The Present Tense in German

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So what is the Present Tense used for in German?

 

The Present Tense in German is used to talk about things that are happening at the present time or about things which happen regularly or which you do often. For example, in English, “I play football on a Saturday morning” and “I have a dog” are both examples of the Present Tense.

 

How do I form the Present Tense?

 

The Present Tense in German is really not that difficult to form. There are some simple rules that you need to know and learn which govern Weak Verbs, and some basic principles concerning Strong Verbs which really help you to use them. In addition there are few common Irregular Verbs that you need to learn.

 

That sounds pretty complicated to me!

 

Learners of German tend to think that verbs are difficult. I really do not think that this is the case. If we address each section carefully, we can see patterns and similarities, and reduce the whole thing to some simple rules.

 

Weak verbs in German are verbs which are obedient and follow all the rules exactly in a given tense, in this case the Present Tense. They obey all patterns. (They are a bit like what would be known as regular verbs in French.)

 

That sounds pretty straight forward. What about Strong Verbs then?

 

Strong Verbs are verbs which do not “conform” like weak verbs; rather they are “strong” and “stand up for themselves”. Actually, they are not as strong as they like to think they are, and in reality they do follow rules and patterns, but each verb has a very slight difference.

 

So I guess they are like Irregular verbs in French, say?

 

No, they are not, which is why we do not use the term Irregular Verbs for them. Strong verb do follow the basic rules, but they each have a very slight difference in two of their forms, which needs to be learned for each verb. Otherwise they are much the same as weak verbs.

 

So there are no Irregular verbs in German then?

 

The not so good news is that there are a number of verbs which are irregular in the way they form the Present Tense. The good news is that there are not that many of them and as they are frequently used verbs, they are not that difficult to learn.

 

 

What’s the rule with weak verbs then?

 

Weak verbs all follow this pattern:

 

We take the infinitive form of the verb (that is, the form that we find in the dictionary): for example let’s take “spielen” which means “to play”.

 

We then take off the “-EN” from the end to form what we call the stem. We then add on an ending as follows:

 

English Subject

German Subject

Ending added to Stem

spielen

I

ich

-e

ich spiele

you (to a friend)

du

-st

du spielst

he / she / it

er / sie / es

-t

er / sie / es spielt

we

wir

-en

wir spielen

you (to more than one friend)

ihr

-t

ihr spielt

they / you (politely to one or more people)

sie / Sie

-en

sie / Sie spielen

 

Now if we look at that list of endings, we can simplify it down even further. We notice that the “wir” and “sie / Sie” forms are actually the same as the infinitive, which makes them very easy to work out. The “er / sie / es” and “ihr” forms are the same in that they both take a “t” on the end. That just leaves the “ich” and “du” forms.

 

Do all verbs end in “-EN” in the infinitive then?

 

The vast majority of verbs do indeed end in “-EN” in the infinitive. There are a few exceptions. For example, verbs which end in “-ELN” such as “sammeln” (to collect), “angeln” (to fish) and “segeln” (to sail) follow the same pattern with slight changes:

 

English Subject

German Subject

Ending added to Stem

sammeln

I

ich

-e

ich sammle

you (to a friend)

du

-st

du sammelst

he / she / it

er / sie / es

-t

er / sie / es sammelt

we

wir

-en

wir sammeln

you (to more than one friend)

ihr

-t

ihr sammelt

they / You (politely to one or more people)

sie / Sie

-en

sie / Sie sammeln

 

The only real difference here is that the “ich” form has lost an extra “e” from the infinitive. In addition, there was no “E” to take off the infinitive, so we just took off the “N”. Not that hard really!

 

In addition, the stem of some verbs (the bit with the “EN” taken off) ends in a “D” or “T”. In this case, we add an extra “E” in the du and er / sie / es and ihr forms, for ease of pronunciation.

 

 

finden (to find)

arbeiten (to work)

ich

finde

arbeite

du

findest

arbeitest

er / sie / es

findet

arbeitet

wir

finden

arbeiten

ihr

findet

arbeitet

sie / Sie

finden

arbeiten

 

 

OK. So what about these Strong Verbs then?

 

I said above that Strong verbs are the same as weak verbs in most ways, but that they have a change in a couple of parts. There really is no need for stress where Strong Verbs are concerned!

