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Mastering German Verb Conjugations in the Present Tense: Regular and Irregular Verbs Unveiled

Updated: Jan 12

Navigating the intricacies of German grammar can be a challenging yet rewarding endeavour. In this blog post, we'll unravel the mysteries of German verb conjugations in the present tense, shedding light on the distinctions between regular and irregular verbs. While the language may pose unique challenges, understanding verb conjugations offers a manageable entry point into German grammar.


German Verb Conjugations Explained
German Verb Conjugations Explained

Verbs represent the action in a sentence that is performed by the subject. When you look up a verb in a dictionary, you'll find it there in the so-called "infinitive" form, which is the original form of the verb. Most infinitives in German end in -en. So, unlike the Romance languages that have several different infinitives, in German there is just one. If you remove the -en at the end, you’re left with the stem or root of the verb, eg.


spielen (infinitive)- en= spiel (stem), so infinitive- en= stem/root of the verb


You should always concentrate on the stem or root of the verb to identify whether the verb is regular or irregular. If the stem stays the same, it is, by definition, a regular verb. If the stem changes, it is an irregular verb.


Regular Verbs

Regular verbs maintain the same stem throughout, with endings that align with specific personal pronouns which you see listed below.


English pronoun

German pronoun

Ending of German verbs

I

ich

-e

you (informal)

du

-st

he, she, it

er, sie, es

-t

wir

we

-en

you all (informal)

ihr

-t

they, you (formal)

sie, Sie

-en


As you can see from the above, there are only two endings that are exclusive to their personal pronouns, -e for "ich" and -st for "du". The third person singular pronouns "er", "sie", "es" share the -t ending with the second person plural "ihr". First and third person plural "wir" and "sie/Sie" go back to the infinitive form and and in -en.


When meeting an adult for the first time and in a formal setting, such as a business context or working environment, use "Sie" (our formal you). Use "du" (our informal you) only for people you know well, like friends and family and when native speakers offer you to drop the "Sie" and use the "du" instead. For a more detailed explanation and examples on the difference between "du", "sie" and "ihr", check out my separate blog post.


Applied to the verb “spielen” (to play), the conjugation is as follows.


ich spiele

I play

du spielst

you (informal) play

er, sie, es spielt

he, she, it plays

wir spielen

we play

ihr spielt

you all (informal) play

sie, Sie spielen

they, you (formal) play


Other examples of regular verbs would be


Kommen (to come) Wohnen (to live, to reside)


ich komme ich wohne

du kommst du wohnst

er/sie/es kommt er/sie/es wohnt

wir kommen wir wohnen

ihr kommt ihr wohnt

sie/Sie kommen sie/Sie wohnen


Irregular verbs


Irregular verbs have a different stem in the singular form but revert back to the original stem in the plural. In the verb fahren (to drive/go by mode of transport), for instance, the original stem has an “a”, whereas the “du/er/sie/es” have an “ä”, which we call "umlaut". That is the stem change of the verb. The endings are the same as in regular verbs.


ich fahre

I drive/go by mode of transport

du fährst

you (informal) drive/go by mode of transport

er, sie, es fährt

he, she, it drives/goes by mode of transport

wir fahren

we drive/go by mode of transport

ihr fahrt

you all (informal) drive/go by mode of transport

sie, Sie fahren

they, you (formal) drive/go by mode of transport


Other examples of irregular verbs are


Lesen (to read) Sprechen (to speak)


ich lese ich spreche

du liest du sprichst

er/sie/es liest er/sie/es spricht

wir lesen wir sprechen

ihr lest ihr sprecht

sie/Sie lesen sie/Sie sprechen


There are some patterns on how to identify irregular verbs, but it's best to memorise them as you're progressing through your German course.


The only irregular verb that doesn’t follow any pattern and which you just need to memorise is “sein” (to be)


ich bin

I am

du bist

you (informal) are

er, sie, es ist

he, she, it is

wir sind

we are

ihr seid

you all (informal) are

sie, Sie

they, you (formal) are


When learning a new language, grammar terms can be quite intimidating. So I have compiled an A-Z explanation of the most important grammar terms with examples in both English and German.



On our German language blog "Auf Deutsch, bitte!", you will also find posts on how to introduce yourself in German, how to say "please" and "thank you" German, and the ten most useful verbs in German. We also have an article on the most common phrases in German and one that explains the difference between language levels a1, a2, b1 etc.


You might also be interested in my Ultimate Guide to Learning German. Check it out to learn how to learn German fast.








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