‘Müssen’ Conjugations

‘Müssen’ conjugations translate to ‘I must / need to etc.’ The infinitive verb ‘müssen’ (‘to need to’ in English) is one of the very first German verbs you should learn.

‘Müssen’ is a common German verb that you’ll need to use in various tenses and moods in order to communicate in everyday spoken & written German.

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‘Müssen’ Conjugations
Written by Laura Bennett
-   Updated:
- 14 minute read
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Learning ‘müssen’ is tricky because German verbs have more conjugation options compared to English verbs –so there’s more that our brains have to remember!

Key Takeaways

  • ‘Müssen’ (‘to need to’) is a commonly used infinitive verb in German.
  • there are more ‘müssen’ conjugation options than what we have in English.
  • you need to learn ‘müssen’ conjugations for multiple tenses and moods.

How is ‘Müssen’ Used in German?

Knowing how to correctly use ‘müssen’ in its many diverse forms allows you to speak masterfully in German in a wide variety of contexts.

‘Müssen’ allows you to talk about yourself and others ‘needing to’ (I must get some sleep. He needs to get his hair cut. Etc.) in all manner of situations past, present, future, and hypothetical. 

You’ll use ‘müssen’ in order to …

  • ✅ Talk about ‘musts’ or ‘needs’ in terms of actions (I must eat / wait / pay attention.)
  • ✅ Utilize certain idioms and other common figures of speech.
  • ✅ Say that you need to / needed to / will need to / had needed to DO something, etc.

What Are The 6 Conjugations of ‘Müssen’? 

The 6 conjugations of ‘müssen’ in the present tense line up with our 6 subject pronouns to give us ‘ich muss’, ‘du musst’, ‘er / sie / es muss’, ‘wir müssen’, ‘ihr müsst’, and ‘sie müssen.’

There are, of course, even more forms of ‘müssen’ in other tenses (and moods). 

But it’s best to first focus strictly on the present tense conjugations of ‘müssen’, so let’s look at it side-by-side with the English ‘to need to’:

‘Müssen’ (in English)

I must/need to
you must/need to
he/she/it must/ needs to
we must/ need to
they must/ need to

‘Müssen’ in German is ‘must’ in English. Normally, in the present tense, we have two possible conjugations for verbs (i.e. sings and sings), but for most “modal” verbs, we only have one–in this case, ‘must’.

Those same conjugations in German look like this:

‘Müssen’ (Present Tense) English vs German

Comparing German & English

It’s important to notice the patterns of similarities and differences at this point. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where does German ‘recycle’ the same conjugations?
  • Are the German & English changes to ‘müssen’ (must) occurring with equivalent pronouns?
  • Which language includes more changes compared to the other? 

‘Müssen’ in the Present Tense

The present tense conjugations of ‘müssen’ are ich muss, du musst, er / sie / es muss, wir müssen, ihr müsst, and sie müssen.

Put into a typical conjugation table, these options are presented like this:

Present Tense Conjugation Chart:
ich musswir müssen
du musstIhr müsst
er/sie/es musssie müssen

You truly haven’t even begun to learn ‘müssen’ until you know ALL the nominative case pronouns and which form of ‘müssen’ each of them takes.

To talk about the conjugations of ‘müssen’ used by the various pronouns, we have to work backward by starting with the pronouns

And in order to understand nominative case (i.e. subject) pronouns, we need to talk about the grammar concept of ‘persons’.

What are ‘persons’?

The ‘persons’ (I, you, they, etc.) are split into two categories that interact with each other: 

There are 3 subcategories of ‘persons’ (1st Person, 2nd Person, and 3rd Person) and each of these has a ‘singular’ and a ‘plural’ variant. 

When we intersect this information on Y and X axes, we get these ultra-familiar English subject pronouns:

English Subject Pronouns Chart

Now, here is the German version of the same table of subject pronouns: 

German Subject Pronouns Chart

German & English Pronouns Side-by-Side

Where do English and German line up and where are there differences?

English and German have 1-to-1 equivalents for all pronouns … except that German has extra pronouns for ‘you’ (highlighted).

