Meer? (are you coming with to the sea), here the verb is “mitkommen”, see how in the first example it was connected, and in the second example the prefix “mit” was placed after Sie. The meaning of “mitkommen” is “to accompany” or “come with”.
The inseparable prefixes (untrennbar) are (be-, emp-, ent-, er-, ver-, zer-). These kind of prefixes cannot be removed from their verbs, The most common inseparable prefix verbs are: verkaufen (to sell), bekommen (to get), empfangen (to receive), empfehlen (to recommend), entdecken (to discover), verstehen (to understand), versagen (to fail), zerstören (to destroy).
Below you will find the most used tenses in German, with the verb endings in each tense, as well as some examples, try to master them if you can, that would help you a lot and makes you feel comfortable expressing yourself in German, we will start with the present tense, which is a very important and a must to learn tense:
Present Tense in German
It’s the first tense we will learn, weak German verbs take the following endings to form the present tense:
ich -e, du -st, er (sie, es) -t, wir -en, ihr -t, Sie -en, sie -en.
These endings can help you a lot, because with them you can conjugate most of weak verbs into the present tense, you only need the stem of the verb, for example the stem of spielen (to play) is “spiel”.
Strong verbs change in the singular second person familiar and third person forms, for example the verb nehmen “to take”, look at the side of the table. Usually strong verbs changes are regular and predictable: a becomes ä, e becomes ie or i, au becomes äu, o becomes ö. Note that the plural form is regular.
Mixed verbs are irregular and are best learnt by heart, because they’re unpredictable. The good news is that te most common conjugation is the one for the weak verb. But like any other language there are some exceptions for all three types of verbs.
spielen (to play)
du spielst (familiar)
er, sie, es spielt
ihr spielt (familiar)
Sie spielen (formal)
nehmen (to take)
du nimmst (familiar)
er, sie, es nimmt
ihr nehmt (familiar)
Sie nehmen (formal)
Now we will have a look at the past tense, also called the imperfect, another very important fact in knowing how to conjugate verbs in German:
German Past Tense (Imperfect)
In German as well as in English the simple past tense (imperfect) is used to describe past events, more literal than conversational, regularly used when writing about the past. The endings for the weak verb are:
ich -te, du -test, Sie -ten, er (sie, es, man) -te, wir -ten, ihr -tet, Sie -ten, sie -ten.
So just take any weak verb stem and add it to the endings above, for example our previous verb spielen (to play), its stem is “spiel”, plus the endings above we will get: ich spielte, du spieltest, er spielte, wir spielten, ihr spieltet, Sie, sie spielten
To form the past tense with strong verbs, the trickiest part is knowing the stem, for example in English, you don’t say “I comed”, but you say “I came” to refer to the past of the verb “to come”, strong verbs in German change their stem vowels and add the following endings:
ich (-nothing added to the stem), du -st, Sie -en, er, sie, es (-nothing added to the stem), wir -en, ihr -t, Sie -en, sie -en. (look at the example on the side)
For the irregular verbs, they’re tricky too in forming their stem, sometimes the stem doesn’t look like the original verb at all, just like “I go” and “I went”, but these German irregular verbs change the vowel in the stem and, in addition, they take weak verb endings in the past tense.
kommen (to come)
du kamst (familiar)
Sie kamen (formal)
er, sie, es kam
ihr kamt (familiar)
Sie kamen (formal)
wissen (to know)
du wusstest (familiar)
Sie wussten (formal)
er, sie, es wusste
ihr wusstet (familiar)
Sie wussten (formal)
Now we will learn the future tense, which is considered the easiest, because you only need to learn the conjugated form of “werden” plus the infinitive of the verbs you want to conjugate:
Future Tense in German
There are two ways to express the German future. The easiest and most common method is to use the present tense with an appropriate time marker; Wir gehen morgen nach Berlin (we’re going to Berlin tomorrow). The other method is to use the appropriate present tense form of werden with the infinitive of the main verb, note that the main verb in this method comes at the end of the sentence, relatively far from the future verb “werden”. Wir werden Schach und Kreuzworträtsel spielen (we will play chess and cross puzzels). Did you see how the verb spielen was kicked to the end of the sentence, it’s like you’re saying in English: we will chess and cross puzzles play. Remember this structure, because this is how you will be forming verbs in the future if you use the verb “werden” with it.
Note that if you choose to use the first method, which is “present tense” you have to mention the time marker such as “morgen/ tomorrow”, “nächstes Jahr/ next year”…not using them will make people think that you’re talking about the present and not the future tense.
ich werde spielen
du wirst spielen
er, sie, es wird spielen
wir werden spielen
ihr werdet spielen
sie werden spielen
Sie werden spielen
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