Here at MosaLingua, we have enough experience to know that German conjugation and grammar aren’t that complicated… as long as you arm yourself with the right tools and methodology! To get you started on the right track, we’ve prepared this guide for you: the essentials of German conjugation.
The Basics of German Verb Conjugation
How does German conjugation work?
There are many differences between English and German when it comes to grammar. And to be honest, that’s precisely what worries learners most. That said, English is also a Germanic language and there are quite a lot of similarities when it comes to vocabulary. Which makes things a lot easier for native English speakers! Now, let’s have a closer look at some specifics of German conjugation. It’s not that difficult, but there are a few things you should start memorizing. Like…
Pronouns let us refer to people and things without repeating the noun, so they are some of the first German words you need to learn. The German language has:
- a pronoun that is similar to the first-person singular, “I” = ich
- a pronoun that is similar to the second-person singular, “you” = du
- another second-person pronoun that is a more formal address and a mark of respect, and that works for both the singular and the plural, “you” = Sie
- three pronouns for the third-person singular: the masculine er (he), the feminine sie (she), and the gender-neutral – or neuter – es
- a pronoun for the first-person plural, “we” = wir
- one for the second-person plural (“you all,” or “y’all” if you’re from the American South) = ihr
- and a third-person plural pronoun, “they” = sie
That might seem like a lot now, but don’t fret! When you’re just starting out with German conjugation, focus on these three pronouns: ich, du and Sie.
Conjugating regular verbs is actually quite simple. Regular verbs in German only have two endings: -n or -en. This means that most verbs follow the same conjugation pattern (except for irregular verbs, of course).
The German language, like English, has about two hundred irregular verbs. They have their own structure and don’t follow any specific conjugation pattern. However, you don’t need to know them all at the very beginning of your German language journey. If you’re just starting to studying German conjugation, we recommend focusing on the two most common irregular verbs: sein (to be) and haben (to have). Not only are they common verbs that you can use to express lots of ideas, but they’re also auxiliary verbs (also called “helper verbs”). You’ll need to have these two verbs down pat for when you start learning more German verb tenses. Start memorizing the present tense of these two verbs with the help of our verb tables:
Conjugation of sein = to beHere's a German conjugation chart to help you remember how to conjugate "sein," the German word for "to be."
|er / sie / es||ist|
|sie / Sie||sind|
Conjugation of haben = to haveAnd another German conjugation chart to remind you how to conjugate "haben," the German word for "to have."
|er / sie / es||hat|
|sie / Sie||haben|
The present (das Präsens) and present perfect (das Perfekt) are the main German tenses used to talk about the present, future, and past. There are other tenses of course, such as the past simple, past perfect or pluperfect, future, and future perfect. But we recommend waiting to study them until you’ve reached a more advanced level and are ready to make more complex sentences. You can get by very comfortably and have full conversations using just the present and Perfekt tenses.
The present tense in German
Like in many languages, the present tense in German is one of the easiest and most commonly used tenses. We use it to talk about events that take place in the present, and actions that take place either once, regularly, or never (like habits). We also use it to describe the duration of an action that is still taking place, and to talk about the future, too.
MosaTip: There is only one form of the present tense in German (unlike English, for instance, which has the simple present as well as the present continuous).
To conjugate a verb in the present tense, all you need to do is remove the -n or -en ending, and replace it with the appropriate present tense ending. Here’s an example with the verb lernen (to learn):
er, sie, es lernt
And… the future tense
Knowing the present tense in German also allows you to talk about the future! All you need to do is add adverbs of time to your present tense sentences to refer to a future event. We do the same thing in English: “I’m going to the movies tomorrow” (= ich gehe morgen ins Kino). This might not sound perfect in German, but it will help you get by in your initial learning stages. You can always learn the “real” future tenses later on.
The past tense in German
Using the past tense in German is all about mastering the Perfekt tense. It’s the most commonly used past form in spoken language. It allows you to talk about an action that happened in the past and is now over. The Perfekt tense is similar to the present perfect in English: the present form of the verb haben (see above) + the past participle of the verb.
How do you form the past participle? For regular verbs, remove the -en ending from the verb and replace it with -t. Then, add ge- to the beginning of the verb. Going back to our previous example “lernen,” its past participle becomes “gelernt.” Of course, there are always exceptions, and we cover all that in more detail in this article about the past tense in German.
How to Learn German Conjugation
To learn the specific conjugation of German verbs, we suggest using tools such as online conjugators, which should be very helpful throughout your language-learning journey! We like Der Konjugator: just type in any form of a verb (such as the infinitive) and the tool will give you a list of all its conjugated forms. Online German-English dictionaries and translation tools can also be helpful for conjugating German verbs.
MosaTip: Instead of trying to memorize detailed verb tables for tons of words (that you may rarely or never need to use):
- focus on the most frequently used German verbs and tenses (those that you’ll use in day-to-day life)
- and learn the ending patterns for regular verbs.
That’s all about German conjugation – for now! Keep in mind this guide only gives you the basics of the language you need to know. But with it, you can already start having conversations and expressing yourself in German. Pretty cool, right? To take your German grammar knowledge a step further, be sure to check out our German grammar guide and these other articles on the subject:
- Hacking German word order: How to Build a Full Sentence in German [VIDEO]
- Articles in German: Der, Die, or Das? | German Grammar Hacks [VIDEO]
- Practice Resources for German Learners
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