Other Tenses and
  Verb Topics

Simple Past

Present Perfect

Past Perfect


Future Perfect

Strong Verbs

Modal Auxiliaries



Separable Prefixes

Inseparable Prefixes

Reflexive Verbs


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Dartmouth German
    Studies Department

  Every beginning is difficult

The Present Tense in English:

English, in contrast to German, has a variety of tenses to indicate present time, and Germans who are learning English are often at a loss in deciding which to select: "I sing," "I do sing," "I am singing", or "I have been singing."

The Present Tense in German:

German makes it much easier by offering only one structure to cover all of these present-time meanings. The speaker must then employ adverbs to convey the differences (see below). Note: the following discusses only the present tense in the indicative mood and active voice. The subjunctive mood and the passive voice are treated elsewhere, as are the modal auxiliaries, reflexive verbs, and constructions with the verb lassen.

Here are the regular present-tense endings that are added to the verb stem:*

ich singe     wir singen
du singst     ihr singt
    Sie singen
er/sie/es singt     sie singen

Again: German does not use grammatical forms to denote aspect, but relies on adverbs to make the distinctions that we find in English:

Ich singe jeden Morgen in der Dusche. I sing in the shower every morning.
Er singt jetzt. He is singing now.
Sie singt doch, aber nur wenn sie singen will. She does sing, but only when she wants to.
Wir singen seit einer Stunde. We have been singing for an hour.

As in English, the present tense is also frequently used to denote the future, as long as the context is clear:

Wir singen heute Abend um 8. We are singing this evening at 8.

Variations on the regular forms:

To ease pronunciation, the du form and the third person singular become -est and -et if the verb stem ends in -d, -t, -m, or -n. For example:

finden to find du findest er/sie/es findet
warten to wait du wartest er/sie/es wartet
atmen to breathe du atmest er/sie/es atmet
segnen to bless du segnest er/sie/es segnet

Verbs with stems ending in -s, -ss, -ß, or -z add only a -t in the du form. For example:

hassen to hate du hasst
heißen to be named du heißt
sitzen to sit du sitzt

  The average family has 1.66 children.

Irregular forms:

A few common verbs, including sein ("to be"), are irregular enough in the present tense to be learned separately:

sein "to be" werden "to become"
ich bin     wir sind ich werde     wir werden
du bist     ihr seid du wirst     ihr werdet
    Sie sind     Sie werden
er/sie/es ist     sie sind er/sie/es wird     sie werden

  haben "to have"   wissen "to know"
  ich habe   wir haben   ich weiß    wir wissen
  du hast   ihr habt   du weißt  ihr wisst
    Sie haben    Sie wissen
  er/sie/es hat   sie haben   er/sie/es weiß  sie wissen

  We're here.

The Modal Auxiliaries have irregular forms in the singular:

Infinitive ich du er/sie/es wir ihr Sie sie
dürfen darf darfst darf dürfen dürft dürfen dürfen
können kann kannst kann können könnt können können
mögen mag magst mag mögen mögt mögen mögen
müssen muss musst muss müssen müsst müssen müssen
sollen soll sollst soll sollen sollt sollen sollen
wollen will willst will wollen wollt wollen wollen

Not all strong verbs have irregular forms in the present tense, but a number of them do change their stems in the "du" and 3rd-person singular forms. Here are some of the more common ones (N.B. with a few exceptions, this list contains only stems without separable or inseparable prefixes e.g. fangen but not anfangen, laden but not einladen, etc.). A more complete listing of the principal parts of strong verbs is also available.

Infinitive "du" "er/sie/es" Meaning
essen isst isst to eat
geben gibst gibt to give
helfen hilfst hilft to help
nehmen nimmst nimmt to take
sprechen sprichst spricht to speak
treffen triffst trifft to meet
vergessen vergisst vergisst to forget
werfen wirfst wirft to throw
lesen liest liest to read
sehen siehst sieht to see
fahren fährst fährt to drive
fallen fällst fällt to fall
fangen fängst fängt to catch
halten hältst hält to hold
laden lädst lädt to load
lassen lässt lässt to let; leave
laufen läufst läuft to run
schlafen schläfst schläft to sleep
schlagen schlägst schlägt to hit
tragen trägst trägt to carry; wear
wachsen wächst wächst to grow
waschen wäscht wäscht to wash

Note that those irregular verbs whose stems end in -t do not add an ending in the third person singular:

Infinitive "er/sie/es" Meaning
halten hält to hold
braten brät to roast, fry
raten rät to advise; to guess
gelten gilt to be valid
schelten schilt to scold

As in the simple past tense, the finite verb might have a separable prefix, which then goes to the end of the clause:

Wir kaufen immer montags ein. We always shop on Monday.
Sie bringt ihren neuen Freund mit. She is bringing her new boyfriend along.
Er lädt uns dieses Mal nicht ein. He's not inviting us this time.
Er ruft seine Mutter nie an. He never phones his mother.

* All infinitives end in -en (e.g. springen [to jump]) or sometimes just -n (e.g. wandern [to hike]). The "stem form" of regular verbs is that which remains after the -en or -n is removed.
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