Word of the Day – “sein”

The first German word of the day is the verb:

sein (pron.: zine)

“Sein” , German for to be, is THE most irregular verb in the German language and yet it doesn’t come with as big a host of forms as its French equivalent.
The infinitive or, as I like to call it, “dictionary form” might be a bit confusing since it also means “his” but the context will make it clear most of the time.

The verb conjugates in present tense as follows:
(If you are unfamiliar with the pronouns yet… I will explain those soon and add a link here)

Ich                 bin       schön.
Du                  bist      schön.
Sie (er/es)   ist         schön.

Wir                sind       schön
Ihr                 seid       schön.
Sie                 sind      schön.

As it is irregular the past tense form seems to be rather random. Yet there are similarities to simple past form of “to be”

Ich                 war          in London.
Du                 warst      in London.
Sie (er/es)  war         in London.

Wir                waren     in London.
Ihr                 wart        in London.
Sie                 waren     in London.

The participle 2 of “sein” is “gewesen” and the spoken past is formed with “sein” itself.

The usage of “sein” is pretty much the same as for “to be”  in English. Luckily German doesn’t have two distinct verbs for two different qualities of “to be” as for instance Spanish.

You will use this verb, very, very frequently as you need it for the casual past of some important verbs and for the passive voice. So learn it well  :).

To wrap this up here is the famous Shakespeare-line in German:

Sein oder Nichtsein,  das ist hier die Frage.

Advanced learners might have noticed that the compound word Nichtsein  is capitalized and hence a noun. This appears to be the most widespread translation of “to be, or not to be…”. However, it is not the most logical choice and not the closest translation either.
The literal translation of Nichtsein would be nonexistence.
Whereas in the original version, Hamlet ponders two different actions (to be or not to be) , in German he has to decide between two “things”.
I don’t know why this obvious shift has come to be the most agreed upon translation to date but I honestly have to disagree. I have heard the phrase numerous times and I would have written it as follows:

Sein oder nicht sein,  das ist hier die Frage.

This is pronounced exactly the same as the former version but it is closer to the English original because the pending choice  is between two actions “sein” and “nicht sein”.
If you know the reason for the German translation you are welcome to leave a comment.

Anyway… I hope you enjoyed this very first word of the day and see you next time.

for members :)

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Pooni (@Pooni)

I am in Grundstufe A2 right now and want to continue onto B1. However after falling short for B1 in a placement test by 4 punkte…its time i pulled up my socks and started taking Deutsch seriously! :D And then i stumbled upon serendipitiously onto ur wonderful Blog..Thank you so much for all the work u put into this lovely blog. I appreciate it a lot! Vielen Dank!


I think that Hamlet means with that phrase the existence and so they translated it to Nichtsein!

Adriano Marcato
Adriano Marcato

that’s it? no jokes? no abstraction glasses? after meeting the blog so advanced stage I decided to see the first posts. again very nice blog, It’s speeding my german learning so much!


I assume that you have deliberately missed to add Subjuntive forms of verb ‘sein’ here presumably to not to confuse the beginners. But i was hoping that someone like you could well explain those complex structures easily and not to bore away the readers.
This is one of the first verbs that i learned and it didn’t look hard to grab, until i encountered the Subjuntive mood of this.

Regards, Hunny


I frequently get mixed up between using sein and werden, given in english, they can be both “be” depending on “to be” and “to become”.

What would then be the difference in meaning between the two following sentences for “to be missing” according to Leo.dict?

1) using : als vermisst gemeldet sein “Er ist als vermisst gemeldet”

2) using : als vermisst gemeldet werden “Er wird als vermisst gemeldet”

I don’t understand the subtle difference in meaning… I understand that with werden, it is the passive, but I can’t recognise the subtle difference in meaning between the two sentences, and when one would use one over the other…

Vielen Dank im Voraus!


What do you mean when you refer to “participle 2”?


Julian Koch
Julian Koch

Thank you very much for this great article about the German verbs haben and sein. It helped me a lot to understand hte basic principles. By the way.. I have a little suggestion.. why don’t you add graphics to you articles as on https://language-easy.org/german/grammar/verbs/to-have-in-german/ ? That would make the topic a bit more illustrative.. Thanks again and Greetings from Bolivia!