German Irregular Verbs – An overview

 Hello everyone,

and welcome to the third surprise of our little E-May-L-Special week. Which turned into more like an E-May-L-special fortnite.
But anyway… a few weeks back, I posted an email of Excel-Man who had done some data mining on noun gender and has found some interesting patterns (find it here).
Well, the comment section revealed there was another unsung hero out there – Excel Woman. And she had done a similar analysis for another really messy topic

German Irregular Verbs

And she didn’t only share her Excel-Sheet with me… she actually sat down in her superhero chair and wrote a whole article about it, to make the tables a little more clear.
And that’s what I’m gonna share with you today, so here you go :).
Oh and just so you know… this article is not part of the payed portion, so your view will not count to your two post per week quota :).
And now… Excel-Woman… I pass the mic on to you…

***

Hoi Zäme!

I am Excel-woman and in the spirit of Excel-Man (“German Gender and Big Data”), like to collect exhaustive lists and derive rules for elements of German.
It’s probably a known syndrome. I still stuff up gender All. The. Time, but with Excel-man’s help, I might start improving. So in the hope it might similarly help some of you, here’s my information for irregular/strong verbs.
Or “werbs”, as I call them if I want to outrage my German husband. But he might come across this post, so I’ll stick with “verbs”.

Learning seemingly endless different patterns for verbs drove me slightly crazy. So I decided, entirely logically, to find all the irregular verbs I could, and learn them.
Therefore everything else I encountered would be regular/weak. Simples!
A mere few months later, I had downloaded lists from various corners of the interweb and refined them to a total of 162 verbs.
These EXCLUDE modal verbs, and verbs with a prefix (whether fixed or separable) and shared tense endings, such as vergessen and essen, or kommen and ankommen.
I included kiesen, past tense koren. It means “to choose”, and I found an alternative meaning too; “to spread with gravel”. So it presumably also means to choose to spread with gravel. My husband said no one ever uses it. But in telling me that, he used it. So it stayed. Then I heard “koren” in a church song and all the German speakers told me the infinitive certainly wasn’t kiesen, then had to concede when the webbynet came to the rescue. Bam!

As I gathered the verbs, I noticed patterns. In the end, 147 of the 162 (88%) fitted these patterns closely or exactly, and a further 4 were similar enough to include, for a total of 151 and 93%.
The final 11 – you’re on your own! (Not really, I included them in the accompanying spreadsheet/PDF under the closest matching pattern.)

I can’t tell you why just these verbs are irregular when many verbs with the same vowels in the infinitive are regular. That’s above my pay grade. Oh, and sometimes the werbs are seen in both regular and irregular forms, which is reputedly because the regular form is gradually overtaking the irregular (for example senden). If that keeps going, we can retire this list in a few hundred years.

There are five groups of patterns, mostly according to the vowel in the present infinitive: “a, i, ei, e”, “ie”. As some of the “e” verbs fitted better with the pattern of the “ie” vowels, I grouped them together.

The pattern contains the vowel in the present tense (Präsens) and its changes in the past tense (Präteritum) and for the past participle (Partizip II).
If there is a change in vowel for the du and er/sie/es forms (just in the Präsens), that’s included in brackets. If there’s only one change shown, then it applies to both past and past participle. By the way, I let that last instance of “werbs” slide in as a little attention self-test before starting the real work of this post :).

I have to tell you one more thing, which some of you worked out from my greeting (which was “hi everyone”)! I live in Switzerland and we use “ss” instead of “ß”.
If that bugs you, you can go wild with the search and replace function in the spreadsheet.
So here are my findings as an overview. Below, you can find the link to the excel sheet for a more table-ish view.

Pattern 1 (16 verbs)

a(ä) – ie a    and     a(ä) – u a

These are verbs with the single letter “a” in the infinitive, that take “ä” in the du and er/sie/es forms, and “ie” or “u” for the past.
It remains “a” in the ge-form (Partizip II).

