German Present Tense – Regular Verbs

Hello everyone,

and welcome to the second part of the German Is Easy – Online German Course.

Today we are going to look at the most important part of the German language – the verb. Everything in a German sentence centers around the verb and the verb is what you need to identify if you want to understand what is going on in a sentence.

So in this lecture you will learn how to conjugate 99.999 % percent of all German verbs in present tense (the remaining 7 verbs will be covered in the next post).
If you’re not sure what conjugating even means or if you want to find out more about this, you can check out my  Grammar Jargon Post here  but I’ll give a short summary here.
In a nutshell, conjugating means to dress up your verbs such that they make for a nice couple with the subject. In some languages the verbs have this huuuuuge closet with all kinds of forms in there for any specific language occasion imaginable. I don’t want to point fingers but I am looking at you FRENCH :).
In other languages the verbs only have a few different outfits, so few that they easily fit into the verbs carry-on, these verbs won’t have any trouble to travel the world as they don’t have much luggage… let’s see, what would be a good example for that… hmmm… that’s tough…  ok.
I give up. I really can’t think of one.

The German verb is somewhat in between. It certainly has more clothes than the English one but by far not as many as some other languages.. again, I am looking at you FRENCH.

German conjugation is really easy. There are some exceptions here and there but not too many, and even those ones are not a big deal, so conjugating will be a piece of cake… now you might say “Hey the German verb sounds kinda cool… I think we’ll make friends quickly.” … well just wait till you have misplaced it for the gazillionth time GUAHAHHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAAAA!!!!!

Sorry… I… didn’t mean to lose it like that… it is just… you will be soooo pissed at the verb… anyway.

So let’s start with a totally regular word that stands for one of the most extraordinary things:

lieben – to love

oh crap. The soppy-meter is of the charts. Let’s love the rather mundane coffee to tone it down a little:

  • Ich               liebe Kaffee.
  • Du                liebst  Kaffee.
  • Sie             liebt   Kaffee.
  •  Er                liebt  Kaffee.
  • Es                 liebt  Kaffee

Now I guess that many of you can’t really concentrate right now so let me just answer your question and move on: I love you is Ich liebe dich.
Back to conjugation. First off, every verb has a dictionary form, aka infinitive. The dictionary form in German always ends in -en as in lieb-en, … oh wait exception report coming in… go ahead!… what?… some don’t?… so it’s like some just end in -n?… not a big deal though? Thank god. Don’t want to scare my students away… examples by any chance?… er-what?… erinnern? Ok thanks man. Stay alert.
So yeah ALMOST all dictionary forms end in -en. Some just have n like erinnern (to remember/to remind). The missing e has just disappeared over time. To conjugate, you take away the –en and add the correct ending. The endings are

  • Ich                 –e
  • du                  –st
  • er/ sie/ es   –t
  • wir      –en
  • ihr       – t
  • sie        –en

So these are the absolute basics. And before we talk about the details, it’s your turn :).

Well done. So now, let’s look at the finer points.

First thing to point out is the fact that the dictionary form and the form for we and they are identical. Then what is really important to know is that the s is the decisive letter for the du-form. Let’s take the German word for to applaud – klatschen (pron.: clutchen) and conjugate it:

In klatschst you have 8 consonants and one little tiny vowel, so you might find this hard to pronounce. But as great a temptation you feel to skip a letter or 2 DO NOT SKIP THE S. You may skip the t but never the s because the s is what makes it the right dress for du. This also means that you should never put an s if the person is NOT du. Let’s look at kaufen (pron.: cow-fan)  – to buy.

  • Er kaufst ein Auto…. NOPE

This is wrong, and although it clearly has he in there, it will sound more likely like du is the person buying and you just accidentally used er. The s is just that strong.
This brings us to a legit question. “I have taken the -en away and now the stem ends in s?” An example would be küssen – to kiss. Well German is not crazy enough to put a triple s into a verb … yet… so the du-s just drops and the forms for du and sie/er/es are the same.

Now what happens if the stem of a verb ends with t, for examplewarten – to wait. In order to be able to pronounce that you need to add an e between the t of the stem and the ending.

But these things are really more practical little adjustments as opposed to different rules or exceptions. And now it’s your turn again.
Time to check if you paid attension with a little quiz :). Only four questions… shouldn’t be too hard.

Cool.
So, now we know the basics of conjugation.  Well, almost. because there’s a bunch of verbs that need additional treatment… a so called vowel shift.

