German Verb Conjugations

German verb conjugations are slight changes made to the end of German verb stems/roots that reflect person, number, voice, tense, and mood. 

German verb conjugations are used in all tenses (e.g. past, present, and future) and moods (e.g. imperative and subjunctive) and voices (active & passive) and also vary based on the person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) and number (singular or plural).

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Written by Laura Bennett
Updated 5/13/2023
- 33min Read
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Learning German verb conjugations 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

  • German verb conjugations are small alterations made to verb roots/stems.
  • German verb conjugations are impacted by tense, voice, and mood.
  • German verb conjugations change based on ‘person’ and number, too.

Is German Verb Conjugation Difficult?

Yes, German verb conjugation is difficult if we compare it to English verb conjugation. But, no, it’s not difficult in the sense of “goodness, I’ll never be able to do this!”.

If you want to speak German –even on the most basic level– then you have to learn how to conjugate verbs. 

But there are lots of repeated patterns to German verb conjugations that make learning them way easier. 

You’ll use German verb conjugations in order to …

  • ✅ Talk about yourself and others doing anything (e.g. eating, sleeping, driving, etc.).
  • ✅ Express your (or others’) state of being (e.g. I was, I am, I will be … etc.) 
  • ✅ Communicate action within the context of time (e.g. I ate, I eat, I will eat, etc.).

How Many Verb Conjugations Are There In German?

There are 3-8 typical German verb base conjugations, dependent upon how we want to think about it.

If we think of each of the eight ‘persons’ (I, you, he/she/it, we, you [plural], you [formal, singular, and plural], they) as having their own verb conjugations, then we get 8.

8 German Verb Conjugations

Here are the 8 ‘persons’ with their bolded conjugations of the German verb ‘machen’ (to do; to make) in the present tense (e.g. lining up with ‘I do, you do, he/she/it does’, etc.):

1stich machewir machen
2nd (informal)du machstihr macht
(formal)Sie machenSie machen
3rder/sie/es machtsie machen

If we, however, don’t count reused conjugations twice, we can get down to 4 German verb conjugations. The options -e, -st, -t, and -en all come up in the first column, so we don’t count the -en and -t when they come up again in the 2nd column:

4 German Verb Conjugations

1stich machewir machen
2nd (informal)du machstihr macht
(formal)Sie machenSie machen
3rder/sie/es machtsie machen

And if we don’t count using the verb infinitive (in this case ‘machen’ is the infinitive) as a ‘conjugation’ per se, we can get down to just 3 German verb conjugations: 

3 German Verb Conjugations

1stich machewir machen
2nd (informal)du machstihr macht
(formal)Sie machenSie machen
3rder/sie/es machtsie machen

Operating under the principle of ‘less is more’ seems prudent to me, so I’ll teach you how to think of German verb conjugations calculated as just THREE options (-e, -st, -t) plus usage of the infinitive verb itself.

These 3 German verb conjugations are used in various tenses, moods, and voices, but in different combinations (and, of course, along with other details).

It’s best to first focus strictly on German verb conjugations in the present tense, so let’s look at them side-by-side with the English conjugations of ‘to do; make’:

German verb conjugations (in English)

I make
you make
he/she/it makes
we make
they make

In the English present tense, we have only two possible conjugations:

  • Most of the pronouns pair simply with the infinitive verb itself: make.
  • Only he / she / it actually takes a conjugation: an ‘s’ for ‘makes’.

These same principles apply to English verbs as a whole –try plugging in other common verbs such as ‘to come’, ‘to see’, or ‘to bring.’

Those same conjugations in German look like this:

German Verb Conjugations (Present Tense)
English vs German

I makeich mache
you makedu machst
he/she/it makeser/sie/es macht
we makewir machen
they makesie machen

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 German verb conjugations (to do; make) occurring with equivalent pronouns?
  • Which language includes more changes compared to the other? 

How Do You Conjugate a Verb in German?

Conjugating German verbs looks different dependent upon which tense / mood is being used. Starting with Present Tense conjugations is wise.

