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Modal Verbs (2)

In the last lesson, German modal verbs, their meanings and uses were outlined. In this one, we’ll go through the conjugations of the modal verbs and outline another important application of modal verbs that we have not covered yet, namely the subjective use.

Conjugation of modal verbs

1.      Present Tense


Ich darf (I’m allowed)

Du darfst (you’re allowed)

Er/sie/es darf (he/she/it is allowed)

Wir dürfen (we’re allowed)

Ihr dürft (you’re allowed)

sie/Sie dürfen (they’re/you’re allowed)


Ich kann (I can)

Du kannst (you can)

Er/sie/es kann (he/she/it can)

Wir können (we can)

Ihr könnt (you can)

sie/Sie können (you can)


Ich muss (I must)

Du musst (you must)

Er/sie/es muss (he/she/it must)

Wir müssen (we must)

Ihr must (you must)

sie/Sie müssen (they/you must)


Ich mag (I like)

Du magst (you like)

Er/sie/es mag (he/she/it likes)

Wir mögen (we like)

Ihr mögt (you like)

sie/Sie mögen (you like)


Ich soll (I should)

Du sollst (you should)

Er/sie/es soll (he/she/it should)

Wir sollen (we should)

Ihr sollt (you should)

sie/Sie sollen (you should)


Ich will (I want)

Du willst (you want)

Er/sie/es will (he/she/it wants)

Wir wollen (we want)

Ihr wollt (you want)

sie/Sie wollen (you want)

2.      Present Perfect

Present perfect tense conjugations are given below. Note that the given uses are rare. When modal verbs are used in the present tense with another verb, infinitive is used, not the forms below.


Ich habe gedurft (I’ve been allowed)

Du hast gedurft (you’ve been allowed)

Er/sie/es hat gedurft (he/she/it is allowed)

Wir haben gedurft (we’ve been allowed)

Ihr habt gedurft (you’ve been allowed)

sie/Sie haben gedurft (they’ve/you’ve been allowed)


Ich habe gekonnt (I could)

Du hast gekonnt (you could)

Er/sie/es hat gekonnt (he/she/it could)

Wir haben gekonnt (we could)

Ihr habt gekonnt (you could)

sie/Sie haben gekonnt (you could)


Ich habe gemusst (I had to)

Du hast gemusst (you had to)

Er/sie/es hat gemusst (he/she/it had to)

Wir haben gemusst (we had to)

Ihr habt gemusst (you had to)

sie/Sie haben gemusst (they/you had to)


Ich habe gemocht (I’ve liked)

Du hast gemocht (you’ve liked)

Er/sie/es hat gemocht (he/she/it has liked)

Wir haben gemocht (we’ve liked)

Ihr habt gemocht (you’ve liked)

sie/Sie haben gemocht (you’ve liked)


Ich habe gesollt (I should have)

Du hast gesollt (you should have)

Er/sie/es hat gesollt (he/she/it should have)

Wir haben gesollt (we should have)

Ihr habt gesollt (you should have)

sie/Sie haben gesollt (you should have)


Ich habe gewollt (I’ve wanted)

Du hast gewollt (you’ve wanted)

Er/sie/es hat gewollt (he/she/it has wanted)

Wir haben gewollt (we’ve wanted)

Ihr habt gewollt (you’ve wanted)

sie/Sie haben gewollt (you’ve wanted)

3.      Preterit


Ich durfte (I was allowed)

Du durftest (you were allowed)

Er/sie/es durfte (he/she/it was allowed)

Wir durften (we were allowed)

Ihr durft (you were allowed)

sie/Sie durfen (they/you were allowed)


Ich konnte (I could)

Du konntest (you could)

Er/sie/es konnte (he/she/it could)

Wir konnten (we could)

Ihr konntet (you could)

sie/Sie konnten (you could)


Ich musste (I had to)

Du musstest (you had to)

Er/sie/es musste (he/she/it had to)

Wir mussten (we had to)

Ihr musstet (you had to)

sie/Sie mussten (they/you had to)


Ich mochte (I’ve liked)

Du mochtest (you’ve liked)

Er/sie/es mochte (he/she/it has liked)

Wir mochten (we’ve liked)

Ihr mochtet (you’ve liked)

sie/Sie mochten (you’ve liked)


Ich sollte (I should have)

Du solltest (you should have)

Er/sie/es sollte (he/she/it should have)

Wir sollten (we should have)

Ihr solltet (you should have)

sie/Sie sollten (you should have)


Ich wollte (I wanted)

Du wolltest (you wanted)

Er/sie/es wollte (he/she/it wanted)

Wir wollten (we wanted)

Ihr wolltet (you wanted)

sie/Sie wollten (you wanted)

Subjective use

Modal verbs can be also used to express opinions and guesses. Actually, this use is very common.

Er muss den Bus verpasst haben (He must have missed the bus)

In the above sentence, the speaker is making a guess but because he’s using “müssen”, he’s very sure about what he says.

Similar constructions can be made. But as in English, when a different modal verb is used for this purpose, the probability changes.

Sie kann Tennis gespielt haben (She could have played Tennis)

When “können” is used, the speaker makes a guess still but he does not believe it so much as he would express it by using müssen.

Er mag keine Lust gehabt haben (It can be that he did not feel like)

In the above sentence, the speaker is making a guess however he does not mind if what he’s telling is true or not.

Sie soll Tennis gespielt haben (I’ve heard that she played Tennis)

From the above sentence, we understand that someone told the speaker that she played Tennis.

Sie will Tennis gespielt haben (she claims that she played Tennis)

When “wollen” is used in the subjective meaning, as in the above sentence, we understand that the person we talk about makes claim, this is what he/she is telling about himself/herself, not what the speaker is guessing.

Let’s review the subjective use briefly:

Müssen indicates 80%-90% probability; the speaker is almost sure about what he’s guessing

Können indicates a 50% likelihood; it can be or it cannot be.

Mögen: As können 50% likelihood however,  this time, the speaker does not care if it’s true or not

Sollen indicates that it’s a rumor, someone told that ..It’s also common in the newspaper language.

Wollen indicates that someone claims something about himself.