How to conjugate the present tense in German

To conjugate verbs in the present tense in German, you need to add different endings to the verb stem, depending on the subject pronoun. 

However first you need to realise that there are 4 categories of verbs in the German language. Each is conjugated in a different way.

The 4 types of verbs in the German language:

  • Weak verbs
  • Strong verbs
  • Mixed verbs
  • Irregular verbs

Let’s see underneath how they behave when we conjugate them.

Weak verb conjugation (regular without vowel change):

Subject pronounVerb “Fragen” (to ask)Verb “Spielen” (to play)
ich (I)fragespiele
du (you)fragstspielst
er/sie/es (he/she/it)fragtspielt
wir (we)fragenspielen
ihr (you all)fragtspielt
sie/Sie (they/you formal)fragenspielen

What you can clearly see is that the weak verb is being conjugated according to a standard rule. The subject pronoun determines how the verb ends.

In general you can state that you need to form the stem of the verb by taking off the final two letters “en” and then add new letters to form the conjugation.

The pattern of how to conjugate a German weak verb:

  • ich stem + e
  • du stem + (e)st *
  • er stem + (e)t
  • wir stem + en
  • ihr stem + (e)t
  • sie stem + en

Strong verb conjugation (regular but with vowel change in the past tense):

Subject pronounVerb “Laufen” (to walk)Verb “Singen” (to sing)
ich (I)laufesinge
du (you)läufstsingst
er/sie/es (he/she/it)läuftsingt
wir (we)laufensingen
ihr (you all)lauftsingt
sie/Sie (they/you formal)laufensingen

As you can see strong verbs conjugate the exact same way as weak verbs do in the German present tense.

What differentiates strong verb and weak verbs in German is the way they behave in the past tense and not in the present tense. Therefore for this categorie we can also state that to be able to conjugate a strong verb in the present tense you will need to form the stem of the verb simply by losing the last two letters “en” and then to add new letters according to the pronoun.

The conjugation of strong verbs in German in the present tense are formed:

  • ich stem + e
  • du stem +(e)st *
  • er stem + (e)t
  • wir stem + en
  • ihr stem +(e)t
  • sie stem + en

Mixed verb conjugation (both weak and strong):

Subject pronounVerb “Helfen” (to help)
ich (I)helfe
du (you)hilfst
er/sie/es (he/she/it)hilft
wir (we)helfen
ihr (you all)helft
sie/Sie (they/you formal)helfen

Some German verbs are stubbern and listen to both the rules that apple to weak as well as strong verbs. Luckily there are not many that behave this way and you can apply more rules that exceptions. Check out the German conjugation chart for a full explanation of the rules.

Irregular verb conjugation:

Subject pronounVerb “conjugation”Sein” (to be)
ich (I)bin
du (you)bist
er/sie/es (he/she/it)ist
wir (we)sind
ihr (you all)seid
sie/Sie (they/you formal)sind

As in any language there are completely irregular verbs in the language. They simply don’t follow rules, are not conjugation according to the usual pattern and they are just simply to be learned by heart.

The most important irregular verbs in the German language are:

  • Haben | to have
  • Können | to be able, can
  • Mögen | to like
  • Müssen | to must
  • Nehmen | to take
  • Sein | to be, have
  • Tun | to do
  • Werden | to become
  • Wissen | to know
  • Wollen | to want

As you can see mastering the German conjugations can be a challenge, however it is possible to do it fast with the right information. Find more information about other tools that might help you on the Learn German page.

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