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  Verb Topics


Strong Verbs

Modal Auxiliaries



Reflexive Verbs


Special Subjunctive

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Dartmouth German
  Studies Department

The Imperative Mood in English:

The imperative mood is used to express commands. Normally, the speaker is addressing someone directly, but the actual pronoun "you" is omitted: "Give me the gun!" "Stick it in your ear!" "Go jump in the lake!" "Dice and sauté an onion." The speaker may, on the other hand, sometimes use "you" either to indicate impatience with an addressee of lower status ("You stop that right now!" "You shut up!") or to suggest that the speaker is unable or unwilling to perform the action ("You do it!" "You try it!").

Sometimes the speaker is proposing something to one or more people and also including him- or herself. This first-person plural form is usually constructed with the verb "to let": "Let us pray." "Let's dance!" "Let's not forget ask him how to get to his house." Sometimes the proposal uses a modal auxiliary: "We ought to do it now." "We should leave soon."

Third-person or other indirect commands are also possible, if less common. These use the special subjunctive voice: "Long live the king!" "So be it." "May he rot in hell."

The Imperative Mood in German:

German has a different imperative structure for each of its three second-person forms ("Sie", "ihr", "du"), as well as first-person plural and third-person commands:

"Sie": The imperative form is normally the same as that of a question, i.e. the finite verb followed by "Sie":

Fragen Sie den Mann da. Ask that man there.
Rufen Sie mich morgen an. Call me tomorrow.
Bitte, kommen Sie schnell! Please come quickly.
Geben Sie mir das Buch! Give me the book!
Sehen Sie das mal an! Look at that!
Lassen Sie bitte von sich hören.   Let us hear from you.

In fact, the imperative is formed not from the infinitive, but by adding "-en" (or "-n") to the verb stem. That looks just like the infinitive, except in the case of "sein" (to be):

Bitte, seien Sie so nett und bringen Sie mir noch ein Stück Kuchen.   Please be so kind as to bring me another piece of cake.
Seien Sie mir nicht böse. Don't be mad at me.

"wir": The first-person plural imperative also looks like a question, i.e. the verb followed by "wir" - again, except in the case of "sein" (to be):

Gehen wir ins Kino. Let's go to the movies.
Seien wir nicht so laut. Let's not be so loud.
Lassen wir die Leute in Ruhe. Let's leave those people in peace.
Fangen wir an. Let's start.
Kaufen wir etwas anderes. Let's buy something different.
Bringen wir eine Flasche Wein mit.   Let's take along a bottle of wine.

It is also possible to use "lassen" for the second-person plural, corresponding in structure to the English "Let's...." Here the command is actually addressed to one or more people, reflected in the form of "lassen":

Lass uns gehen. Let's go.
Lasst uns essen. Let's eat.
Lassen Sie uns morgen schwimmen gehen.   Let's go swimming tomorrow.

"ihr": The imperative form of the informal second-person plural ("y'all") does not include the pronoun "ihr," but uses the same verb form:

Kommt gut nach Hause! Have a safe trip home.
Esst noch mehr, wir haben viel.   Have some more to eat; we have lots.
Seid nicht so albern! Don't be so silly!
Gebt mir das Buch! Give me the book.
Bleibt doch eine Weile länger. Stay a while longer.
Lasst den Hund in Ruhe! Leave the dog alone!

"du": The imperative form of the informal second-person singular does not normally include the pronoun "du". In the case of weak verbs, the form is the stem. Usually you have the option of adding an "-e":

Tu das nicht! Tue das nicht! Don't do that!
Sag es lauter! Sage es lauter! Say it louder!
Hol mich rechtzeitig ab!   Hole mich rechtzeitig ab!   Pick me up on time!
Hör zu! Höre zu! Listen!
Schreib mir eine E-mail!   Schreibe mir eine E-mail!   Write me an e-mail!

If the stem ends in -d, -t, -ig, or in -m or -n preceded by certain consonants (not -l- or -r-), you must add an -e (Note: with the exception of -ig, these are the same verbs that insert an -e- before adding the singular endings for "du" or "er/sie/es" [e.g. du findest, sie badet, es regnet]):

Arbeite nicht so viel! Don't work so much!
Binde dem Kind die Schuhe zu! Tie the kid's shoes!
Atme langsam! Breathe slowly!
Antworte auf die Frage! Answer the question!
Erledige das, so schnell du kannst! Take care of that as quickly as you can!
Öffne das Fenster, wenn es dir zu warm ist.   Open the window if you're too warm.

Certain strong verbs: Strong verbs that do not change the stem vowel at all in the present tense (e.g. "rufen"), or, in the "du"-form, change only by adding an umlaut (e.g. "fahren"), act just like weak verbs:

Fahr nicht so schnell! Fahre nicht so schnell! Don't drive so fast!
Lauf weiter! Laufe weiter! Keep walking!
Schlaf gut! Schlafe gut! Sleep well!
Wasch dich gründlich!   Wasche dich gründlich! Wash yourself thoroughly!
Ruf mich an! Rufe mich an! Call me!
Bleib gesund! Bleibe gesund! Stay healthy!
Lade bitte niemand ein! Please don't invite anybody!
Brate das Fleisch nicht zu lang!   Don't roast the meat too long!

