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German Verb Brauchen

A Closer Look

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Transitive Verb
Past Tense: brauchte
Past Participle: gebraucht

There are several ways to express this verb in a sentence:

  1. Definition: to need

    Here brauchen is followed by an accusative object or phrase.

    Ich brauche einen neuen Hut
    I need a new hat.

    Sie braucht mehr Zeit
    She needs more time.

    Note: Do not confuse this definition of brauchen with gebrauchen. Even though you may hear it spoken at times (Ich gebrauche täglich acht Gläser Wasser), it is still grammatically wrong. You can however substitute brauchen for gebrauchen and vice versa in the next definition as follows.


  2. Definition: to use/useful for

    With this definition you can often use brauchen and gebrauchen interchangeably, particularly with the verb können. There is no difference in meaning.

    Kannst du das Geld brauchen?
    Would this money be useful to you?
    Kannst du das Geld gebrauchen?

    Heute bin ich zu nichts zu brauchen.
    I am of no use today.
    Heute bin ich zu nichts zu gebrauchen.

    But always the infinitive form brauchen needs to be used, in order to stick with the meaning of "to use/useful for."


  3. Definition: not need to

    In German, this translates to brauchen + nicht + zu + infinitive of second verb:

    Ich brauche nicht meine Hausaufgaben zu tun - I don't need to do my homework.
    Sie brauchen meinen Sohn heute nicht abzuholen - You don't need to pick up my son today.

    In spoken German however, it is common to omit zu such as in Du brauchst das nicht kaufen, even though technically it is not grammatically correct. In written German though, zu is imperative. In fact there is a well-known Eselsbrücke (a help phrase) repeated often in schools to remind students of this grammatical slip-up:

    Wer brauchen ohne "zu" gebraucht, braucht brauchen gar nicht zu gebrauchen.

    Basically this phrase says: Use zu when using brauchen otherwise don't use brauchen at all.

    Brauchen zu Used Only In Negation

    As you've probably observed, there are no statements with brauchen that express "need to" (->brauchen zu), that's because brauchen doesn't have any. It is only used with negated sentences. If you want to say "I need to eat", for example, then you express it as Ich muss essen and not Ich brauche zu essen. Strictly speaking, there is no literal translation in German of "I need to eat," since müssen, also means "must."

    Du brauchst keine neue Schuhe zu kaufen.
    You don't need to buy new shoes.

    Du musst neue Schuhe kaufen.
    You need to buy new shoes.

Phrases and Expressions with brauchen:
  • gebraucht = used, second-hand
    ein gebrauchter Wagen/ ein Gebrauchtwagen
  • Er ist zu allem zu brauchen.
    He is very handy to have around.
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