Verbs with vowel shift

As you progress in German, you’ll find that changing the stem vowel is actually an essential part of German. It’s a feature of Germanic languages in general and English has it, too. Just think of teach and taught.
And in German, we have a bunch of verbs that actually have a slight vowel shift even in the normal present tense conjugation. More specifically

For many (NOT ALL) verbs with “a” or “e” at the stem,
the
vowel gets lifted “upward” one step for the du-form and the er/sie/es-form. 

What do I mean by lifted upward? Well, “a” is changing to “ä”, and “e” changes to “i” or “ie” respectively, and those sound “higher”.
Let’s look at one example for each.

schlafen – to sleepgeben – to give

Note that the lifting only affects du and er/sie/es and it only happens to verb with “a” or “e” and NOT all of them. And you can’t really tell from looks.
You kind of need to know the verb to know its character… fallen (to fall) changes, knallen (to bang) does not; sehen (to see) changes, gehen (to go) does not. I could give you a list now, but I think it makes more sense to not give this too much weight. Just pick it up as you go along. And if you forget a shift, people will absolutely still understand you. It just sounds quite clumsy.
Cool.
So now we really know all the basics for German verb conjugation and we can talk about the verbs that have prefixes.
But before we do that, we’ll do another little test. And read carefully… some questions are a bit tricky :)

 

Your new best friend: German Prefix Verbs

People always talk about German genders and cases, but I think a more important feature of German are actually prefix verbs.  A base verb like gehen, combined with a little syllable like auf forms a new verb aufgehen. And the meaning of that new verb may or may not have something to do with the parts it is made from.
German has A LOT of those.
Just take a look at how many versions there are for the basic verb gehen (to go):

angehen, aufgehen, untergehen, hintergehen, nachgehen,
übergehen, ausgehen, vorgehen, eingehen, mitgehen,
vergehen, begehen, entgehen, zergehen, durchgehen,
weggehen,…

That’s actually not all of them, believe it or not.
And as if that wasn’t confusing enough, most of those verbs mean two or three different things at once.
Usually, with some mind yoga, we can deduce a common concept all the meanings have in common but at first sight they are different.
I think they’re really important and largely ignored by usual courses and textbooks, so you can find a LOT on German prefix verbs on this blog. I got you covered :).

But today we’ll focus on how to use them in present tense. Because there’s a bit of a… surprise there.
As far as the base verb goes, you just conjugate that normally. The prefix doesn’t affect the endings and changes in any way.
So aufmachen (to open) will get the exact same endings and changes as machen by itself.

The problem is with the prefix itself.
There are two kinds of prefix verbs in German.
One group is separable, the other group non-separable.
And actually, there’s a third group, a mixed group, but we’ll irgnore that for now.

Separable prefix verbs

Separable prefix verbs have a weak link between the prefix and the base verb. That means that they are one word, one unit in the dictionary, but the connection is fragile. And as soon as you “touch it” because you want to use it, it breaks and have two separate parts – the base verb and the prefix.
And you’ll have to pay for breaking it. Not with money but with nerves because the prefix actually goes to the end of the phrase.
And that’s actually not a weird exceptional behavior of the prefix. Rather, it’s one of the most fundamental rules about German verbs.

Whenever your action/verbal phrase consists of more than one word,
one part is in the “normal” position, the rest lines up AT THE END.

Actually, as we progress, we’ll see that this is one of the fundamental characteristics of the German language as a whole, that’ll help us heaps with word order and negation and so on and I’d loooove to tell you about it right now, but it’s a bit much for the start.
For now, it is enough if you remember to put the prefix to the end of the phrase.
Example-time!
The verb aufstehen means to get up and it’s separable. So the link between prefix and base verb is weak. So as soon as you touch it, you will be left with the parts auf and stehen and the plain conjugation will be as follows.

Now, it looks a bit as if I had only inversed the order of things but let’s see what happens when we add some more information into the sentence. The information about when I get up: morgen um halb 7 (tomorrow at half past 6).

It is NOT

  • Ich stehe auf morgen um halb 7… WRONG

Our additional information comes BEFORE the auf. Auf  is at the very end.
This concept is crucial. In German, you often have to wait till the very to know what’s actually going on.
Like… let’s take the verbs aufmachen and zumachen, which mean to open and to close.

  • Ich mache die Küchentür ___ .

The sentence is almost over and you don’t know whether I close the door or open it.
This is a challenge when listening and reading, because you have to “keep an open mind” until the end of the phrase. And of course it’s a challenge for speaking, because you have to remember that little prefix and add it to the end, or your sentence will sound really incomplete.