 

Let’s look at an example, and I’ll show you what I mean. The verb “fahren” is a strong verb and it means “to go” or “to travel” by a means of transport. It is a very frequently used verb. Here it is in the Present Tense:

 

English Subject

German Subject

Ending added to Stem

fahren

I

ich

-e

ich fahre

you (to a friend)

du

-st

du fährst

he / she / it

er / sie / es

-t

er / sie / es fährt

we

wir

-en

wir fahren

you (to more than one friend)

ihr

-t

ihr fahrt

they / You (politely to one or more people)

sie / Sie

-en

sie / Sie fahren

 

The first thing that we notice is that the endings are exactly the same as for a weak verb. Result! I told you this was simple! The only difference is that in the “du” and “er / sie / es” forms, there is what we call a vowel change which changes the pronunciation.

 

All Strong Verbs follow this pattern of vowel change in those two parts only. The endings are the same as for weak verbs. You do however have to learn which verbs are Strong Verbs and what the vowel change is for each one, as there is no way of telling from the verb itself. There are patterns and the more you learn, the easier it becomes.

 

Here are some common Strong Verbs used at GCSE level in England:

 

The letter “a” gains an Umlaut in the “du” and “er / sie / es” forms:

 

 

fahren (to go, to travel)

tragen (to wear , to carry)

schlafen (to sleep)

ich

fahre

trage

schlafe

du

fährst

trägst

schläfst

er / sie / es

fährt

trägt

schläft

wir

fahren

tragen

schlafen

ihr

fahrt

tragt

schlaft

sie / Sie

fahren

tragen

schlafen

 

 

 

waschen (to wash)

laufen (to run)

gefallen (to please)

ich

wasche

laufe

 

du

wäschst

läufst

 

er / sie / es

wäscht

läuft

gefällt

wir

waschen

laufen

 

ihr

wascht

lauft

 

sie / Sie

waschen

laufen

gefallen

 

The letter “e” changes to “ie” in the “du” and “er / sie / es” forms:

 

 

sehen (to see)

lesen (to read)

ich

sehe

lese

du

siehst

liest

er / sie / es

sieht

liest

wir

sehen

lesen

ihr

seht

lest

sie / Sie

sehen

lesen

 

The letter “e” changes to an “i” in the “du” and “er / sie / es” forms:

 

 

geben (to give)

essen (to eat)

sprechen (to speak)

ich

gebe

esse

spreche

du

gibst

isst

sprichst

er / sie / es

gibt

isst

spricht

wir

geben

essen

sprechen

ihr

gebt

esst

sprecht

sie / Sie

geben

essen

sprechen

 

 

 

helfen (to help)

treffen (to meet)

ich

helfe

treffe

du

hilfst

triffst

er / sie / es

hilft

trifft

wir

helfen

treffen

ihr

helft

trefft

sie / Sie

helfen

treffen

 

Not that difficult really then. Tell me about the irregular verbs.

 

There are a few verbs which are irregular and have to be learned individually.

 

 

haben (to have)

sein (to be)

werden (to become)

nehmen (to take)

ich

habe

bin

werde

nehme

du

hast

bist

wirst

nimmst

er / sie / es

hat

ist

wird

nimmt

wir

haben

sind

werden

nehmen

ihr

habt

seid

werdet

nehmt

sie / Sie

haben

sind

werden

nehmen

 

 

In addition, there are 6 modal verbs, which also follow their own pattern and are slightly irregular. These are useful and frequently used verbs and are followed by an infinitive in a sentence.

 

 

können (to be able to)

wollen (to want to)

müssen (to have to)

ich

kann

will

muss

du

kannst

willst

musst

er / sie / es

kann

will

muss

wir

können

wollen

müssen

ihr

könnt

wollt

müsst

sie / Sie

können

wollen

müssen

 

 

 

dürfen (to be allowed to)

sollen (ought to / should)

mögen (to like)

ich

darf

soll

mag

du

darfst

sollst

magst

er / sie / es

darf

soll

mag

wir

dürfen

sollen

mögen

ihr

dürft

sollt

mögt

sie / Sie

dürfen

sollen

mögen

 

So is that it then?

 

As far as GCSE in England is concerned, that should be everything you need to know about formation of the present tense. There are a few other more advanced complications, and of course you can find details of these in any grammar book.

 

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