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

German Verb Conjugations in the Present Tense

Present Tense Conjugation Chart:
ich _____-ewir _____-en
du _____-stihr _____-t
Sie _____-enSie _____-en
er/sie/es _____-tsie _____-en

Dependent on how we slice it, we could argue for as many as EIGHT conjugations here, or as few as THREE.

Thinking of ‘Sie’, ‘wir’, and ‘sie’ as using the infinitive verb (machen, for example) is much more efficient than thinking of them as taking an -en conjugation.

That leaves us with just the -e, -st, and -t (used twice!) conjugations.

The concept of learning German verb conjugations is intimately connected to German subject (i.e. nominative) pronouns –the two have to be understood together.

So, we need 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’.

(Sidenote: after you read about the nominative case in general and personal pronouns specifically, check out accusative, dative, relative, and reflexive pronouns, too!)

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
To further expand your learning, bear in mind that German nouns in the 3rd person will also have gender, which you might recognize in relation to the concept of 'der die das'.

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.

The formal ‘Sie’ (always capitalized!) is used in a variety of contexts to express respect, deference, or simply distance (i.e. that the two people don’t know each other well). 

It’s the same pronoun (and –as we’ll see– the same verb conjugation) whether singular or plural.

The German Verb Conjugation Process: The Basics (In the Present Tense)

Conjugating German verbs is a straightforward step-by-step process:

Step 1: Select the pronoun & the verb.

Step 2: Strip the verb down to its root / stem.

Step 3: Add the conjugation that ‘agrees’ with the pronoun.

For example, if I want to say “he hears”, I know I need the pronoun ‘er’ and the verb ‘hören’.

Stripping the verb down to its root / stem is a matter of taking off its final -en (occasionally JUST an -n). In this instance, hören would become just hör.

Then, we have to add a conjugation (options: -e, -st, -t) to that root / stem (OR skip step 2 entirely if we’re working with a pronoun that ‘takes the infinitive’).

But, of course, we can’t just pick a conjugation willy-nilly. The -e conjugation pairs with ‘ich’, the -st with ‘du’, and the -t with both ‘er / sie / es’ and ‘ihr’ as we can see here:

Present Tense Conjugation Chart:
ich _____-ewir _____-en
du _____-stihr _____-t
Sie _____-enSie _____-en
er/sie/es _____-tsie _____-en

In English, it would be incorrect to say “I makes” or “he make”. 

Just so, it’s crucial to speak German with the correct pairing (or ‘agreement’) between pronouns and conjugations.

Conjugating German verbs really isn’t that hard once you have a little terminology and a few principles under your belt.

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’). 

infinitive verbs are, for example, to sing, to eat, to see in English and most commonly end with an -en in German as in singen, essen, sehen. Some German infinitive verbs end with and -ern or -eln, such as wandern and lächeln.

verb roots / stems are the part of the German verb we’re left with after we take off the final -en (or, in the case of -ern and -eln verbs: just the -n). Verb roots / stems (e.g. sing-) must take a conjugation (e.g. singe, singst, singt) in order to be used.

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 uses -e, -st, -t and also simply the infinitive verb.

subject-verb agreement is when a subject pronoun lines up / matches with a particular conjugation as in ‘I do’ (not ‘I does’) vs. ‘he does’ (not ‘he do’). 

We might need to add a ‘Step 4’ to our conjugation process, though, dependent on whether we are working with a regular, irregular, or mixed German verb.

Regular German Verbs

Regular (also called ‘weak’) German verbs will follow just our 3-step process above with no additional changes in the present tense. 

We'll look here at the regular / weak verb 'machen' (to make / do).

 Regular German Verb Conjugations (Present Tense)
I makeich mache
you makedu machst
you (all) makeihr macht
you [form.] makeSie machen
he/she/it makeser/sie/es macht
we makewir machen
they makesie machen

Remember that German has additional forms of ‘you’ (Sie, ihr) that don’t exist as such in English (and thus are italicized to indicate what the equivalents would be). 