FULL German Subject Pronouns Chart
2nd (informal)duihr

Understanding the ‘ihr’ plural of ‘du’ is straightforward enough: Americans might relate it to the concept of y’all. We’re simply talking to multiple ‘you’s at the same time.

But what is the deal with the singular and plural ‘Sie’?

Formal vs. Informal ‘You’

If you took high school Spanish, you’ve already been exposed to the idea of ‘you’ having an informal version and a formal version (e.g. ‘tu’ [informal] and ‘Usted’ [formal]).

It’s the exact same idea in German.

We need to use the formal ‘you’ when we address …

  • someone we don’t intimately know 
  • someone to whom we want to show additional respect
  • someone in a relative position of authority 

Of course, these separate categories have some obvious potential overlaps in that many times we perceive others as authority figures whom we also genuinely respect and with whom we wouldn’t go out to a pub for a beer because we don’t know them intimately enough.

When to Use the Formal ‘Sie’

As you can see in the table, if you’re using the formal address ‘Sie’, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking to one person or multiple –the pronoun AND its conjugation of ‘müssen’ stays the same:

German Subject Pronoun & ‘Müssen’ Conjugations Chart:
1stIch musswir müssen
2nd (informal)Du musstIhr müsst
(formal)Sie müssenSie müssen
3rder/sie/es musssie müssen

In German, you generally need to use this formal version of ‘you’ if you’re talking with…

  • professionals (e.g. clerks, police officers, doctors, plumbers, etc.) 
  • leaders (e.g. priests, politicians, choir directors, bosses, etc.)
  • elders (e.g. anyone clearly at least a generation older than you are)

Examples of ‘Müssen’

Knowing how to use ‘müssen’ in the present tense for all the 1st, 2nd (formal and informal) and 3rd persons, singular and plural, is exactly what you should know for now. 

1st Person, Singular & Plural

Ich muss arbeiten. (I must work.)
Ich muss etwas essen. (I must eat something.)

Wir müssen arbeiten. (We must work.)
Wir müssen etwas essen. (We must eat something.)

2nd Person (Informal), Singular & Plural

Du musst arbeiten. (You must work.)
Du musst etwas essen. (You must eat something.)

Ihr müsst arbeiten. (You must work.)
Ihr müsst etwas essen. (You must eat something.)

2nd Person (Formal), Singular & Plural

Sie müssen arbeiten. (You must work.)
Sie müssen etwas essen. (You must eat something.)

Sie müssen arbeiten. (You must work.)
Sie müssen etwas essen. (You must eat something.)

3rd Person, Singular & Plural

Der Kollege muss arbeiten. (The [male] co-worker must work.)
Der Kollege muss etwas essen. (The [male] co-worker must eat something.)

Die Kollegen müssen arbeiten. (The co-workers must work.)
Die Kollegen müssen etwas essen. (The co-workers must work.)


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Comparing German & English

There are several interesting points to make on the above examples so that you can further your general knowledge of German beyond specifics of ‘müssen’.

  • As opposed to in English, almost every single person in German —from cook to baker to candlestick maker— has a male version and a female version. That’s why, in my example sentences, I specified that we are talking about a male colleague (and then ‘colleagues’, plural). Learn more about German noun gender here.
  • Almost every English noun pluralizes simply with ‘s’ (e.g. colleague -> colleagues), but German has SEVEN different options that we have to know how to choose between! You may have noticed specifically the -n plural at play in ‘Kollege’ ([male] colleague) -> ‘Kollegen’ (colleagues). Learn more about German noun plurals here.
  • It’s crucial to notice that ‘müssen’ –as a ‘modal’ verb, requires a 2nd ‘main’ verb, which in these examples were ‘arbeiten’ (to work) and ‘essen’ (to eat). The positioning of the 2 verbs (‘modal’ and ‘main’) is also important. Learn more about German word order here. 

Skills You’ll Need to Use ‘Müssen’ Conjugations:

‘Müssen’ makes it possible to relay information about what you (or someone else) must or mustn’t do in all manner of situations past, present, future, and hypothetical. 

