1. Education

German for Beginners:
Lesson 4.2

German Verbs in the Present Tense

Continued from: Two Important Verbs (Lektion 4.1)

More verbs:
50 Common German Verbs
20 Most-Used German Verbs (ranked)

Unlike haben and sein, most German verbs follow a predictable pattern in the present tense. Once you learn the pattern for one German verb, you know how most German verbs are conjugated. (Yes, there are some irregular verbs that don't always follow the rules, but even they will usually have the same endings as other verbs.)

The Basics
Each verb has a basic "infinitive" ("to") form. This is the form of the verb you find in a German dictionary. The verb "to play" in English is the infinitive form. ("He plays" is a conjugated form.) The German equivalent of "to play" is spielen. Each verb has a "stem" form, the basic part of the verb left after you remove the -en ending. For spielen the stem is spiel- (spielen - en). To conjugate the verb—that is, use it in a sentence—you must add the correct ending to the stem. If you want to say "I play" you add an -e ending: "ich spiele" (which can also be translated into English as "I am playing"). Each "person" (he, you, they, etc.) requires its own ending on the verb. This is called "conjugating the verb." If you don't know how to conjugate verbs correctly it means your German will sound strange to people who understand the language. German verbs require more different endings than English verbs. In English we use only an s ending or no ending for most verbs: "I/they/we/you play" or "he/she plays." In the present tense, German has a different ending for almost all of those verb situations: ich spiele, sie spielen, du spielst, er spielt, etc. Observe that the verb spielen has a different ending in each of the examples. If you want to sound intelligent in German, you need to learn when to use which ending. That's why we have this chart for you!

German has no present progressive tense ("am going"/"are buying"). The German Präsens "ich kaufe" can be translated into English as "I buy" or "I am buying," depending on the context.

The chart below lists two sample German verbs—one an example of a "normal" verb, the other an example of verbs that require a "connecting e" in the 2nd person singular and plural, and the 3rd person singular (du/ihr, er/sie/es)—as in er arbeitet.

We have also included a helpful list of some representative common stem-changing verbs. These are verbs that follow the normal pattern of endings, but have a vowel change in their stem or base form (hence the name "stem-changing"). In the chart below, the verb endings for each pronoun (person) are indicated in bold type.

More verbs on our 50 Common German Verbs page.

Take the Present Tense Verb Quiz 1, a self-scoring quiz, after you've studied this lesson.

spielen - to play
Deutsch English Sample Sentences
SINGULAR
ich spiele I play Ich spiele gern Basketball.
du spielst you (fam.)
play
Spielst du Schach? (chess)
er spielt he plays Er spielt mit mir. (with me)
sie spielt she plays Sie spielt Karten. (cards)
es spielt it plays Es spielt keine Rolle.
It doesn't matter.
PLURAL
wir spielen we play Wir spielen Basketball.
ihr spielt you (guys) play Spielt ihr Monopoly?
sie spielen they play Sie spielen Golf.
Sie spielen you play Spielen Sie heute? (Sie, formal "you," is both singular and plural.)
See more verbs on our
50 Common German Verbs page.

Now let's look at another German verb. This one is only slightly different from the others. The verb arbeiten (to work) belongs to a category of verbs that add a "connecting" e in the 2nd person singular and plural, and the 3rd person singular (du/ihr, er/sie/es) in the present tense: er arbeitet. Verbs whose stem ends in d or t do this. The following are examples of verbs in this category: antworten (answer), bedeuten (mean), enden (end), senden (send). (The more common verbs in this group are included on our 50 Common German Verbs page.) In the chart below we have marked the 2nd and 3rd person conjugations with *.

arbeiten - to work
Deutsch English Sample Sentences
SINGULAR
ich arbeite I work Ich arbeite am Samstag.
du arbeitest * you (fam.) work Arbeitest du in der Stadt?
er arbeitet * he works Er arbeitet mit mir. (with me)
sie arbeitet * she works Sie arbeitet nicht.
es arbeitet * it works --
PLURAL
wir arbeiten we work Wir arbeiten zu viel.
ihr arbeitet * you (guys) work Arbeitet ihr am Montag?
sie arbeiten they work Sie arbeiten bei BMW.
Sie arbeiten you work Arbeiten Sie heute? (Sie, formal "you," is both singular and plural.)
See more verbs on our
50 Common German Verbs page.

Sample Stem-Changing Verbs
Deutsch English Sample Sentence
In the examples below, er stands for all three third-person pronouns (er, sie, es). Stem-changing verbs only change in the singular (except for ich). Their plural forms are completely regular.
fahren
er fährt
du fährst
to travel
he travels
you travel
Er fährt nach Berlin.
He's traveling/going to Berlin.
Ich fahre nach Berlin.
I'm traveling/going to Berlin.
lesen
er liest
du liest
to read
he reads
you read
Maria liest die Zeitung.
Maria's reading the newspaper.
Wir lesen die Zeitung.
We read the newspaper.
nehmen
er nimmt
du nimmst
to take
he takes
you take
Karl nimmt sein Geld.
Karl's taking his money.
Ich nehme mein Geld.
I'm taking my money.
vergessen
er vergisst
du vergisst
to forget
he forgets
you forget
Er vergisst immer.
He always forgets.
Vergiss es! / Vergessen Sie es!
Forget it!
See more stem-changing verbs on our
50 Common German Verbs page.

TEST YOURSELF > German Present Tense Verb Quiz 1
Take this self-scoring quiz on the present tense in this lesson!

Previous Lesson (Lesson 4.1)
Two important verbs - haben and sein.

Next Lesson (Lesson 5)

German for Beginners - Contents

Verb Review 1
Part One of a 3-part look at the ins and outs of German verbs. With self-scoring quiz.


Related Links

German Verb Prefixes
Learn more about German separable (trennbar) and inseparable (untrennbar) verb prefixes.

German Strong (Irregular) Verbs
The principal parts and conjugations of German irregular verbs.

English-German Glossaries
All of the annotated glossaries on this site - from aerospace to travel.

German Grammar
All of the grammar resources on this site by category.


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