In the Simple Past tense, regular verbs insert a ‘t’ between the stem / root (e.g. ‘mach’) and the typical conjugations, except that now both ‘ich’ and ‘er / sie / es’ will take an -e conjugation:

Regular German Verb Conjugations (Simple Past Tense)
I madeich machte
you madedu machtest
you (all) madeihr machtet
you [form.] madeSie machten
he/she/it madeer/sie/es machte
we madewir machten
they madesie machten

Notice how in English we have literally just one option (i.e. made) compared to German’s 3 options. Other points of interest are:

  • Regular verbs in the Simple Past tense use matching forms for ‘ich’ and ‘er /sie /es’ –it’s both ich machte and er / sie / es machte.
  • We can think of the ‘root + t’ (e.g. mach + t) as being the new ‘Simple Past’ root.
  • Anytime any stem/root ends with ‘t’ (in any tense/mood!), an ‘e’ is inserted before an -st or -t conjugation (du machtest, ihr machtet). 

Irregular German Verbs 

Of the irregular (i.e. strong) German verbs, about 25% of them need a Step #4 added to the Conjugation Process.

After getting our subject and verb to ‘agree’, the verbs for ‘du’ and ‘er / sie / es’ will take one additional change called a ‘stem-vowel change’.

Let’s look at the example of sehen (to see), which is one of the 25% of irregular / strong verbs that takes a ‘stem-vowel change’ for du and er / sie / es.

Irregular German Verb Conjugations (Present Tense)
I seeich sehe
you seedu siehst
you (all) seeihr seht
you [form.] seeSie sehen
he/she/it seeser/sie/es sieht
we seewir sehen
they seesie sehen

All the same subjects that ‘take the infinitive’ (i.e. sehen), still do. All the conjugation pairings are also still the same (ich + -e, du + -st, er / sie / es and ihr + t).

But, we can see how the root itself –especially its vowel– changes for du and er / sie / es from seh- (used everywhere else!) to sieh-.

In the Simple Past tense, ALL irregular verbs will change their vowels for ALL persons, so that’s more straightforward.

Irregular German Verb Conjugations (Simple Past Tense)
I sawich sah
you sawdu sahst
you (all) sawihr saht
you [form.] sawSie sahen
he/she/it sawer/sie/es sah
we sawwir sahen
they sawsie sahen

Irregular / strong verbs in the Simple Past tense operate just like regular / weak verbs in that: 

  • the infinitive form is still paired with all the same pronouns that take the infinitive in the present tense, too (i.e. wir, Sie, sie). 
  • both ich and er / sie / es take the same conjugation, so they will match.

However, there are also two distinctions:

  • the irregular Simple Past infinitive entails a vowel change (instead of the added ‘t’ for weak verbs).
  • ich and er / sie / es drop conjugations altogether (vs. the shared -e for weak verbs), yet still match by virtue of using the simple past tense root (e.g. sah).

What Are The 3 Forms of Verbs In German? 

The 3 forms of verbs in German are the infinitive, the 3rd person singular simple past root, and the past participle.

Knowing these principal forms of German verbs sets you up to make all other necessary changes (i.e. conjugations) factoring in the 5 interwoven elements of person, number, tense, mood, and voice.

German Verb Infinitives

The form of the verb that is easiest to look up in a dictionary is the ‘infinitive form’. English verb infinitives always include a ‘to’: to eat, to sleep, to drive.

German verb infinitives exist mostly with an ‘-en’ at the end:

10 Common German Verb Infinitives

There are small bodies of German verb infinitives that end with -ern or -eln (e.g. wandern [to hike] and lächeln [to smile]). And there are also the two outlier verbs sein (to be) and tun (to do).

Simple Past German Verb Roots

The Simple Past tense in English is, for example, I had, I did, I went, I drove, I ate, etc.

German doesn’t actually use the Simple Past tense with the same frequency (German prefers the Present Perfect tense, which would technically translate to, e.g. I have had, I have gone, I have eaten, etc., but the meaning lines up with I had, I went, I ate, etc.).