‘Müssen’ is such a common, everyday verb that you can’t masterfully speak German if you don’t understand how to use its various conjugations.

You’ll use ‘müssen’ in order to …

  • ✅ Talk about a strong sense of obligation (I must help him, I must practice, etc.)
  • ✅ Communicate high likelihood of the obligation actually being fulfilled (vs. using ‘sollen’ [should], which is less committed).
  • ✅ Feeling / being (or NOT feeling/ being) strongly obligated to someone/something in the past, present, and future (I must / mustn’t go…, etc.)
  • ✅ Speak hypothetically (rendered in English as ‘I should have gone, if only …’)

Building Blocks You Need For ‘Sollen’

‘Müssen’ conjugations empower you to express yourself in a LOT of different ways. You need to correctly wield ‘müssen’ in a variety of contexts in order to speak German capably, comfortably, and confidently.

To correctly use ‘müssen’ in various tenses and moods, to give commands or offer suggestions, or to speak hypothetically, you need to build these foundational skills:

  1. Know the subject [i.e. nominative] pronouns for all singular & plural persons.
  2. Learn the present and simple past tense conjugations of ‘müssen’ for all persons.
  3. Learn the ‘müssen’ conjugations for the conditional/ subjunctive moods.
  4. Know how to use the ‘double infinitive’ formulation with ‘müssen’.

Terminology Explained

subject pronouns are the words ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘we’ and ‘they’ in English. German has these same options BUT also three more! These pronouns are categorized as ‘persons’ that are either singular (e.g. ‘I’) or plural (e.g. ‘we’). 

conjugations are slight changes to a verb that line up with different ‘persons’. The same base verb ‘should’ is used in English for all persons, but typically there are two conjugation options (e.g. sing vs. sings). German, however, typically uses four different conjugations, even for modal verbs such as ‘müssen’ (see above tables).

tense & mood are simply variants of a verb such as ‘I should’ (present / future tense –it could still happen) vs. ‘I should have’ (past tense –it definitely didn’t happen and still won’t). German and English generally have all the same verb tenses and moods (sometimes German has more) and they function similarly.

double infinitives generally involve a modal verb, a main verb, and a helping / auxiliary verb (‘sein’, ‘haben’, or ‘werden’) to talk about –in the instance of ‘müssen’– feeling/ being very obligated to do XY [main verb] in the future (which you fully expect to actually do) or having felt / been very obligated to do XY [main verb] in the past (which you did indeed do vs. the weaker ‘should have’ of ‘sollen’). Learn more here.

“HELP! This Feels Overwhelming!”

This can understandably feel like a LOT, but the good news is that you DON’T have to fully master all the applications of ‘müssen’ right now as a beginner learner –which also means you don’t have to have all the relevant lingo totally down yet, either.

The ideal place to start is by learning just the German subject pronouns and the present tense conjugations of ‘müssen’. We covered this in depth above, but here is the table with both pieces of information, again, here:

müssen conjugation table

Repetitious, simple sentences (like the examples I gave you above in an earlier section) will help you drill these present tense ‘müssen’ conjugations into your memory. 

And since all the subject pronouns are exactly the same no matter what German verb conjugations we’re learning, we’ll get lots of mileage out of learning our ‘ich’ and ‘du’, etc.

If you’re beyond a beginner level already, you’ll see those ‘ich’s and ‘du’s repeated again and again in the following tables of ALL the ‘müssen’ conjugations. 


Learning all of this is a big task for almost every German learner.

I’ll teach you step-by-step.

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‘Müssen’ Conjugations in ALL Tenses & Moods

‘Müssen’ is used in 6 tenses (of the indicative mood), and in two additional moods (the subjunctive and imperative). We use ‘müssen’ to talk about ‘needing to’ in the past, present, and future (e.g. I needed to/ I need to, I will need to). ‘Müssen’ is also used to say ‘I wouldneed to’ (subjunctive).

