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German Verbs in Present Tense (Präsens)

Updated on October 28, 2016

1. Introduction

Learning German is far from easy. Those unending words and that strange thing called declension are really scary. Still, German verbs are simple when compared with verbs in a Romance language. Most German verbs are regular even in irregularities. So let's start with the Present Tense (Präsens).

2. Personal Pronouns

Let me remind the personal pronouns. Note that the word "sie" has different meaning from "Sie". While the former means "she" or "they", the latter means "you" (plural and singular) in formal situations.

Table 1. Personal Pronouns

German
English
ich
I
du
you (singular informal)
er
he
sie
she
es
it
wir
we
ihr
you (plural informal)
sie
they
Sie
you (formal)

3. Regular Verbs

Most verbs are regular. Regularity means the conjugation is predictable if we know some basic rules. Table 2 shows the general case, represented by the verb "wohnen" (to reside) and three special cases: arbeiten, heißen and sammeln (to work, to be called and to collect, respectively)..

Table 2. Regular Verbs

Translation: to reside, to work, to be called, to collect
Translation: to reside, to work, to be called, to collect

We can see that all the regular verbs follow similar patterns. The conjugation is formed by the stem and an affix:

  • The stem is obtained by cutting the "-en" or "-n" termination of the verb in infinitive. The latter case happens when the verb ends in "-n" and not "-en" (eg. "sammeln".


  • The affixes are the ones described in the second column of Table 2.


  • The conjugation for the third person singular is the same for all three genders.


  • There are conjugations which are coincident with the infinitive of the verb. It is the case of the first and third persons plural plus the formal second person (wir, ihr, sie/Sie). This is true for all verbs expect the verb "sein"(to be).


The verb "wohnen" is the general example of a regular verb. Yet, there are some verbs for which the conjugation is a little different:

  • "arbeiten" represents the verbs ending in "-den", "-ten", "-men" or "-nen". The latter two cases occur when the ending follows a consonant (e.g. "atmen", to breathe). All the conjugations have "e" in the affix..


  • "heißen" represents the verbs ending in "-sen", "-zen" and "-ßen". The "s" on the second person affix is removed for avoiding the terminations like "ßst". This turns the conjugations of the second and third persons equal.


  • "sammeln" represents the few verbs which infinitive does not end in "-en". As said before, for wir, ihr, sie/Sie the conjugation is equal to the infinitive, so the affix is "-n" instead of "-en". For verbs ending in "-eln" the penultimate "e" is omitted in the first person conjugation.

4. Irregular Verbs

4.1. General Cases

Most languages have irregular verbs, and German is not an exception. Yet, we can find some patterns to know the conjugation with low effort. Only the conjugation of the singular persons suffer changes:

  • The affix follows the adequate pattern shown in table 2, depending on the infinitive ending.
  • A vowel in the next to the last syllable of the stem will change. The most usual changes are:
  • • a → ä
  • • e → i
  • • e → ie


Table 3 shows the conjugation of verbs referred above plus the verb "nehmen" (to take) which has the change eh → im. The conjugation of the plural persons is regular.

Table 3. Irregular Verbs A

Translation: to drive, to speak, to see, to take
Translation: to drive, to speak, to see, to take

There are some verbs in which the change of stem adds to change of the affixes. Table 4 shows three of these cases. Verb "halten" (to stop) is irregular in the third person singular. "Essen" (to eat) and "lesen" (to read) are examples of verbs ending in -sen with change in the stem.

Table 4. Irregular Verbs B

Translation: to stop, to eat, to read
Translation: to stop, to eat, to read

4.2. Auxiliary verbs

The verbs "sein"(to be), "haben" (to have) and "werden" (will) are the most irregular of all, having special features. The verbs "haben" and "werden" are irregular in the second and third persons singular. In opposition, "sein" is completely irregular, and the only way is knowing its conjugation by heart.

Table 5. Auxiliary Verbs

translation: to be, to have, will
translation: to be, to have, will

4.3. Modal Verbs

The conjugation of modal verbs follows a pattern of affixes different from the other verbs. The affix for the first and third person singular is absent. Additionally to the modal verbs, "wissen" (to know) also follows this specific pattern. The stem of these verbs also changes in the singular conjugations.

Table 6. Modal Verbs and "Wissen"

Translation: may, can, to like, must
Translation: may, can, to like, must
ought, to know, to want
ought, to know, to want

5. List of Common Verbs

The following table is a list of the most common verbs and their correspondent model described in the present hub.

Table 7. List of Verbs

verb
meaning in english
model
arbeiten
work
arbeiten
bilden
build
arbeiten
bleiben
stay
wohnen
braten
bake
fahren
bringen
bring
wohnen
denken
think
wohnen
dürfen
may
dürfen
essen
eat
essen
fahren
drive
fahren
fallen
fall
fahren
fangen
catch
fahren
finden
find
arbeiten
fliegen
fly
wohnen
geben
give
sprechen
gehen
go
wohnen
haben
have
haben
halten
stop
halten
helfen
help
sprechen
kennen
know
wohnen
kommen
come
wohnen
können
can
können
laden
invite
fahren
laufen
run
fahren
machen
make
wohnen
mögen
like
mögen
müssen
must
müssen
raten
advice
fahren
rufen
call
halten
sagen
say
wohnen
schlafen
sleep
fahren
schreiben
write
wohnen
schwimmen
swim
wohnen
sehen
see
sehen
sein
be
sein
senden
send
arbeiten
singen
sing
wohnen
sollen
ought
sollen
sprechen
speak
sprechen
stehen
stand
wohnen
steingen
climb
wohnen
stehlen
steal
sehen
tragen
carry
fahren
treffen
meet
sprechen
trinken
drink
wohnen
vergessen
forget
essen
wachsen
grow
fahren
waschen
wash
fahren
werden
will
werden
wissen
know
wissen
wollen
want
wollen
wohnen
reside
wohnen
ziehen
pull
wohnen

6. Quizz

Let's make a short quiz to make sure you have learnt. In each question you should choose what you think is the right answer.

German Verbs in Present Tense


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7. Conclusion

Everything to know about the present tense (indicative mode) in German has been shown in this hub. I hope you like it. Please give suggestions. Soon, I will continue with other subject about the German language.

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