But, even still, learning the Simple Past tense in German is important (it’s used in narrative, for example, particularly in books). And learning this tense for one ‘person’ in particular is very handy…

If you learn the 3rd Person Singular (he/she/it) form of the Simple Past tense for each verb, it clues you into how to form the …

  • ✅ Simple Past tense for all the other persons
  • ✅ Imperfect Subjunctive mood 
  • ✅ past participle (sometimes)

For example, here are those same 10 verb infinitives with their 3rd Person Singular Simple Past tenses forms next to them:

10 Common German Verb Simple Past Verbs

  • haben (to have)
  • machen (to do; make)
  • gehen (to go)
  • lesen (to read)
  • essen (to eat)
  • fahren (to drive)
  • schreiben (to write)
  • kommen (to come)
  • geben (to give)
  • mögen (to like)

Learning the Simple Past tense conjugation for he / she / it is also a helpful indication of whether the verb in question is a weak, strong, or mixed verb –which knowledge, in turn, may help you form the Present Tense and the past participle.

German Verb Past Participles

Every German verb has a past participle form and you will use them a lot!

Past Participles in English are verb forms such as ‘gone’, ‘sung’, and ‘eaten’ that are always paired with what’s called a ‘helping’ (or ‘auxiliary) verb to give us have gone, have sung, and have eaten.

Past Participles are used with the passive voice (er wurde gesehen ‘he was seen’), in 3 ‘Perfect’ tenses (Ich habe / hatte gesehen ‘I have / had seen’ and Ich werde gesehen haben ‘I will have seen’), and in the Subjunctive mood (e.g. Ich hätte gesehen ‘I would have seen’).

How a German verb forms its past participle is largely a function of whether it’s a regular, irregular, or mixed verb (and irregular verbs have three possible ways of forming past participles).

Regular / Weak Verbs

Regular (i.e. weak) verbs form their past participles with this formula: ge + infinitive root + t
Thus, we’d get the past participle ‘gemacht’ from the regular / weak verb ‘machen’ (to do; make). 

Here are some other examples of common regular / weak verbs and their participles, so you can see this formula multiple times:

kaufen (to buy) – gekauft
arbeiten (to work) –gearbeitet
wollen (to want) – gewollt
sollen (to should) – gesollt

CAUTION: some German-learners find it helpful to reframe the ‘ge + infinitive root + t’ formula into ‘ge + 3rd Person Singular (i.e. he / she / it) Present Tense conjugation: 

It would be er / sie / es …

kauft (buys)
arbeitet (works)

So, that’s functional… But er / sie /es ‘wollt’ and ‘sollt’ (among a few other examples) would be incorrect, which is why working with the ‘ge + infinitive root + t’ formula is superior.

Irregular / Strong Verbs

Irregular (i.e. strong) verbs create past participles with a ge + root + en. So, the ‘ge’ is a shared commonality with weak verbs, but the ‘en’ is in contrast to the ‘t’. 

Furthermore, the ‘root’ is one of 3 options:

  • infinitive root (like weak/regular verbs)
  • simple past root (1 reason why learning this verb form helps us!)
  • past participle root (if you will…)

A better way to think of these options is in ‘degrees of vowel change’, which can be visually depicted:

Some strong verbs create a mountain, for example: 

schlafen – schlief – hat geschlafen ([to] sleep – slept – have slept)

In this example, we start out with an ‘a’ in the infinitive root, then see that vowel change in the Simple Past tense, only to return to the original vowel in the past participle.

Other strong verbs make a plateau, for example: 

schreiben – schrieb – hat geschrieben ([to] write – wrote – have written)

In this example, the vowel in the infinitive root changes in the Simple Past tense and then remains changed for the past participle.

Finally, some strong verbs form an ascending line, for example:

singen sang – hat gesungen ([to] sing – sang – have sung)

Notice the root vowel changing twice: from ‘i’ to ‘a’ in the Simple Past tense, but then again to ‘u’ for the past participle.

Important Notes:
  • Notice that –in English!-- ‘to sleep’ would be a ‘plateau’ verb, not a mountain. In contrast, ‘to write’ would be more so a ‘mountain’ and not ‘plateau’! 
  • However, many German and English verbs do line up very nicely with their number and type of changes –like with the cognate ‘singen’ / to sing.
  • Just as in English, German past participles must be paired with a helping / auxiliary verb. 
  • In English, the helping verb is always the present tense of ‘to have’; German uses haben (to have) in this way, too; but also has a 2nd option: the usage of sein (to be). 