Other strong verbs: Strong verbs that change the stem vowel to "-i-" or "-ie-" retain that change in the "du"-imperative. Here you may not add an "-e":

Lies das mal vor! Read that aloud.
Sieh das mal an! Take a look at that!
Vergiss das nicht! Don't forget that!
Hilf mir! Help me!
Gib mir das Geld! Give me the money!
Versprich mir, dass du nicht so viel trinken wirst.   Promise me that you won't drink so much.
Iss nicht so schnell! Don't eat so fast!
Triff den Ball! Hit the ball!

Three exceptions: "sein," "wissen," and "werden" do not change:

Sei nicht so blöd! Don't be so stupid!
Wisse, dass niemand dir helfen wird.   (You should) know that no one's going to help you.
Werde gut, mein Sohn. Become good, my son.

Using "du" or "ihr": Similar to English, German sometimes adds the pronouns "du" or "ihr" in informal situations. Here the implication is that the speaker can't or won't perform the action:

Mach du es! You do it!
Fahr du mal ohne Bremse!   You try driving without brakes!
Versucht ihr mal! You all try it.

In somewhat related fashion, a command can include the pronoun einer, especially when sarcasm is implied:

Nun sieh mal einer an! Well, just take a look at that! (What have we got here?)
Nun höre mal einer die Unschuld!   My, just listen to the voice of innocence!

er/sie/es: German uses the special subjunctive to create third-person commands, although this form now seems old-fashioned. It lives on in set phrases and, sometimes, in recipes:

Es lebe der König! Long live the king!
Sie lebe hoch! [Three cheers for her!]
Edel sei der Mensch. Let man be noble.
Man nehme eine Prise Salz.   Take a pinch of salt.
Man lese das gründlich. One should read that thoroughly.
Jeder kehre vor seiner Tür. Everyone should sweep his own doorway [mind his own business].

Somewhat more common in third-person commands is "mögen" in the special subjunctive:

Möge sie glücklich sein. May she be happy.
Möge dir Gott helfen. May God help you.

Other Forms of the Imperative. German also expresses commands or requests in ways intended to sound less imperious.

As a third-person statement:

  Wheelchairs [should] please use the other entrance on the west side.

Just as in English, requests can be softened by stating a desire in the general subjunctive. This is common, for example, when ordering in a restaurant:

Ich hätte gern das große Frühstück. I'd like the large breakfast.
Ich möchte einen Döner ohne Soße. I'd like a Döner without sauce.

A question, with or without the subjunctive, makes the request even gentler:

Könnten Sie mir bitte auch etwas Brot geben? Could you please bring me some bread, as well?
Hätten Sie vielleicht etwas Salz? Would you happen to have some salt?
Frau Chauchat, würden Sie mir bitte Ihren Bleistift leihen?   Mrs. Chauchat, would you please lend me your pencil?
Dürfte ich Sie bitten, das Fenster aufzumachen? Might I ask you to open the window?
Wollen wir ein Taxi nehmen? Shall we take a taxi?

Other modal auxiliaries are often used in place of the imperative:

Du sollst nicht rauchen. You shouldn't smoke.
Sie dürfen das nicht sagen. You aren't allowed to say that.
Sie müssen uns helfen. You have to help us.
Sie müssen das nicht tun. You don't have to do that. [Note the meaning!]
Sie möchten bitte Ihre Frau anrufen.   Please call your wife.
Sie können jetzt gehen. You can go now.
Ihr könntet uns mal helfen. You could give us a hand.

As explained in the "Special Meanings" of the section on Modal Auxiliaries, the frequently-used subjective form of "sollen" implies a less strict obligation.

Du solltest diesen Film sehen.   You ought to see this film.

  Please put the cutlery next to the plate.

General directives and recipes often use the infinitive:

 Spinat gut waschen und Stiele abschneiden. Wash the spinach well and cut off the stems.
 Gurken in dickere Scheiben schneiden. Cut the cucumbers into relatively thick slices.
 Nicht anfassen! Don't touch!
 Handys ausschalten! Turn off your cell phones!
 Nicht stören! Do not disturb.
 Einsteigen! All aboard!
 Hinsetzen! Be seated!
 Zurücktreten! Step back!

  Directions for use
Washing, incl. wash powder; Spin, dry each; Press; Gentle rinse; Extra wash powder
1. Select the machine number (green light = free) (red light = in use); 2. Insert the appropriate money 3. Press the lighted button.  Remove wash powder; 4. Start the machine
  Don't just dream, book (the trip)!

"sein" + "zu". This construction is equivalent to "is/are to" + the passive voice:

  Dogs are to be kept away from the lawn.

"Bitte" (please) can be found at the beginning, middle, or end of a command:


Bitte, sagen Sie uns, wann wir kommen sollen.   Please tell us when we're supposed to come.
Geben Sie mir den blauen Koffer, bitte. Give me the blue suitcase, please.
Sagen Sie das bitte nochmal. Please say that again.

The adverb "mal" (from "einmal") makes a request less formal, as well as less direct:

Hör mal auf! Stop that!
Schauen Sie mal 'rein. Take a look inside.
Kannst du mir mal helfen? Could you give me a hand?
Rate mal, wen ich heute gesehen habe.   Guess who I saw today.


  Children's Playground
Dogs are to be kept off. Keep things clean. The children's playground and play equipment may be used by children up to 15 years of age only by agreement with or under the supervision of qualified guardians.
Berlin takes no responsibility for damages.
  [On the side of a Berlin city bus] Conveyance only with a valid ticket.
After 8 p.m. please enter by the driver at the front and show your ticket.