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Top 20 Most-Used German Verbs

Ranked by Frequency (Häufigkeit)

Some estimates of vocabulary use indicate that an educated person has an active vocabulary of 10,000 to 20,000 words. (Our passive vocabulary—words we understand—is much larger.) To be reasonably fluent in a foreign language (be it German or any other tongue), most experts say you need to understand around 8,000 words and be able to use about 2,000. Since larger German dictionaries list over 300,000 terms, no one can be expected to know all of them. Our goal here is much more modest: the most frequently used verbs.

Although this is a non-scientific listing of word frequency (Worthäufigkeit), the 21 verbs listed here (there was a tie for 11th place) are among the most commonly used in daily spoken and written (email, letters) form. They are ranked by approximate frequency, from most-used to least. But by any measure, the verbs below are among the most useful in German, and it is a good idea to know all of them. Note that the English meaning shown here for each verb may be only one of several possible meanings.

In the following chart you'll find selected conjugations and examples for each verb. For more detailed information on some verbs, click on the verb's hyperlink. (You can see all of the irregular and other German verbs on our German Verbs page and on the 50 Common German Verbs chart of the most common German verbs in the present tense - with examples.)

Note: Our ranked verb list is related more to spoken German. Many ranked word lists are based on the frequency of words found in newspapers and magazines, which is an easier statistic to generate. We make no claims of scientific accuracy for our "Rangliste."

Also see: Verb-Lexikon - 500+ German verbs

The Top 20
Most-Used German Verbs

Ranked by Frequency of Use
Infinitiv Common Forms Examples

to be
ich bin I am
du bist you are
er war he was
er ist gewesen he was/has been
es wäre it would be
Sei still! Be quiet!
Seien Sie bitte so freundlich! Would you be so kind!
Ich bin's. It's me.
Wie wär's mit einem Bier? How about a beer?

to have
ich habe I have
du hast you have
er hat he has
Sie haben gehabt You had/have had
wir hätten we would have
Hab dich nicht so! Don't make such a fuss!
Er hat keine Zeit. He has no time.
Wenn ich nur das Geld hätte. If I only had the money.

to become

Also used to
form the
future tense
and the
passive voice.
ich werde I become
du wirst you become
er ist geworden he became
es wurde it became
es würde.. it would...
werde! become!
werden Sie! become!
Es wird dunkel. It's getting dark.
Sie wird uns schreiben. She will write us. (future)
Der Brief wurde geschrieben. The letter was written. (passive)

to be able, can
ich kann I can
du kannst you can
er konnte he could
Sie können you can
No imperative
Er kann Deutsch. He knows German.
Ich habe es nicht sagen können. I couldn't say it.

to have to, must
ich muss I must/have to
du musst you must
er muss he must
sie musste she had to
wir müssen we have to
No imperative
Ich muss nicht. I don't have to.
Er muss nach Berlin. He has to go to Berlin.

to want (to)
ich will I want (to)
du willst you want (to)
er will he wants (to)
er wollte he wanted to
sie hat gewollt she wanted to
Imperative rare
Er will nichts trinken. He doesn't want to drink anything.
Das habe ich nicht gewollt. I didn't mean to (do that).
Wir wollen morgen abfahren. We want to leave tomorrow.

to like (to)
ich mag I like
ich möchte I would like
du magst you like
er mochte he liked
Sie mögen you like
No imperative
Er mag die Suppe. He likes the soup.
Was möchten Sie? What would you like?

to know
ich weiß I know
du weißt you know
wir wissen we know
er wusste he knew
ich habe gewusst I knew, have known
wisse! know!
wisset! know!
Er weiß es nicht. He doesn't know.
Sie wusste weder ein noch aus. She didn't know which way was up.
Wissen Sie, wann sie ankommen? Do you know when they arrive?

to make, do
ich mache I do, make
du machst you make
er macht he does
wir machten we did, made
er hat gemacht he did, has done
ich werde machen I will do, make
Machen Sie sich keine Gedanken! Don't worry about it!
Das macht nichts. It doesn't matter.
Was macht das? What does it come to? (How much?)
Was machen wir jetzt? Now what do we do?

ought to,
supposed to
ich soll I should
du sollst you should
er soll he should
sie sollte she was supposed to
wir sollen we ought to
No imperative
Ich sollte dort bleiben. I ought to stay there.
Es soll schön sein. It's said to be/supposed to be nice.
Was soll das? What's that supposed to mean?
MORE > Next 10 Verbs

MORE > Next 10 Most-Used Verbs

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Related Pages

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A chart of the most common German verbs - with examples.

German Strong (Irregular) Verbs
The principal parts and conjugations of German irregular verbs, including "haben" and "sein."

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