Mixed Verbs 

There is a small body of German verbs that are halfway weak and halfway strong.

These verbs take a vowel change in the Simple Past tense (like strong verbs), keep that vowel change for the past participle (like ‘plateau’ strong verbs), but use a ‘t’ instead of ‘en’ (like weak verbs).

The common verb ‘denken’ (to think) is a great example:

denken – dachte – gedacht ([to] think – [he / she / it] thought – have thought)

Other Common Mixed Verbs:

kennen (to be acquainted with)
bringen (to bring)
rennen (to run)
nennen (to name)
brennen (to burn)

Important Notes:
  • The verbs ‘senden’ (to send, transmit) and ‘wenden’ (to turn) are in the middle of changing from regular to mixed verbs (and perhaps someday will be full-out strong verbs). Thus, they have regular forms (senden – sendete – gesendet; wenden – wendete – gewendet) and mixed forms (senden – sandte – gesandt; wenden - wandte – gewandt). The mixed forms are more common, but the regular forms still have specific uses.
  • Some might characterize ‘haben’ (to have) and ‘wissen’ (to know) as mixed verbs, but these are better thought of as belonging to a separate category of verbs, in my opinion (see Oddball Verbs below).

-IEREN Verbs

German verbs that end with specifically -ieren (remember that nearly all German verbs end with ‘en’) are a subset of regular / weak verbs.

Their past participles, accordingly, end with ‘t’. But -ieren verbs do not take a ‘ge’. 


studieren – studierte – hat studiert ([to] study – studied – have studied)
telefonieren –telefonierte – hat telefoniert ([to] telephone - telephoned – have telephoned)
reservieren – reservierte – hat reserviert ([to] reserve – reserved – have reserved)

Notice that these verbs follow the predictable formulations for weak / regular German verbs in all ways except for taking that ‘ge’. Also, these verbs are generally also weak/regular verbs in English. 

Oddball Verbs

Thankfully, there aren’t many oddball verbs in German. But what few we have are additionally tricky. 

They often follow patterns of strong verb changes, but then will more –unpredictable– changes on top of that.

Two oddball verbs mentioned above are these:

haben – hatte – hat gehabt ([to] have – had – have had)
wissen – wusste – hat gewusst ([to] know – knew – have known)

If we look just at these forms, we’d think we’re dealing simply with two mixed verbs. 

However, if we’d look at the Present Tense conjugations for these verbs, we’d see a lot of other ‘oddball’ changes that fall outside of even strong / irregular verb predictability.

How Do You Memorize German Verb Conjugations?

The best way to memorize German verb conjugations is by repetitiously applying them to short & simple ‘sentence drills’.

‘Drilling’ German verb conjugations is a matter of practicing the pairings (or ‘agreement’) between the subject and verb while changing as little else as possible.

Examples of German Verb Conjugations

Although there are reasons for learning the simple past tense conjugations down the road, for now, knowing how to use German verb conjugations in the present tense is exactly what you should focus on. 

Check out these examples with the regular / weak German verb ‘machen’ (to do; make):

1st Person, Singular & Plural

Ich mache ein Butterbrot. (I am making a sandwich.)
Ich mache die Aufgabe. (I am doing the task.)

Wir machen ein Butterbrot. (We are making a sandwich.)
Wir machen die Aufgabe. (We are doing the task.)

2nd Person (Informal), Singular & Plural

Du machst ein Butterbrot. (You are making a sandwich.)
Du machst die Aufgabe. (You are doing the task.)

Ihr macht ein Butterbrot. (You are making a sandwich.)
Ihr macht die Aufgabe. (You are doing the task.)

2nd Person (Formal), Singular & Plural

Sie machen ein Butterbrot. (You are making a sandwich.)
Sie machen die Aufgabe. (You are doing the task.)

Sie machen ein Butterbrot. (You are making a sandwich.)
Sie machen die Aufgabe. (You are doing the task.)