Example 1:
fallen (fällst, fällt) – fielgefallen

Others:  
blasen*, fangen*, halten, lassen*, raten (and braten), schlafen
Similar:
hängen*,**

* There are occasionally minor changes to some tenses. Here, for example, the du-form of blasen, “bläst”, avoids a double s, and lassen doesn’t have a triple s in the du form “lässt”. Halten is “hält” in the er/sie/es-form to avoid ending with double t. Similarly, verbs with “ang” take “-ing” in the Präteritum (“fangen” → “fingen” instead of“fiengen”). I think these probably make sense to you already.

** Hängen has an umlaut in the present tenses, but otherwise follows the pattern

The next group is similar to the first, and is the only time “u” is seen in the Präteritum:

Example  2:
tragen (trägst, trägt) –  trugengetragen

Others:
fahren, graben, laden, schlagen, wachsen, waschen

Similar: schaffen
(
Does not take the umlaut for “du” and “er/sie/es” and drops an“f”in past tenses (“schufen”)

 Pattern 2 (28 Verbs)

i a u, i a o and i a e

For the first and largest group, the “i” is followed by “nd”, “ng” or “nk”. This is the only time “u” appears in Partizip II.

Example:
trinken –  tranken –  getrunken

Others:
binden, dingen, dringen, finden, gelingen (and misslingen), klingen, ringen, schlingen, schwinden, schwingen, singen, sinken, springen, stinken, winden, wringen, zwingen

The second group has “nn” or “mm” in the stem.

Example:
beginnen begannen – begonnen

Others:
gewinnen, rinnen, schwimmen, sinnen, spinnen

Similar:
klimmen – klommen – geklommen
glimmen – glommen – geglommen

(these two that are almost the same, but have an “o” in the past instead of an “a”. I’d have given them their own category, but schwimmen follows the i-a-o pattern so then I would have an exception within the exception to the pattern and my head had started to hurt.)

The third “group” is just two verbs that have a sharp sound instead of the sonorous versions with “n”. They take “e” in the Partizip II form:

sitzen – saßengesessen
bitten – batengebeten

Pattern 3 (37 verbs)

ei – ie ie and ei – ii

Here, both Präteritum and Partizip II have the same change:

Example:
bleiben, blieben, geblieben

Others:
heissen*, gedeihen, leihen, meiden, preisen, reiben,
scheiden, scheinen, schreiben, schreien**, schweigen,
speien**, steigen, treiben, verzeihen, weisen

* heissen instead of hiessen in Partizip II
** schrien/spien instead of schrieen/spieen in past tenses

After the sharper sounds “ss”, “ch”, “tt”, “ff”, “tt”, comes the shorter “i” instead of “ei”:

Example:
gleichen, glichen, geglichen

Others:
beissen, bleichen, gleiten, greifen, kneifen, leiden, pfeifen, reißen,
reiten, schleichen, schleifen, schmeißen, schneiden, schreiten,
spleissen, streichen, streiten, weichen, verschleißen (and schließen, rare)

Pattern 4 (30 Verbs)

e(i) – ao , e(i) – ae , e(i) – aa .. t

The first group is the “hardest”. It’s hard to find a scommon theme, although many of the verbs have two consonants before the -en in the infinitive (bergen, brechen):

Example:
helfen (hilfst) –  halfen – geholfen

Others:
empfehlen*,**, stehlen*, bergen, bersten, brechen, erschrecken**,
gelten, nehmen, schelten, sprechen, stechen, sterben,
treffen*, verderben, werben, werfen

* minor changes: “eh” becomes “ieh” in du and er/sie/es forms
(e.g. empfielhlst, empfiehlt), and treffen drops an „f“ in the past tense
** the base forms “fehlen” and “schrecken” are regular

The next group generally has a single “sharper” consonant “b”, “h”, “s”, “ß” (ok ok, “ss”), “t” before the -en in the infnitive:

Example:
sehen (siehst), sahen, gesehen

Others:
essen, fressen, messen, geben, genesen, geschehen, lesen, treten

The next group has the only irregular verbs that have the Partizip II ending “t” (like Partizip II for regular verbs). They also have the “n” sound (nd, nk, nn). They’re cute. I don’t know why, they just are.