It’ll take a while to get used to this, but one thing that can help us is to understand that it’s to an extend a question of rhythm.
We start the sentence, then talk, talk, talk and then we end with a very distinct and emphasized auf or zu or whatever prefix it may be.

The prefix at the end is a focal point. It’s “ich mache blah blah blah blah” and then “BAM”. There comes the prefix.
It sounds like of silly, but you can train it by just saying “lalalala BUM”. Feel the flow of that, the rhythm. That’s kind of what German is like.
Of course it will take training to do all this but you will get there eventually.
Cool.
So now we’ve seen how to use separable verbs in a sentence, and it’s time for another little quiz :)

And now let’s move on to the last topic for today. The other big group of prefix verbs – the non-separable ones.

non-separable prefix verbs

Non-separable prefix verbs are much easier to handle because the link between the prefix and the base verb is strong and doesn’t break. And they’re actually nothing new, because we have separable prefix verbs in English. To understand for example, which is a combination of under and stand. And by the way… it’s also a good example for how random prefix verbs can be. I mean… why the heck does understand not just mean standing under something?
We’ll do a lot of this mind yoga as we learn more and more prefix verbs. But for now let’s focus on the grammar.
The prefix doesn’t get separated from the verb, but it also doesn’t have an effect on the conjugation. And let’s take the German version of understand as an example.. verstehen.
And the conjugation is totally regular.

And just to make sure… it is NOT

  • Ich stehe Deutsch ver…. WRONG

So non-separable verbs are really easy to handle and you don’t have to worry about moving the prefix to the end.

And now the big question a lot of you are having is of course how to know which verbs are separable and which aren’t.
Well, basically all the weakly linked prefixes have a meaning themselves while (for the most part) the strongly linked ones mean nothing. But as a beginner you of course don’t know many words yet, so here are the important non-separable prefixes. It’s luckily just a few…

ver, ent, zer, be, ge, er, miss

so it might be a good approach to just learn those by heart. I mean it… learn them by heart.
As you can see, except for miss they all have just e as a vowel. The weakly linked ones have all kinds of other vowels. Like… mit, vor, nach, bei, um, zu, aus. So that’s an extra help.
Unfortunately, there’s this weird third group I mentioned.  It’s not many, but some prefixes  like über, unter, um or hinter can go either way. Sometimes they split, sometimes they stick… and they can do both with the same base verb, creating two completely different meanings.

Ugh…. German in all its beauty.
Compared to the total number of prefix verbs in German (which is insanely high), those are just a few though, and you shouldn’t be worried about them too much.

One last thing before we wrap up though.
Actually, there’s not just a grammatical difference between separable and non-separable prefixes. There is also a difference in how you say them.
A weakly linked prefix will always carry a strong stress. In aufstehen for instance (do you remember what it means… we had it in the quiz ;)?) the auf-part gets a strong emphasis while the machen is quite slurred in daily speech. In the non-separable verstehen on the other hand, the ver gets NO emphasis. The steh carries all of it.

  • AUFstehen
  • verSTEHen

It’s quite a different flow, so try to really feel that and get used to it. It’ll be quite helpful later on as we talk about past tense.

And thus we have reached the end of the first part on the German verb. I know it was a lot but here are the key points that you should take with you:

  • the verb endings
  • sometimes, we’ll make little adjustments to help pronunciation (example: du wartest instead of du wartst)
  • Some verbs with a or e get a vowel shift toward ä or i(e) respectively. You just have to learn which ones.
  • German has a group of prefix verbs, where the prefix is only weakly linked to the base verb. This prefix splits off and goes to the end when we use the verb in a sentence.
  • Most prefixes are separable. The ones that are always inseparable are ver, be, ent, er,ge, zer and miss

In the second part, we will talk about the very few irregular verbs in German, namely to be to have, the modal verbs and a few others.
So if you’re if you’re in quarantene and you’re up for more, you can hop over right away :)

German irregular verbs

And of course if you have questions or suggestions just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

for members :)

117
Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
Jeremy
Jeremy

I want to thank you once again for your work. I have read books and websites to learn German but nothing has been more entertaining and clear than your work. I have learned so much in just a few blog posts than I have in several chapters of a book. The humor is awesome and feels as though I’m not studying but I’m enjoying learning. Thank you and please continue as you have a great gift in teaching.

Andrew DePasquale
Andrew DePasquale

Wow…german is complicated… but it sure is better then any other language:-)

Ana
Ana

Thanks again…

Matthew
Matthew

I love your blog! Thanks! Quick question…When conjugating a weakly linked verb with “we” would you conjugate as “wir stehen morgen um halb 7 auf” or “wir aufstehen morgen um halb 7” or none of the above?! Thankyou!