3rd Person, Singular & Plural

Der Junge macht ein Butterbrot. (The boy is making a sandwich.)
Der Junge macht die Aufgabe. (The boy is doing the task.)

Die Jungen machen ein Butterbrot. (The boys are making a sandwich.)
Die Jungen machen die Aufgabe. (The boys are doing the task.)

Notice in all these examples that we are using Standard Word Order, which puts the conjugated verb in position 2. Learn more about German Sentence Structure and German Word Order here --verbs are power players!

To expand your German-learning beyond verbs, make note of these points!

1) In addition to the 'ein', we have FIVE other slightly different way to say 'a / an' in German. Similarly, there are six total ways to say 'the' (like the 'die' and 'der' in the above examples). Learn more about German 'Articles' here.

2) All German nouns --such as 'Butterbrot', 'Junge' and 'Aufgabe'-- have gender and case, which involves something tricky called declensions. Learning how to conjugate verbs is an important piece to the puzzle, but in order to truly speak German, you'll also have to learn how to work with German nouns!

3) Most German nouns --such as 'Junge'-- also have plural forms ('Jungen'). Expectedly, German noun plurals are more finicky than English-speakers are used to, but don't worry ... I break it down for you!


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How To Practice German Verb Conjugations

Practicing German verb conjugations requires a multi-faceted approach:

  1. Raise your awareness 
  2. Analyze authentic German
  3. Create your own drills
  4. Practice monitored speaking
  5. Go ‘out into the wild’!

Raise Your Awareness

It’s a powerful step to simply start recognizing German verb conjugations as such when you see or hear them.

So, whenever you work with an app, read a book, watch a show, or listen to music in German, try to tune into those subject-verb agreements.

Analyze Authentic German

If you’re going to the trouble of paying attention to German verb conjugations to begin with, you might as well really think about what you’re seeing and hearing.

Instead of just noticing a conjugation, take the time to break it down. Make sure that you can identify the root / stem of the verb and how it’s connecting to the conjugation.

Explicitly repeat to yourself the connection between the given subject and its conjugation (e.g. It’s ‘ich mache’ because the -e conjugation attaches to the root ‘mach’ and pairs with ‘ich’). 

Create Your Own Drills

Following the patterns I’ve set for you above, write your own short, simple sentences in order to systematically practice subject-verb agreement for all persons.

Your goal is to conjugate not only weak verbs but also common strong verbs (including those with stem-vowel changes) without referencing charts or needing to think about it too hard.

Once you’re feeling pretty confident with the present tense, move onto the simple past tense (literally just re-writing the drills you already have into this new tense).

From there, you can practice working with past participles in the 3 ‘perfect’ tenses, the passive voice, and the subjunctive mood, all of which also entails using present and/or past conjugations of select verbs (i.e. sein, haben, & werden).

Practice Monitored Speaking

It’s important to have a German-speaker look over your drills (previous step) and to guide you through intentional speaking practice. 

You need someone who not only is fluent in German, but who is a good teacher (i.e. quick to kindly correct you; capable of explaining the ‘why’ behind corrections). 

You need to be confident that the German you’re hearing from this person is authentic. And you also need to trust that they’re not letting various mistakes slide simply because ‘they can still understand you’.

Go ‘Out Into The Wild’!

After safely incubating your German with your trusted teacher, you’ll feel ready to go ahead and speak German with anyone, anywhere. 

Will you still make mistakes? Sure.

Will you continue learning? You bet!

But you’ll be working from a solid foundation that won’t let you down severely. Even though your German won’t be flawless, there won’t be cause for embarrassment.

You can feel confident that you’re expressing yourself adequately well and might even avoid Germans quickly reverting to speaking English with you.

You’ve got this!!!


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German Verb Conjugations in ALL Tenses & Moods

German verb conjugations are used in 6 tenses (of the indicative mood), and in two additional moods (the subjunctive and imperative). 

We use German verb conjugations to talk about actions in the past, present, and future (e.g. I was, I am, I will be). German verb conjugations are also used to say ‘I would be’ (subjunctive) or to give a command such as ‘be quiet!’