Example:
kennen, kannten, gekannt

Others:
denken*, nennen, rennen (& brennen), versenden**, wenden

* “k” becomes “ch” in part tenses “dachten”, “gedacht”
** the base verb senden is usually regular

Pattern 5 (40 Verbs)

e(i) – oo , ie – oo and umlaut/au – oo

The common theme for this group is having  “o” for both past forms.
The first sub-group, with longer “sch”, “cht”, “ll” or “lz” sounds take “i” in du and er/sie/es sounds, perhaps for ease of pronounciation:

Example:
schwellen (schwillst) –  schwollen –  geschwollen

Others:
dreschen, fechten, flechten, quellen, schmelzen

All other verbs in this pattern have no change for du and er/sie/es tenses:

Example:
heben –  hobengehoben

Others:
bewegen, melken, scheren, weben

The next group contains all “ie” verbs that are irregular:

Example:
fliegen, flogen, geflogen

Others:
biegen, bieten, fliehen, fliessen, frieren, geniessen, giessen, kiesen,
kriechen, riechen, schieben, schiessen, schliessen, sieden,
spriessen, stieben, verdriessen,verlieren, wiegen, ziehen

The last group has vowels modified by an umlaut (ä,ö,ü) , or the letter u in “au”.
Only hängen is not found here; it belongs to the a
(ä)-ie-a pattern:

Example:
lügen, logen, gelogen

Others:
erwägen*, erlöschen*, gären, lügen,
schwören, trügen, saugen**, saufen

* löschen and wägen are regular
** saugen also found in regular form

Click here to download the Excel-Spreadsheet

The spreadsheet lists all present and past forms for these verbs, and includes the 11 verbs that didn’t easily fit one category (noted as variations under the heading “pattern”). Colors are used to draw attention to differences and exceptions.
I highlighted where Partizip II takes “sein” instead of “haben” while I was there. There’s also a summary table of the patterns, which I hope will make sense after reading this post. Feel free to ignore it cheerfully if it doesn’t help you. Finally, I left in the spreadsheet another table that shows the regular/weak werb form together with some variations that I suspect were also made to accommodate easier pronounciation.

In the end I found, as I’d hoped, that I had enough familiarity with the list with be pretty sure if a verb wasn’t on it, in which case it had to be regular! My suggestion: learn all the words in a group together. It helped me link them to how they change in the past tenses, and most of the groups have fewer than 10 verbs. I used my basic clues (e.g. having sharper sounds, or “n” sounds) to try to develop a feeling for membership of the group. You could also make up stories like Slavica does (“German Noun Gender – A Learner’s story”) to link verbs in a group.

Finally, and best of all, you now know kiesen/koren. You’ll dazzle a local with that someday!

***

And that’s it :).
Of course, if you have any questions or thoughts about this, please leave a comment.
Hope you enjoyed it and see you in a few days with the biggest surprise of them all…
seriously… it’s pretty damn cool :)

 

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Dan
Dan
1 year ago

I can recommend a verb database <a href=”https://learniv.com/”>Learniv.com</a>. There are many verbs in all forms.

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago

Nice

pal7mentor
pal7mentor
2 years ago

Your article is too good and informative. I am searching for german language blog and I get the exact article I am thankful to you for sharing this educational article. and the way you wrote is also good, you covered up all the points which I searching for & I am impressed by reading this article. Keep writing and sharing educational articles like this which can help us to grow our knowledge.
 
regards : sevenmentor.com/german-language-classes-in-pune.php – german language classes in pune

Marie
Marie
2 years ago

This is so incredibly helpful! And when you say there are “only” 162 irregular verbs, German suddenly seems a little more human :)

I looked up “kiesen” in Duden and kiesen as “prüfend wählen” is irregular (and veraltet) while kiesen as “mit Kies bestreuen” is regular (and not veraltet ?)

https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/kiesen_waehlen_ernennen

Berke
Berke
2 years ago

Thank You excel woman !!!