For those of you who are ready for it, here are the full conjugation tables for ‘müssen’:

Indicative (Indikativ)

The indicative mood is how we talk most of the time: about real facts (I must have biked ten miles today. He needed to reply by the 15th. You must visit us soon. She needs to buy more shampoo.

The indicative mood subcategories into SIX tenses in both English and German. Most of these tenses are used very similarly. 

With modal verbs explicitly, it’s essential to learn the present tense first, and then the simple past and subjunctive II mood. 

The future indicative and the subjunctive pluperfect mood (a.k.a subjunctive past perfect) are also used, but most commonly with a ‘double infinitive.’

The other tenses / moods are rarely –if ever– used for ‘müssen’ (and sometimes don’t even apply, such as the imperative mood.)

Present (Präsens)

‘MÜSSEN’- Present Tense (Präsens) Table
1stich musswir müssen
2nddu musstihr müsst
3rder musssie müssen

Simple Past (Präteritum)

‘MÜSSEN’- Simple Past (Präteritum) Table
1stich musstewir mussten
2nddu musstestihr musstet
3rder musstesie mussten

Present Perfect (Perfekt)

‘MÜSSEN’ – Present Perfect (Perfekt) Table
1stich habe gemusstwir haben gemusst
2nddu hast gemusstihr habt gemusst
3rder hat gemusstsie haben gemusst

Past Perfect (Plusquamperfekt)

‘MÜSSEN’ – Past Perfect (Plusquamperfekt) Table
1stich hatte gemusstwir hatten gemusst
2nddu hattest gemusstihr hattet gemusst
3rder hatte gemusstsie hatten gemusst

Simple Future (Futur I)

‘MÜSSEN’ – Past Perfect (Plusquamperfekt) Table
1stich hatte gemusstwir hatten gemusst
2nddu hattest gemusstihr hattet gemusst
3rder hatte gemusstsie hatten gemusst

Future Perfect (Futur II)

‘MÜSSEN’ – Future Perfect (Futur II) Table
1stich werde gemusst habenwir werden gemusst haben
2nddu wirst gemusst habenihr werdet gemusst haben
3rder wird gemusst habensie werden gemusst haben
Important Notes on German Tenses

Although German and English HAVE all the same tenses, they aren’t necessarily all used the same way.

In German …

  • The Present Tense covers three different English options: for example, I eat, I do eat, I am eating would ALL simply be ‘Ich esse’ in German. 
  • The Present Perfect Tense (which would technically translate to, e.g. I have eaten) actually correlates with English’s simple past (i.e.  I ate) in terms of usage.
  • The Simple Future tense is frequently avoided in favor of the Present tense and a time adverbial. 

Imperative (Imperativ)

The imperative mood is used in both English and German for giving commands. Note that a ‘du’ or ‘ihr’ subject is generally omitted, but that a ‘wir’ and ‘Sie’ must be present.

‘MÜSSEN’- Imperative (Imperativ) Table
1st– wir!
2nd Informal– [du]!– [ihr]!
2nd Formal– Sie!– Sie!

Subjunctive (Konjunktiv)

The subjunctive mood is used in both English and German (but much more frequently in German!) to communicate hypothetical (i.e. not factual [indicative]) situations. 

The subjunctive can be used to communicate a present or future likelihood (but not certainty) OR a complete impossibility in the past, present, or future. 

The subjunctive is also used for expressing polite requests vs. the commands of the imperative mood.

Present Subjunctive (Konjunktiv I) 

‘MÜSSEN’- Present Subjunctive (Konjunktiv I) Table
1stich müssewir müssen
2nddu müssestihr müsset
3rder müssesie müssen

Past Subjunctive (Konjunktiv II) 

‘MÜSSEN’- Past Subjunctive (Konjunktiv II)  Table
1stich müsstewir müssten
2nddu müsstestihr müsstet
3rder müsstesie müssten

Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Perfekt) 

‘MÜSSEN’ – Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Perfekt) Table
1stich habe gemusstwir haben gemusst
2nddu habest gemusstihr habet gemusst
3rder habe gemusstsie haben gemusst

Past Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Plusquamperfekt) 

