While many aspects of German grammar make the language more difficult than the Romance languages such as French, Spanish and Italian, German verb conjugations in the present tense are actually easier than in the Latin based languages. Why? Let me explain.
Verbs present 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 on “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/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.
Let's look at regular verbs first.
e.g. spielen (infinitive)- en= spiel (stem), so infinitive- en= stem/root of the verb
Regular verbs have the same stem. They have the endings that agree with the personal pronouns listed below.
As you can see from the above, there are only two endings that are exclusive to their personal pronouns, i.e. -e for "ich" (first person singular) and -st for "du" (second person singular). 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 on -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:
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
Let's now turn to 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.
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)
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, the ten most useful verbs in German, reflexive verbs in German and how to use them, separable verbs and when they split, how to express preferences in German, the German future tense, the German perfekt tense. 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.
If you have any questions or comments, please email me. You will find more information about my German language school here.