Ashen Light
Ashen Light

great pedagogy:) you really do manage to make it appear easy

Sabrina
Sabrina

Chinese. (the answer to ” In other languages the verbs only have a few different outfits, so few that they easily fit into the verbs carry-on, these verbs won’t have any trouble to travel the world as they don’t have much luggage… let’s see, what would be a good example for that… hmmm… that’s tough… ok. I give up. I really can’t think of one.”)

that aside, I’m loving the first two posts I’ve read so far and venturing on to the third one now and thought I should tell you you’re doing a good job here! Never hurts to add some humour when learning things :)

Jorge Marques
Jorge Marques

First of all I want to thank you for helping me with german. I only one small suggestion, in the end of the article you could had a small link to the next related post and also the previous, that would also help :)

tom
tom

A lot of verbs is German -> A lot of verbs in German

tom
tom

with a stringly linked -> with a strongly linked

Anonymous
Anonymous

Der Unterschied zwischen haben und hatten? Ich wiess, dass Englisch seine eigene Version davon hat (have, had) aber der unterschied ist mir nicht klar.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi! Just wanted to say I started to study German in school this semester, and this blog is sooooo helpful. Thanks so much!
Also I read the ‘about me’ page, and it first says you’re 32, but then says you’ve been teaching languages for 70 years. Haha doesn’t matter at all, just curious – which is correct? Keep being awesome and helping people learn languages :)

Anonymous
Anonymous

For languages that can fit their conjugations into a carry-on, try Danish….

jeg er (I am)
du er (you are)
vi er (we are)
han er (he is)
hun er (she is)
de er (they are)

Bernard
Bernard

Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines does the same: (national language because we have 30 different languages (I think)

Ako ay (I am)
Ikaw ay (You are)
Sya ay (He / She is)
Ito ay (It is)
Kami ay (We are)
Sila ay (They are)
Kayo ay (You all are)

Igor Tirkajla

I’m still in the process of reading your blog, so my question may have been already answered, but I still have to ask – does German have a concept of finite and nonfinite verbs (as Wikipedia calls it)? Something like the difference between f.e. I tried and I was trying. I’m getting (here it is again) the impression that German Perfekt has to have some additional content or context help in order to be precise. I cannot really tell does the “hat aufgescrieben” means zapisAo (wrote down), or zapisIVAo (was writing down), if there is no additional info (once, for some times, repeatedly, never). Serbian provides that particular info (once or more than once) with the verb form alone.

Z Turner
Z Turner

Since I see from your comments that you like mistakes / typos pointed out, you’ve got one here… “Sooooo… turns out there IS a bunch of verbs”
This blog is awesome. Love it. Thank you.
Zack

Z Turner
Z Turner

There’s bunch of interesting posts about this online. When I hear, ‘there is a bunch’ of something, I expect to literally see a bunch (as in a scrunched up pile, a cluster, or a bouquet), whereas ‘there are a bunch’ reads to me like, ‘there are many…’

Anonymous
Anonymous

I’ve been reading this blog for some time now. I must say that it’s excellent! Good job! :)
Now, about verb prefixes and that third group where sometimes they stay attached to the verb and sometime they don’t. We know there’s a number of verbs with one (same) prefix that can behave as separable and inseparable in the same time, and that they can have significantly different meaning (you’ve used unterstellen as example: unter-stellen, meaning to take a shelter and unterstellen, meaning to accuse). I’ve found in some Basic Germany Grammar book that verbs with separable prefixes tend to have more literal and inseparable more figurative meaning (e.g. über-fahren, to pass over and überfahren , to run over, or unter-halten, to hold under and unterhalten, to entertain, maintain).
Thought I could mention this :)
Danke und viele Grüße!

coconut man
coconut man

nice blog thx its been a big help. ive been studying for a test

coconut man
coconut man

and its helped lots

Jenny
Jenny

This blog is seriously amazing, it is funny and entertaining and I am learning so much. You really have a gift for teaching!

I was wondering, when does a weakly-linked verb does *not* break? Only when it is in the infinitive, or are there any other examples?

Schönen Dank!

Bella

Hallo Jungs, dank diese Website wirklich geholfen jetzt spreche ich so viel Deutsch. Ich spreche es fast mehr als ich sprechen Englisch !

Remington
Remington

Thank you very much! Your writing style is very entertaining and makes what could be daunting subject matter fun and easy to understand! I have just begun my foray into German and your blog has already helped me tremendously. Thank you again! Auf Wiedersehen!