‘Sein’ Conjugations

‘Sein’ conjugations translate to ‘I am / was / will be, etc.’ The infinitive verb ‘sein’ (‘to be’ in English) is one of the very first German verbs you should learn.

‘Sein’ is a very commonly used German verb because it’s also involved in formulating various tenses & moods for other verbs.

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‘Sein’ Conjugations
Written by Laura Bennett
-   Updated:
- 16 minute read
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Learning ‘sein’ is tricky because it is literally THE most irregular verb there is in German –many typical patterns are broken and we’re forced to simply memorize a lot of random changes.

Key Takeaways
  • ‘sein’ [‘to be’] is a very commonly used infinitive verb in German.
  • ‘sein’ conjugations are highly irregular and must be memorized.
  • ‘sein’ conjugations frequently combine with other German verbs.

How is ‘Sein’ Used in German?

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

‘Sein’ allows you to talk about yourself and others ‘being’ (I am a teacher, I am hardworking, etc.) in all manner of situations past, present, future, and hypothetical. 

You’ll use ‘sein’ in order to …

  • ✅ Talk about emotions and other conditions (I am sick, angry, tired, etc.)
  • ✅ Communicate about professions, hobbies, etc. (He’s a doctor, She’s a violinist, etc.)
  • ✅ Say that you (or someone else) is, was, will have been, or will be

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

I’ll teach you step-by-step.

Get Started Now

The 5 forms of ‘sein’ in the present tense are ‘bin’, ‘bist’, ‘ist’, ‘sind’, and ‘seid.’ But you need to use these forms paired with the correct subject pronouns, so as to get ‘I am’, ‘you are’, ‘he is’, etc.

Then, of course, there are more forms of ‘sein’ in other tenses (and moods)

But it’s best to first focus strictly on these 5 present tense forms of ‘sein’, so let’s look at it side-by-side with the English ‘to be’:

‘Sein’ (in English)

I am
you are
he/she/it is
we are
they are

‘Sein’ in German is ‘to be’ in English. And in the present tense, we have THREE possible conjugations: ‘am’, ‘are’, and ‘is’.

In the case of ‘are’, it is recycled –that is, it’s used with multiple different pronouns (you, we, they).

‘To be’ is generally the most diverse (read: potentially confusing) verb in about any language and this is certainly true for both English and German.

Those same conjugations in German look like this: 

‘Sein’ (Present Tense) English vs German

Sein Conjugation English vs. German in the Present Tense

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 ‘sein’ (to be) occurring with equivalent pronouns?
  • Which language includes more changes compared to the other? 

‘Sein’ in the Present Tense

The present tense conjugations of ‘sein’ are ich bin, du bist, Sie sind, er / sie / es ist, wir sind, ihr seid, and sie sind.

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

Present Tense Conjugation Table:
ich binwir sind
du bistihr seid
er/sie/es istsie sind

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

To talk about the conjugations of ‘sein’ 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’ variants. 

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

English Subject Pronouns Table
2ndyouihr seid

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

German Subject Pronouns Table

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 Table
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 we want to show additional respect toward 
  • 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 ‘sein’ stays the same:

German Subject Pronoun & ‘Sein’ Conjugations Table:
1stIch binWir sind
2nd (informal)du bistihr seid
(formal)Sie sindSie sind
3rder/sie/es istSie sind

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 ‘sein’

Knowing how to use ‘sein’ 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 bin Ärztin. (I am a [female] doctor.)
Ich bin reich. (I am rich.)

Wir sind Ärztinnen. (We are [female] doctors.)
Wir sind reich. (We are rich.)

2nd Person (Informal), Singular & Plural

Du bist Ärztin. (You are a [female] doctor.)
Du bist reich. (You are rich.)

Ihr seid Ärztinnen. (You are [female] doctors.)
Ihr seid reich. (You are rich.)

2nd Person (Formal), Singular & Plural

Sie sind Ärztin. (You are a [female] doctor.)
Sie sind reich. (You are rich.)

Sie sind Ärztinnen. (You are [female] doctors.)
Sie sind reich. (You are rich.)

3rd Person, Singular & Plural

Diese Frau ist Ärztin. (This woman is a [female] doctor.)
Diese Frau ist reich. (This woman is rich.)

Diese Frauen sind Ärztinnen. (These women are [female] doctors.)
Diese Frauen sind reich. (These women are rich.)

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 ‘sein’.

