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German Modal Verbs
Part 3: Sample Sentences

Modal Verbs in Various Tenses
With sample sentences

Lesson 16 > Modals 1 > Modals 2 > Modal Examples

With the Subjunctive (Konjunktiv) mood

Also see: Modal Verbs 1 and Modal Verbs 2

1. dürfen (to be permitted, may)

Present: Darf ich rauchen? May I smoke?
Past/Preterite: Er durfte das nicht. He wasn't permitted to do that.
Pres. Perfect/Perfekt: Er hat dort nicht parken dürfen. He was not permitted to park there.
Past Perfect/Plusquamperfekt: Wir hatten das damals machen dürfen. We had been allowed to do that back then.
Future/Futur: Wir werden das machen dürfen. We will be allowed to do that.
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Wenn ich dürfte... If I were permitted...

NOTE: For all modals with umlauts, the simple past (preterite/Imperfekt) has no umlaut, but the subjunctive form always has an umlaut!

Sample Idiomatic Expressions:
Was darf es sein? May I help you? (store clerk)
Wenn ich bitten darf. If you please.

2. können (to be able, can, know)

Present: Er kann gut fahren. He can drive well.
Past/Preterite: Er konnte sie nicht leiden. He couldn't stand her.
Pres. Perfect/Perfekt: Er hat sie nicht leiden können. He couldn't stand her.
Past Perfect/Plusquamperfekt: Er hatte sie nicht leiden können. He had not been able to stand her.
Future/Futur: Er wird sie nicht leiden können. He won't be able to stand her.
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Wenn ich ihn nur leiden könnte... If I could only stand him...

NOTE: For all modals with umlauts, the simple past (preterite/Imperfekt) has no umlaut, but the subjunctive form always has an umlaut!

Sample Idiomatic Expressions:
Sie könnten sich irren. You could be mistaken.
Das kann man wohl sagen. You can say that again.
Er kann Deutsch. He knows German. ("can German")
Er kann Sie jetzt sprechen. He can see you now. (doctor, dentist)

3. müssen (to have to, must)

Present: Ich muss dort Deutsch sprechen. I have to speak German there.
Past/Preterite: Er musste es nicht tun. He didn't have to do it.
Pres. Perfect/Perfekt: Wir haben mit der Bahn fahren müssen. We had to go by train.
Future/Futur: Sie wird morgen abfahren müssen. She will have to depart tomorrow.
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Wenn ich müsste... If I had to...

NOTE: For all modals with umlauts, the simple past (preterite/Imperfekt) has no umlaut, but the subjunctive form always has an umlaut!

Sample Idiomatic Expressions:
Ich muss nach Hause. I have to go home.
Muss das sein? Is that really necessary?
So müsste es immer sein. That's how it should be all the time.

4. mögen (to like)

Present: Er mag die Suppe. He likes the soup.
Past/Preterite: Er mochte die Stadt nicht. He didn't like the city.
Pres. Perfect/Perfekt: Er hat das Essen nicht gemocht. He didn't like the food.
Future/Futur: Er wird das schon mögen. He'll like that.
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Ja, er möchte Wein. Yes, he'd like (some) wine.
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Ich möchte... I would like...

NOTE: For all modals with umlauts, the simple past (preterite/Imperfekt) has no umlaut, but the subjunctive form always has an umlaut!

Sample Idiomatic Expressions:
Das mag wohl sein. That well may be. / That may be so.
Das mag der Himmel verhütten! Heaven forbid!
Er mag/mochte etwa 1,3 Meter groß sein. He must be/must have been about 1.3 meters tall.

5. sollen (to be supposed to, should/ought to)

Present: Er soll reich sein. He's supposed to be rich. / It's said that he's rich.
Past/Preterite: Er sollte gestern ankommen. He was supposed to arrive yesterday.
Pres. Perfect/Perfekt: Du hast ihn anrufen sollen. You should have called him.
Future (in sense of): Er soll das morgen haben. He'll have that tomorrow.
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Das hättest du nicht tun sollen. You shouldn't have done that.
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Wenn ich sollte... If I should...
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Sollte sie anrufen... If she should (happen to) call...

Sample Idiomatic Expressions:
Das Buch soll sehr gut sein. The book is said to be very good.
Du sollst damit sofort aufhören! You're to stop that right now!
Was soll das (heißen)? What's that supposed to mean? What's the idea?
Es soll nicht wieder vorkommen. It won't happen again.

6. wollen (to want to, said to be)

Present: Sie will nicht gehen. She doesn't want to go.
Past/Preterite: Ich wollte das Buch lesen. I wanted to read the book.
Pres. Perfect/Perfekt: Sie haben den Film immer sehen wollen. They have always wanted to see the movie.
Past Perfect/Plusquamperfekt: Wir hatten den Film immer sehen wollen. We had always wanted to see the movie.
Future/Futur: Er wird gehen wollen. He will want to go.
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Wenn ich wollte... If I wanted to...

Sample Idiomatic Expressions:
Das will nicht viel sagen. That's of little consequence. That doesn't mean much.
Er will es nicht gesehen haben. He claims not to have seen it.
Das hat er nicht gewollt. That's not what he intended.

Also see the following verb charts:

German Modal Verbs 1
The basic forms of dürfen, können and müssen.

German Modal Verbs 2
The basic forms of mögen, sollen and wollen.

German Strong Verbs (A-F)
The principal parts of German strong verbs with their English meanings. More...

Verb Reviews 1-3
Verb tenses and conjugations — with exercises.

German Verbs
Our contents page for everything related to German verbs.

The 20 Most-Used German Verbs
Ranked by frequency of use. With conjugations and examples.

German Top 1000
The most frequently used German words in reading, ranked by frequency.

German for Beginners
Our free online German course!

More German Grammar
A guide to all the grammar pages at this site, listed by category.

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