‘MÜSSEN’ – Past Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Plusquamperfekt) Table
1stich hätte gemusstwir hätten gemusst
2nddu hättest gemusstihr hättet gemusst
3rder hätte gemusstsie hätten gemusst

Future Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Futur I) 

‘MÜSSEN’ – Future Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Futur I) Table
1stich werde müssenwir werden müssen
2nddu werdest müssenihr werdet müssen
3rder werde müssensie werden müssen

Future Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Futur II)

‘MÜSSEN’ – Future Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Futur II) Table
1stich werde gemusst habenwir werden gemusst haben
2nddu werdest gemusst habenihr werdet gemusst haben
3rder werde gemusst habensie werden gemusst haben

Common Confusion

‘Sollte’ or ‘müssen’?

‘Müssen’ means ‘to must’, whereas ‘sollen’ (the infinitive form of sollte) means ‘to should.’ These are obviously similar, but with ‘müssen’ (to must) there is more of a sense of the given action actually happening, whereas ‘sollen’ (to should) is less committal. 

‘Sollen’ or ‘müssen du’?

The context will be the determining factor in whether to use ‘sollen’ (to should) or ‘müssen’ (to must), but whichever verb is chosen will need to be appropriately conjugated. ‘Sollst du?’ ‘Musst du?’

‘Habe müssen’ or ‘habe gemusst’?

It would be correct to say ‘ich habe gemusst’ if discussing ‘müssen’ in the present perfect tense. However, modal verbs such as ‘müssen’ are preferred in the simple past tense (e.g. Ich musste = I had to). 

‘Werden müssen’ grammar explanation

This verb combination is called a ‘double infinitive’. But we’re actually missing a third verb! To use modal verbs such as ‘müssen’ in the future tense, we’d conjugate ‘werden’ and then use a double infinitive with ‘XY [Verb] müssen’ such as ‘Ich werde mitgehen müssen’ (I will have to go with). 

What is the difference between ‘sollen’ and ‘müssen’?

‘Müssen’ means ‘to must’, whereas ‘sollen’ means ‘to should.’ See above for more!

Rapid Q&A

What kind of verb is ‘müssen’?

Müssen is a modal verb. Modal verbs operate with slightly different rules than our strong and weak verbs. As a modal verb, ‘müssen’ will pair with a main verb and it is that verb which determines whether a dative and/or accusative complement is rendered necessary for a complete sentence.

What tense is ‘müssen’?

‘Müssen’ is the infinitive form of the verb and can be seen most commonly in the present and simple past tenses OR as part of a double infinitive construction (for the future tense) OR in its Konjunktiv II form.

What is ‘müssen’ in the past tense?

‘Müssen’ in the past tense is ‘mussten’ which then needs to be conjugated for each person.

What is the konjunktiv 2 of ‘müssen’?

The Subjunctive 2 (Konjunktiv 2) of ‘müssen’ is ‘müssten’ in its base form, which must then be conjugated for all persons.

What is the perfect form of ‘müssen’?

The perfect form of ‘müssen’ –that is, the ‘past participle’ of ‘müssen’– is ‘gemusst’, which is also used for the past perfect and future perfect tenses and for passive voice constructions.

What is the past tense of ‘müssen’ in German?

‘Müssen’ in the past tense is ‘mussten’ which then needs to be conjugated for each person.

What are the 7 modal verbs in German?

There are really only 6.5 modal verbs, if you will, because the one –möchten (to ‘would like’) is the subjunctive subsidiary of the modal verb ‘mögen’ (to like). The full list of modal verbs is available here.

Is ‘müssen’ an irregular verb?

‘Müssen’ wouldn’t be classified as an irregular (i.e. strong) verb, though it does require a vowel change in various conjugations. One big difference is that it requires a vowel change with ‘ich’ in the present tense, unlike our irregular verbs. ‘Müssen’ (and other modal verbs) are what I consider part of a very small class of ‘oddball’ verbs that are like strong++ verbs.

Is ‘müssen’ a modal verb?

It is! You can learn more about modal verbs here.

What are the 3 forms of ‘müssen’?

müssen conjugation 3 verb forms

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