  • 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 female doctors. Learn more about German noun gender here.
  • Almost every English noun pluralizes simply with ‘s’ (e.g. doctor -> doctors), but German has SEVEN different options that we have to know how to choose between! You may have noticed specifically the -en plural at play in both ‘Frauen’ (women) and ‘Ärztinnen’ (female doctors). Learn more about German noun plurals here.
  • Since we worked with similar examples numerous times, you may have noticed how, in German, we don’t say ‘a’ doctor, but rather just ‘she is doctor’, for instance.

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

‘Sein’ makes it possible to relay information you’re not necessarily vouching for, make a polite suggestion (or give a bossy command), and talk about yourself and others ‘being’ (I am a teacher, I am hardworking, etc.) in all manner of situations past, present, future, hypothetical. 

On top of that, particular conjugations of ‘sein’ (i.e. the infinitive, present tenses conjugations, simple past tense conjugations, and Konjunktiv I conjugations) are a vital element in other verbs forming various tenses and moods. 

The bottom line: you can’t masterfully speak German if you don’t understand how to use the various conjugations of ‘sein.’

You’ll use ‘sein’ in order to …

  • ✅ Talk about emotions and other conditions (I was sick, angry, tired, etc.)
  • ✅ Communicate about professions, hobbies, etc. (He’s a doctor, She’s a violinist, etc.)
  • ✅ Use other verbs in present perfect tense (I went swimming, drove to Berlin, etc.)*
  • ✅ Put those same verbs in the past perfect tense (I had gone swimming, etc.)
  • ✅ Speak about hypotheticals (I would have driven to Berlin, if only …)
  • ✅ Talk about ‘future perfect’ events (I will have gone swimming …)
  • ✅ Understand and/or pass along information from a third party (‘His lawyer claims that the defendant …)
  • ✅ Give a command or make a suggestion (e.g. ‘be quiet!’ or ‘don’t be silly!)

*Note that where English utilized the simple past or past progressive (as written in these examples), German would use the present perfect (e.g. Ich bin schwimmen gegangen, Ich bin nach Berlin gefahren).

Building Blocks You Need For ‘Sein’

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

To correctly use ‘sein’ in various tenses and moods, to give commands or offer suggestions, to speak hypothetically, or relay 3rd party information , 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 ‘sein’ for all persons.
  3. Learn the ‘sein’ conjugations for the conditional, subjunctive, and imperative moods.
  4. Understand how to formulate 2 past perfect tenses with ‘sein’ as a helping verb.
  5. Understand how to formulate the future perfect tense using ‘sein’ in its infinitive form.
  6. Use ‘sein’ (conjugated) as a linking verb connected to predicate nouns & adjectives.

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’ –for example, ‘I eat’ (base verb) vs. ‘he eats’ (with the added ‘s’). English generally has only these two conjugations, but German typically uses four conjugations.

tense & mood are simply variants of a verb such as present tense (‘I eat’), past tense (‘I ate’), future tense (‘I will eat’), and subjunctive mood (‘I would eat, [if]…’). German and English have all the same verb tenses and moods and they function similarly.

helping verbs are used in German and English past tenses paired with a mained verb (e.g. I have eaten). In English, the helping verb is always a form of ‘to have’, but in German, we have two options: ‘haben’ (to have) and sein (to be).

linking verbs allow us to refer to the same subject twice, as if the verb is an ‘equal sign’ (e.g. This woman is a doctor.) Linking verbs connect the subject (woman) to a predicate noun (doctor) or to a predicate adjective (e.g. This woman is rich.)

“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 ‘sein’ 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 ‘sein’. We covered this in depth above, but here is the table with both pieces of information, again, here:

sein conjugation table

Since ‘sein’ is a highly irregular verb, its present tense forms don’t line up well with the classic conjugations almost all other German verbs use, which make ‘sein’ conjugations harder to learn. 

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

Fortunately, though, all the subject pronouns are exactly the same no matter what German verb conjugations we’re learning, so we’ll get lots of extra 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 ‘sein’ conjugations. 


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

I’ll teach you step-by-step.

Get Started Now

‘Sein’ Conjugations in ALL Tenses & Moods

‘Sein’ is used in 6 tenses (of the indicative mood), and in two additional moods (the subjunctive and imperative). We use ‘sein’ to talk about states of ‘being’ in the past, present, and future (e.g. I was, I am, I will be). ‘Sein’ is also used to say ‘I would be’ (subjunctive) or to give a command such as ‘be quiet!’

As mentioned above, ‘sein’ is also essential in formulating various tenses & moods of other verbs … so we get a lot of mileage out of this small but mighty German verb. It pays to master ‘sein’!

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

Indicative (Indikativ)

The indicative mood is how we talk most of the time: about real facts (I am a woman. Where is the post office? I think this class is boring. The train always arrives late. Are you feeling upset?