For those of you who are ready for it, here are the full conjugation tables for German verb conjugations utilizing the regular / weak verb ‘machen’ (to do; make):

Indicative (Indikativ)

The indicative mood is how we talk most of the time: about real facts (I’m making a sandwich. He made a mistake. Are you making fun of her? Will we make good time?

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)

Notice the recycled usage of the infinitive ‘machen’. Notice the -e conjugation paired with ich, the -st paired with du and the -t paired with both er / sie / es and ihr.

Recall that 25% of strong / irregular verbs will also require stem-vowel changes in the 2nd and 3rd persons singular (e.g. ich sehe, *du siehst, *er / sie / es sieht, etc.)

Bear in mind that the present tense conjugations of ‘machen’ would equate all three present tense possibilities in English: I make, I am making, I do make.

Simple Past (Präteritum)

If we compare the simple past tense to the present tense, here are the similarities and differences:

  • all the same persons still ‘take the infinitive’ (which either has an added ‘t’ [weak verbs] or a vowel change [strong & mixed verbs])
  • ‘du’ still uses an -st conjugation; ‘ihr’ still uses a -t.
  • ‘ich’ and ‘er / sie / es’ will now match, either by taking an -e conjugation (weak & mixed verbs) or no conjugation at all (strong verbs).

‘Machen’ conjugated for the simple past tense equates I did, you did, etc.

Although English-speakers prefer the simple past tense when talking about events in the past, this tense in German has more restricted usage.

Present Perfect (Perfekt)

Notice that this tense is formed by conjugating ‘haben’ in the present tense and coupling it with the past participle of ‘machen’, namely gemacht.

Bear in mind that this principle would be the same for strong verbs, too.

However, be aware that some verbs combine with present tense conjugations of ‘sein’ (to be), not ‘haben’ (to have), which is a departure from how this tense works in English.

‘Machen’ in the present perfect tense equates ‘I have done, you have done,’ etc. except that the usage of this tense in German lines up more with when English-speakers would say ‘I did, you did, etc.’

In other words, generally speaking, whenever you’d use the simple past tense in English, be sure to use the present perfect tense in German, instead.

Past Perfect (Plusquamperfekt)

To formulate this tense, you work with the same past participle used for the Present Perfect tense (every verb has only one past participle anyway) and you use the same helping verb (either ‘haben’ or ‘sein’). 

But now, that helping verb has to be conjugated in the simple past tense vs. the present tense! The result is ‘I had made / done’ (but then adjusted for all persons).

Simple Future (Futur I)

This tense is made by using ‘machen’ (the ‘main’ verb) in its infinitive form, paired with ‘werden’, conjugated in the present tense to communicate ‘I will do/make’, etc.

However, note that the Simple Future tense is frequently avoided in German in favor of the Present tense and a time adverbial (e.g. Ich mache morgen einen Ausflug’ [I’ll do, i.e. go on, an excursion tomorrow]).

Future Perfect (Futur II)

This perfect tense would be used in conjunction with other information presented in the simple future tense in order to talk about two future events relative to each other.

Thankfully, the future perfect ‘I will have done/made’, etc. is not frequently used in either English or German. Both languages prefer simpler ‘workarounds’ that utilize other tenses.

Two future events are often colloquially expressed in German by using the Simple Future + time adverbial + Present Tense. In spoken English, the Simple Future + time adverbial + Present Perfect is preferred.

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.

Notice that while ‘wir’, ‘Sie’ (singular / plural) and ‘ihr’ retain their typical conjugations, the ‘du’ uses just the verb root/stem (i.e. with no conjugation at all) OR optionally adds an ‘e’ conjugation in colloquial German.

Of course, it bears mentioning that the imperative mood is used ONLY in the present tense.

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) 

The present tense of the subjunctive mood is heard most often in the context of relayed news –be that in a TV news report, in a written newspaper, or via your gossipy neighbor.

It’s the German way of appropriately distancing oneself from potential facts –you’re passing along what someone else has said is true, but you’re not personally vouching for its accuracy.