Jassey
Jassey
2 years ago

What an incredible Werb summary. Thank you Excel-Woman! And so generous to share all your hard work with us all. Vielen Dank

hwyneken
hwyneken
2 years ago

Wunderbar! – danke

Christiandel
Christiandel
2 years ago

Thank you very much for the opportunity of joining this blog! Special shoutouts to the German learning community present here, and for those members who, by paying a little extra, are sponsoring students in need all over the world.

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

Thank you!

Mohd Shaeq
Mohd Shaeq
2 years ago

Hello everyone,
I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Mr. Emanuel Schuchart and the German language community on this blog site for funding membership for people like me who could not pay the membership fee. Thank you so much for your kind assistance, I am highly obliged to you all. I am simply in awe of your kind-heartedness. Now, I would be able to learn the nuances of the German language on this amazing blog site.

Vielen dank für Ihre freundliche Hilfe, liebe Leute.

Vee
Vee
2 years ago

Love all your werbs!!! Danke schön!

Martin Heath
Martin Heath
2 years ago

You need kiesen to get through Wagner. When Brünnhilde has disobeyed him, Wotan tells her: “Erwarte dein Los, wie sich’s dir wirft; nicht kiesen kann ich es dir!” When Lohengrin talks of the Knights of the Grail, he sings: “Wer nun den Gral zu dienen ist erkoren, den rüstet er mit überirdische Macht.” When Tristan brings Isolde back to be married to King Mark, she sings of him:
“Mir erkoren, mir verloren, hehr und heil, kühn und feig!” So it’s still helpful to know it!

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Heath

I fell in love with Wagner when I heard Waltraud Meier sing Isolde. I’ve also seen “erkoren” here and there in relatively modern things relating to classical music, like someone being chosen for a prize or chosen to perform somewhere.

daschles
daschles
2 years ago

This is dazzling and wonderful. Fantastic.

Elsa
Elsa
2 years ago

Hiya,
You have two typos, I mean, you Emanuel, not Excel woman lol
“fortnite” (fortnight)
“payed” (paid)

THANK YOU, Excel-Woman!!!!!
Your list is AMAZING. I’ll be printing it to carry it round with me until I know all the verbs (I already knew most of them, but not in a systematic manner and certainly not all).

It’s really altruistic of you to put in all this effort and share it with us!

I’ve noticed that Germans often read the English “v” as “w”, which I’ve always find curious, although endearing, as the German “v” reads like an “f”, so “ferbs” would be more likely!
But I often hear “zee werbs” and also “zee Wikings” :)

Thanks again!

Charlie L
Charlie L
2 years ago
Reply to  Elsa

It might be an over-correction. Fighting the tendency for W’s sound to come out like our V they have learned to substitute W sound for V sound.

One of our group here in Texas had a strong Boston accent (“ar” sound becomes “ah” sound: “car” -> “cah”, “park” -> “pahk”, etc.). Our group was going car camping and he asked if anyone had a cart he could borrow. We said it was not necessary because the tent pads were right next to the parking spots. He said “No, for inside the tent. To sleep on.” We were really confused until someone asked, “Do you mean ‘cot’?” It turned out that he had learned to always change an “ah” sound to an “ar” sound to cut down on the teasing and his brain was automatically doing that even for sounds that we both pronounced with “ah” sound. Maybe in the same way, Germans learn to replace the V sound with a W sound for the “w” words and that carries erroneously carries over to “v” words too. There are a lot more very common English “w” words than “v” words (50 to 9 on the list of 1000 most common English words).

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  Charlie L

I left my cah keys in my kahkees lmao

Faddel
Faddel
2 years ago

Excel Woman danke schön.
I want to ask other users if it is helpful if i do flashcards on anki for Irregular verbs ??

Faddel
Faddel
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yes the front card will be the infinitive form with hidden hint for the pattern and the back one will be a list of the conjugations with pronunciation for each one of them.

RuthE
RuthE
2 years ago

Wow. Danke sehr, Excel Woman!
Emanuel, a small note: And she didn’t only share her Excel-Sheet with me… = And she not only shared her Excel-Sheet with me…
Hehe – maybe the new coding will work…