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German verbs and present tense

In the previous sections, the declension and case concepts (nominative, accusative, and dative, genitive) were explained. The case is very important for the German verbs as well. While some German verbs act in the accusative, others act in the nominative etc. Most of the German verbs are accusative, which are then followed by dative verbs.

Infinitive form

Most German verbs end in –“en” in the infinitive form, for example: geben (to give). And the others end in “-n”, for example: sein (to be).

As in English, some German verbs are regular while some others are irregular. Let’s see first how to conjugate a regular verb in present tense:

Present tense conjugation

To conjugate a regular verb in present tense, drop the infinitive ending “–en” and add the endings in accordance with the subject pronoun.

Ich -e

Du -st

Er/sie/es -t

Wir -en

Ihr -t

sie/Sie –en

Let’s conjugate the verb “gehen”:

Ich gehe

Du gehst

Er/sie/es geht

Wir gehen

Ihr geht

Sie/Sie gehen

Note that the conjugations of singular and plural third person are equal to the infinitive of the verb. Moreover, er, sie, es and ihr are conjugated the same, i.e. “-t” is added.

Another thing you should take notice of is the following. If a verb ends in “-s, -ß,-z”, after dropping the infinitive ending, the “du” form takes only “–t”. For example: reisen (to travel). Drop the infinitive ending to get the stem of the verb: “reis-“. To say “you travel”, you need to say “du reist”, not du reisst. As stated above, the same holds if the verb ends in “-ß,-z” as well. Moreover, if the stem of the verb ends in “-t, -d”, “-e” is added to the “t”conjugated versions. For example, let’s take the verb arbeiten (to work). Drop the ending “-en” to get the stem of the verb: “arbeit-“. For the “du” form it will be arbeitest not arbeitst. Also, the form for the er/sie/es/ihr will be modified: arbeitet not arbeitt.

Two of the most important irregular German verbs are “sein” and “haben”. They can be both used as auxiliary verbs, as we’ll see in the lessons related to other tenses. These irregular verbs are conjugated as follows in present tense:

Sein in present tense

Ich bin

Du bist

Er/sie/es ist

Wir sind

Ihr seid

sie/Sie sind

Haben in present tense

Ich habe

Du hast

Er/sie/es hat

Wir haben

Ihr habt

sie/Sie haben

In case of some German verbs, only the stem changes, whereby the endings stay as explained above. For these verbs, second and third person singular (du, er/sie/es) undergo a stem-change. An example of such verbs is fahren (to go, to drive) and its conjugation is as follows

Ich fahre

Du fährst

Er/sie/es fährt

Wir fahren

Ihr fährt

sie/Sie fahren

Separable Verbs

As you can learn more about them in the related lesson, some German verbs which are formed by some prefixes are called as separable verbs. The conjugation of such verbs are simple, they are just as explained above. You just need to separate the prefix and the base verb; the prefix must come after the base verb. An example is anfangen (to start). This verb is a stem-changing verb, therefore its conjugation will be like “fahren” which was mentioned above:

Ich fänge an

Du fängst an

Er/sie/es fängt an

Wir fangen an

Ihr fängt an

sie/Sie fangen an

Use of present tense

What is interesting about the present tense in German is the fact that it can reflect three times actually:

  1. Present tense  (as in English, for general statements)
  2. Present continuous
  3. Future tense

The difference in the tempus is made clear by using adverbs. For example;

Ich gehe ins Kino jeden Donnerstag (I go to the gym every Thursday): in this sentence, the present tense is used to make a statement about a general habit.


Ich gehe ins Kino am Donnerstag (I’ll go to the cinema on Thursday): in this sentence, the present tense is used to talk about a future plan.

Ich gehe gerade ins Kino, Ich melde mich spaeter an (I’m going to the cinema now, I’ll contact you later on): in this sentence, future tense is used to talk about what you are doing at the moment.

As you see, by using words like “jeden Donnerstag”, “am Donnerstag”, “gerade” etc. it’s possible to explain what you actually mean.


Examples of stem-changing verbs

Laufen: to walk

Lesen: to read

Geben: to give

Fahren: to go (by car)

Nehmen: to take

Sehen: to see

Schlafen: to sleep

Sprechen: to speak