Thus, this tense is most often used in the 3rd person singular because you’re speaking (with a 2nd person) about a 3rd person who has supposedly said / done something:

Er hat mir gemeint, dass sein Bruder Bankrott mache. (He told me that his brother is going bankrupt.)

Notice the use of Konjunktiv I in German (bolded) vs. the regular present tense in English (bolded).

Past Subjunctive (Konjunktiv II) 

This tense of the subjunctive is generally less and less used all the time. It’s still most definitely used for the 3 key verbs sein, haben, & werden, however. 

And, in fact, it’s the ‘Konjunktiv II’ form of ‘werden’ (‘würden’) that is combined with virtually all other verbs in order to create a workaround for this tense.

So, for example, instead of using the ‘true’ past subjunctive forms of ‘machen’, you’d be far more likely to hear / see written / need to use these combinations:

Ich würde … machen (I would do …)
Du würdest … machen (you would do …)
Er/ sie/ es würde … machen (he/ she/ it would do …)
Wir würden … machen (We would do …)
Ihr würdet … machen (Y’all would do …)
Sie würden … machen (They / you [formal] would do …)

Notice how conveniently this nearly ubiquitous workaround variant lines up with the English equivalent (if you think of the forms of ‘würden’ as meaning ‘would’). 

And remember to follow standard German word order rules that place the conjugated verb (in this instance: the form of ‘würden’) in position 2 and the infinitive verb (here: machen) at the end of the clause.

Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Perfekt) 

Just like the Konjunktiv I, this tense is most likely to be used for the 3rd person singular in order to convey uncertainty whether the given information is indeed factual.

The Konjunktiv Perfekt (and the Konjunktiv I, for that matter) could also potentially be used to communicate to whomever you’re addressing that you don’t 100% believe what they’re telling you, for example:

Hmm… Du habest / Ihr habet schon die Hausaufgaben gemacht?
(Hmm… you / y’all already finished your homework?)

The doubtfulness is communicated strictly via tone –and simply utilizing the Perfect-Indicative in English (which would also certainly be the more common way in German).

But German does technically have this particular mood/tense combo to convey lack of belief (even if its current usage is quite seldom because it’d be considered very elevated speech).

Past Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Plusquamperfekt) 

This subjunctive tense is still very commonly used. The ‘past perfect’ forms of haben and sein are combined with the main verb’s past participle in order to convey the concept of ‘would have XY’).

Ich hätte dir geholfen, wenn nur … (I would have helped you, if only …)
Er wäre mitgekommen, wenn nur … (He would have come with, if only …)

Whether you need to use the Konjunktiv II version of ‘haben’ or ‘sein’ is a matter of which of these 2 helping verbs your main verb (e.g. ‘helfen’ [to help] and ‘kommen’ [to come]) pairs with in any relevant indicative tenses.

You’d say ‘Ich habe / hatte dir geholfen’ (I [have] helped you) and thus ‘Ich hätte [not wäre] dir geholfen’ in the past perfect subjunctive.

So, likewise, you’d say ‘Er ist / war gekommen’ (He came / had come) and thus ‘Er wäre [not hätte] gekommen’ in the past perfect subjunctive.

Future Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Futur I) 

Both this tense (and also the Future Perfect Subjunctive) could theoretically be used in more formal or otherwise ‘elevated’ contexts for ‘du’, ‘ihr’, or ‘er/ sie /es’ in order to express doubt/uncertainty that the given thing will actually come to pass.

Future Perfect Subjunctive (Konjunktiv Futur II)

This tense –like the Konj. Futur I as well as the Konj. I and Konj. Perf.-- is more likely to be avoided by virtue of simply using the indicative mood coupled with a ‘he said / she said’ sort of utterance:

Er hat gemeint, er wird [werde] die Aufgabe bis morgen fertiggemacht haben.(He said he will have completed the task by tomorrow).

In English and German alike, though, the Futur II (even in the indicative) is not preferred, so the same idea is mostly likely to be communicated in the ‘faux future’ tense like this:

Er meint, er macht bis morgen die Aufgabe fertig.(He says he [will] complete the task by tomorrow).