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

It’s essential to learn the Present Tense first, and then the Present Perfect. After that, you’ll get the most utility out of the Simple Future, then Simple Past, then Past Perfect, and then Future Perfect.

Present (Präsens)

‘SEIN’- Present Tense (Präsens) Table
1stich binwir sind
2nddu bistihr seid
3rder istsie sind

Simple Past (Präteritum)

‘SEIN’- Simple Past (Präteritum) Table
1stich warwir waren
2nddu warstihr wart
3rder warsie waren

Present Perfect (Perfekt)

‘SEIN’ – Present Perfect (Perfekt) Table
1stich bin gewesenwir sind gewesen
2nddu bist gewesenihr seid gewesen
3rder ist gewesensie sind gewesen

Past Perfect (Plusquamperfekt)

‘SEIN’ – Past Perfect (Plusquamperfekt) Table
1stich war gewesenwir waren gewesen
2nddu warst gewesenihr wart gewesen
3rder war gewesensie waren gewesen

Simple Future (Futur I)

‘SEIN’ – Simple Future (Futur I) Table
1stich werde seinwir werden sein
2nddu wirst seinihr werdet sein
3rder wird seinsie werden sein

Future Perfect (Futur II)

‘SEIN’ – Future Perfect (Futur II) Table
1stich werde gewesen seinwir werden gewesen sein
2nddu wirst gewesen seinihr werdet gewesen sein
3rder wird gewesen seinsie werden gewesen sein
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.

‘SEIN’- Imperative (Imperativ) Table
1stseien wir!
2nd Informalsei [du]!seid [ihr]!
2nd Formalseien Sie!seien 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) 

‘SEIN’- Present Subjunctive (Konjunktiv I) Table
1stich seiwir seien
2nddu sei(e)stihr sei(e)t
3rder seisie seien

Past Subjunctive (Konjunktiv II) 

‘SEIN’- Past Subjunctive (Konjunktiv II)  Table
1stich wärewir wären
2nddu wär(e)stihr wär(e)t
3rder wäresie wären

Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Perfekt) 

‘SEIN’ – Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Perfekt) Table
1stich sei gewesenwir seien gewesen
2nddu seiest gewesenihr seiet gewesen
3rder sei gewesensie seien gewesen

Past Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Plusquamperfekt) 

‘SEIN’ – Past Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Plusquamperfekt) Table
1stich wäre gewesenwir wären gewesen
2nddu wärest gewesenihr wäret gewesen
3rder wäre gewesensie wären gewesen

Future Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Futur I) 

‘SEIN’ – Future Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Futur I) Table
1stich werde seinwir werden sein
2nddu werdest seinihr werdet sein
3rder werde seinsie werden sein

Future Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Futur II)

‘SEIN’ – Future Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Futur II) Table
1stich werde gewesen seinwir werden gewesen sein
2nddu werdest gewesen seinihr werdet gewesen sein
3rder werde gewesen seinsie werden gewesen sein

Common Confusion

When to use ‘sein’ or ‘haben’? 

When to use ‘sein’ or ‘haben’ is all about how other verbs formulate various tenses and moods.

‘Sein’ or ‘haben’ is used as the helping / auxiliary verb when other [‘main’] verbs are formulated into the …

  • present perfect tense
  • past perfect tense
  • future perfect tense
  • subjunctive mood

The ‘sein’ vs. ‘haben’ debate is a traditionally tricky subject that definitely requires practice!

‘Sein’ vs. ‘Haben’ Examples

‘Sein’ is used as the helping / auxiliary verb in these tenses / moods along with relatively few (but common!) intransitive verbs such as ‘einschlafen’ (to fall asleep):

  • present perfect tense: Ich bin eingeschlafen (I fell asleep.)
  • past perfect tense: Ich war eingeschlafen (I had fallen asleep.)
  • future perfect tense: Ich werde eingeschlafen sein… (I will have fallen asleep…)
  • subjunctive mood: Ich wäre eingeschlafen… (I would have fallen asleep…)

‘Haben’ is paired with all other verbs and so is more frequently used:

  • present perfect tense: Ich habe gegessen (I ate.)
  • past perfect tense: Ich hatte gegessen (I had eaten.)
  • future perfect tense: Ich werde gegessen haben… (I will have eaten…)
  • subjunctive mood: Ich hätte gegessen… (I would have eaten…)

When to use ‘sein’

You’ll need to use ‘sein’ as the helping verb with a lot of high-frequency intransitive verbs that fall under three categories: 

  1. Verbs such as ‘kommen’ (to come), ‘gehen’ (to go), ‘rennen’ (to run) and ‘schwimmen’ (to swim) that imply the subject’s movement from point A to point B (even if the starting point and/or destination are unspecified). 
  2. Verbs that express a change in condition or state of being such as ‘einschlafen’ (to fall asleep), ‘aufwachen’ (to wake up), and ‘sterben’ (to die). 
  3. Verbs that refer to a certain change in circumstances such as ‘gelingen’ (to succeed) or ‘misslingen’ (to fail). [NOTE: these two verbs are so-called ‘dative verbs’.]

