German verb conjugation rules: Learn to conjugate verbs in German

Like in English, German verbs are action words. They identify when an action is taking place (in the past, present, or future) and who is taking action. If understanding conjugation rules in English is complicated, it will be more so when learning a new language. To use German verbs correctly, you need to understand the conjugation rules. This is typically difficult for learners to figure out on their own. Knowing the rules and having a German conjugation chart should help you figure that out. In this article, we will be explaining the practices for conjugating regular and irregular verbs. Read on to learn more. Let’s take a deep delve into German verb conjugation. The goal is to identify patterns that can help you conjugate verbs and facilitate your learning and speaking of the language. If you cannot do this by yourself, consider enrolling with italki where you can learn German in 3 months. italki is an online language learning platform that allows learners to benefit from affordable and flexible lessons with professional teachers online.

The Rules for German verb conjugation

Several factors come into play when conjugating verbs in German. The first factor is the class of the verb. There are mainly two verb classes; regular and irregular verbs. For beginners, these are the verb classes you will come in contact with. As you advance in your German studies, you may be introduced to the third class of verbs known as mixed verbs. For the most part, we will dwell on the first two classes of verbs.

Regular verbs are also known as weak verbs. They are verbs that follow the standard conjugation rules, while irregular verbs are often referred to as strong verbs. Strong verbs/irregular verbs typically pursue their path. They do not follow standard conjugation rules that apply to regular verbs.

Before conjugating the verb, ask yourself questions such as what kind of verb is it? Is it regular or irregular? When is the action taking place – past, present, or future? And who (the subject) is carrying out this action? If you can answer these questions, then you are on the right path to conjugating the verb correctly. As much as the verb class and the timeframe affect how you conjugate a verb, poorly identifying the subject can cause you to conjugate the verb wrongly. When choosing a course make sure that these areas are covered in their curriculum. Also, explore italki’s Learn German online options to get started.

The process of conjugating verbs in German 

The conjugate of a verb may vary slightly, but it is usually the same for regular verbs. Processes will change for irregular verbs, Mixed verbs, and verbs that are considered nuances. We are going to go through the basic steps for conjugating a German verb below:

Always start with the infinitive form of the verb. The verb’s infinitive form is the form you see in a dictionary. For example, the infinitive form of the English word “cry” becomes “to cry.” In German, that would be “heulen.” So before you try to conjugate a verb, make sure that it is in the infinitive form.

The next step is to drop the end of the verb’s infinitive form to identify its stem. The stem of the verb can also be considered its root. The ending of infinitive verbs is typical –en, – ern, or – eln. Going back to the example we had above, “heulen” will become “heul,” the stem. However, for verbs that end in –eln or –ern, you will only need to drop the “n” from the infinitive to get the stem, e.g., “segeln” – “Segel.”

The last step is to add the appropriate ending to the verb’s stem. The termination that you add should correspond to the subject and the tense. A good example would be the phrase “I work,” which translates to “ich (I) Arbeit (work).” If the tense or the subject changes, then the conjugation would change as well. Irregular verbs do not follow these patterns. You would have to rely significantly on memory. Some of these verbs have stems that do not resemble the verb’s infinitive. These are the basic steps to conjugating a verb in German. You should arrive at a good end if you follow the steps judiciously. If this isn’t clear enough, you can reach italki to get a German teacher online who can further explain the concept.

German verb tenses and conjugation  

German verb conjugation doesn’t have to be a mystery. If you can understand the rules and where they apply, then the process should come to you naturally. We will be conjugating some words so that you observe the rules. Let’s begin with the most commonly used tense in the German language, which is the present (prasens) tense. This tense can describe actions in the “now” and the nearest future.

For regular verbs whose infinitive ends with –en, the rule states that the stem takes the following endings: e, st, t, en, t, and en. In some cases, the conjugated verb will look like the infinitive. Verbs that end in –eln adopt e/le, st, t, n, t, n, while verbs with – ern lose the “n” from the infinitive form and adopt the standard endings.  Irregular verbs do not follow this pattern. You will need to pay more attention to particular verbs, such as “to be,” which is “sein” in German. The verb has no consistent stem. See the conjugated form below:

°         Ich – bin

°         Du – bist

°         Er/sie/es – ist

°         Wir – sind

°         Ihr – seid

°         Sie/Sie – sind

When conjugating German verbs in the past tense, all regular verbs have the same rule. You will notice that a “t” is added to the stem of the word before the conjugated ending. It is not the same for irregular verbs. While they may follow some rules, the verb stems are typically very different from the infinitive forms of the verbs.  Regular verbs have the suffix –te, -test, – te, -ten, -tet, and –ten. Some irregular verbs such as sein have a more regular stem in the past tense than in the present tense.

Assuming that most of you reading this post are beginners, we will not dwell much on mixed verbs. As the name implies, mixed verbs are verbs combined with regular and irregular verbs. You can learn more about conjugating such verbs should you decide to book lessons with us. 

A conjugation chart helps you memorize German verb conjugations quickly and easily. You can easily find the suffix that corresponds to each pronoun. You can know when a verb is a regular or an irregular verb. At italki, we help you create a chart for yourself or get a German teacher online to help customize a verb conjugation chart. 

Conclusion

There you go, conjugation in a few easy steps! Let’s recap all that we have learned thus far. First, before conjugating a word, you have to make sure it is in the infinitive form. From there, you will have to derive the stem verb by removing the suffix of the infinitive. 

Once you have your stem, you can conjugate it by adding the appropriate suffix for the tense and the subject. We have also seen how to conjugate regular and irregular verbs in the past and present tense. Suppose this is all a bit too much for you to wrap your head around. Book lessons with us today.