Any time you learn a German verb, you must know whether it will use ‘sein’ or ‘haben’ in formulating the three ‘perfect’ tenses and the subjunctive mood.

‘Ihr’ or ‘sein’?

This question doesn’t actually have to do with the verb ‘sein’ at all, but rather with words that are often called ‘possessive adjectives’ (I would argue for the benefits of the term ‘possessive determiners’).

Under that framework, ‘sein’ means ‘his’ or ‘its’ and ‘ihr’ means ‘her’. These words would then be coupled with a noun as in ‘his dog’ and ‘her cat’. Of course, we could throw in adjectives, too, such as ‘his black dog’ and ‘her white cat.’

However, in German, how exactly we say ‘his black dog’ and ‘her white cat’ would slightly change based on what role the dog / cat are playing in the sentence (e.g. subject vs. object).

Different versions of ‘ihr’ and ‘sein’

In fact, there are a total of SIX different ways to slightly modify ‘sein’ and ‘ihr’:

sein, seiner, seine, seinen, seinem, seines
ihr, ihrer, ihre, ihren, ihrem, ihres

As English-speakers, our minds jam up at this point … how do you have six different ways to say ‘his’ and ‘her’???

And then, next, we wonder ‘do these different options really matter?!’ (Answer: YES.)

The German Case System

Learning the rules for when and how to use these different variants of ‘sein’ and ‘ihr’ (and the many other determiners and adjectives that also need these same modifications called ‘declensions’) is one of the most challenging aspects of learning how to speak German. 

Crucial to really truly mastering declensions as part of the infamous ‘German Case System’ is actually understanding WHY these modifications need to happen in the first place.

I teach you how to work with declensions step-by-step in my course ‘German Foundations’ so that you can approach this bear of a topic with comfortable confidence.

What case does ‘sein’ take?

The verb ‘sein’ doesn’t take a case, so –just like the confusion above– this question relates to the OTHER ‘sein’ in German, which means ‘his’.

As what I call a ‘possessive determiner’ (more typically termed a ‘possessive adjective’) always has to take a special ending (called a ‘declension’) in order to be used in a German sentence.

‘Sein’ [his] could be used in a noun phrase such as ‘his black dog’ [also see above].

Changing ‘cases’

Check out these example sentences that always use ‘his black dog’:

His black dog is big and mean.
I don’t like his black dog.
I won’t offer his black dog a treat.
His black dog’s teeth look menacing!

But now here’s the deal: each of these particular uses of ‘his black dog’ would be slightly different in German (‘sein schwarzer Hund,’ ‘seinen schwarzen Hund,’ ‘seinem schwarzen Hund,’ and ‘seines schwarzen Hundes,’ respectively).

For more info on German declensions, read here!

What is the infinitive conjugation of ‘sein’?

There isn’t an ‘infinitive conjugation’ of ‘sein’ –but there is an infinitive of ‘sein’ AND also various conjugations of ‘sein’.

The infinitive of ‘sein’ is … ‘sein’. For comparison, infinitive verbs in English with a ‘to’ as in to eat, to sing, to dance –those are all infinitive verbs.

Infinitive verbs in German most often end with an ‘en’: essen (to eat), singen (to sing), tanzen (to dance). Some infinitive verbs end with an -ern or -eln such as ‘wandern’ (to hike) and ‘lächeln’ (to smile).

‘Sein’ (and one other verb: ‘tun’ [to do]) are super oddballs, though, and don’t fit within these parameters.

The various conjugations of ‘sein’ are discussed in depth above, but it’s possible that by ‘infinitive conjugation’ you meant the conjugation taken by the subject pronouns ‘wir’ (we) and ‘sie’ (they), since these pronouns usually ‘take the infinitive’.

So, for example, with essen, singen and tanzen —all infinitive verbs— the present tense conjugations would be ‘wir essen / sie essen’, ‘wir singen / sie singen’ and ‘wir tanzen / sie tanzen’. Again, these pronouns ‘take the infinitive’ form of the verb.

However, with ‘sein’ —as the most irregular verb in German— we have literally the ONE instance that the form of the verb used by the pronouns wir (we) and sie (they) is NOT the infinitive: it’s wir sind / sie sind.

What are the 3 forms of ‘sein’?

sein conjugation 3 verb forms