Common German Verbs: How to Conjugate and Use Them

5 COMMON GERMAN VERBS AND HOW TO USE THEM

Like all languages, the German language uses some words more than others. In the article below, we’ll cover some of the most common German verbs, how conjugate with various pronouns and tenses, and how to use them with example sentences.

5 COMMON GERMAN VERBS AND HOW TO USE THEM

Maybe you have been dreading German verb conjugation because you’ve heard it’s very complicated, with gendered articles and sentence cases. But not to fear – most verbs actually follow the same patterns. By practicing the most common verbs and how to use them, you’ll be speaking German confidently in no time.

You’ll come across these verbs often in the LingoDeer German course as it steps you through the words and phrases that are used every day, following a natural progression as if you were immersed in the German language. It’s a perfect way to practice using these verbs daily as you always have your phone on hand wherever you go.

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15 Common German Verbs to Know

First, let’s take a look at a group of 15 common German verbs. Most of these common verbs are irregular – they don’t follow the standard pattern when conjugating them into various tenses.

5 COMMON GERMAN VERBS AND HOW TO USE THEM

We won’t get into these verbs one by one today, but still, it’s suggested to also note down these verbs as they are used very often in day-to-day conversations. 


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Using Verbs with the Right Pronouns – Verb Conjugation

When you change a verb depending on its subject – the one who does the action – that’s called conjugation.

For example, the verb “sein” (to be) – ich bin (I am), du bist (you are).

The verb changes depending on the subject (pronoun), and the tense (present, past, etc.) or when the action is happening.

Before we get into German verb conjugation, I want to give a quick summary of some basics grammar points. If you’ve already known them, you can also jump directly to the verb conjugation part. If you wish to learn deeper about German grammar, check out our other articles or the LingoDeer app to know more.

The Basics: German Pronouns and Case

Nominative

Accusative

Dative

ich (I)

mich (me)

mir (to me)

du (casual you)

dich (casual you)

dir (to you)

sie (formal you)

sie (formal you)

ihnen (formal to you)

er, sie, es (he, she, it)

ihn, sie, es (him, her, it)

ihm, ihr, ihm (to him, her, it)

wir (we)

uns (us)

uns (to us)

ihr (plural you)

euch (plural you)

euch (plural to you)

sie (they)

sie (them)

ihnen (to them)

There are a few verbs that change form depending on the case – nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive (although this is rarely used these days). It is a concept that also exists in English. For example, you can rearrange a sentence in English to use a different case:

Who do you give it to? 

To whom are you sending it?

The Basics: Sentence Case

Nominative case: Describes the subject of a sentence or the person doing an action.

Einen Apfel kostet ein Euro. (An apple costs one euro.)

Accusative case: Describes the object of a sentence.

Das Kind (subject) isst einen Apfel (object). (The child eats an apple.)

Dative case: Describes an indirect object. Indirect objects in a sentence receive an action or a thing from a direct object in a sentence. Certain German verbs will always take the dative case.

Ich (subject) gebe dir (indirect object) einen Apfel (object). (I am giving you an apple.)

5 COMMON GERMAN VERBS AND HOW TO USE THEM

The Basics: Tenses and Auxiliary Verbs

Present tense: German has only one form for the present tense, unlike English, which has simple present (I walk), present continuous (I am walking) and an emphatic form (I do walk).

Simple past and present perfect tenses: Written German uses the simple past (e.g. ran), while conversational German uses the present perfect tense (e.g. has run) to indicate an action was performed in the past.

The past participle (e.g. driven, colored) of a verb is commonly used as an adjective.

Auxiliary verbs: Three of the most common verbs are used as auxiliary or ‘helping’ verbs – they modify the tense and meaning of other verbs: “sein” (to be), “haben” (to have), and “werden” (to become).

Modal verbs: These auxiliary verbs work in much the same way in both English and German. However, sollen (should), wollen or möchten (want to) are not in the top 10 most common German verbs.

Compound verbs: Three groups of verbs always use “sein” (to be) as an auxiliary verb.

  1. Verbs expressing motion from one place to another.
  • Er ist heute gefahren. (He left today.)
  • Sie ist auf dem Stuhl gesessen. (She sat down on the chair.)
  1. Verbs expressing a change in state.
  • Das Kind ist aufgewacht. (The child woke up.)
  • Du bist aber groß geworden. (You have grown tall (or older).)
  1. The following specific words: “begegnen” (to meet), “bleiben” (to stay), “gelingen” (to succeed), “mislingen” (to fail), “glücken” (to succeed), “glücken” (to fail) and “sein” (to be).

5 COMMON GERMAN VERBS AND HOW TO USE THEM

The 5 Most Common German Verbs and Conjugation

Now in this part, I’ll introduce to you the 5 Most Common German Verbs and how they are conjugated in different tenses. It might be quite long but I’m sure as you read, it’ll get easier and faster as you’ll be progressing. These 5 verbs are also the most fundamental ones in the German language. So it’s worth taking some time to get to know them.

Now take out your notebook and get ready to learn how to conjugate the 5 most German verbs!

SEIN – TO BE – IRREGULAR

The verb “to be” seems to be irregular in all languages and is the most common verb. “Sein” is used as a full verb (to be), and as a helping or auxiliary verb in combination with other verbs.

PRESENT (PRÄSENS) TENSE

  • ich bin – I am
  • du bist – you are
  • er, sie, es ist – he, she, it is
  • wir sind – we are
  • ihr seid – you are
  • sie sind – they are
  • Sie sind – you are (formal)

Examples:

  • Es ist sehr laut hier. It is very loud here.
  • Bist du am Mittwoch dabei? Are you here on Wednesday?
  • Wir sind im Moment nicht zu Hause. We are not at home right now.

SIMPLE PAST (PRÄTERITUM) TENSE & PRESENT PERFECT (PERFEKT) TENSE

In German, past tense is usually reserved for written text, except for the verb “sein”. It is an irregular verb after all!

  • ich war – I was
  • du warst – you were
  • er, sie, es war – he, she, it was
  • wir waren – we were
  • ihr wart – you were
  • sie waren – they were
  • Sie waren – you were (formal)

Examples:

  • Wart ihr letzte Woche in Berlin? Were you in Berlin last week?
  • Er war bis fünf in der Schule. He was at school until five o’clock.

Spoken German often uses the past perfect to indicate an action happened in the past. You will hear the conjugated “sein” plus “gewesen” in a sentence less often than the simple past tense above.

  • ich bin gewesen – I have been / I was
  • du bist gewesen – you have been / you were
  • er, sie, es ist gewesen – he, she, it has been / he, she it was
  • wir sind gewesen – we have been / we were
  • ihr seid gewesen – you have been / you were
  • sie sind gewesen – they have been / they were
  • Sie sind gewesen – you have been / you were (formal)

Examples:

  • Es war sehr spannend gewesen. It was highly entertaining.
  • Ich bin am Mittwoch in der Schule gewesen. I was at school on Wednesday
  • Wir sind noch nie ins Afrika gewesen. We have never been to Africa.

PAST PERFECT (PLUSQUAMPERFECT) TENSE

The past perfect tense – the past tense of “sein” plus its perfect form “gewesen” – can trip even native speakers up. It is still a reasonably common conjugation to use in everyday German, however. Keep practicing and you’ll get the hang of it!

  • ich war gewesen – I had been
  • du warst gewesen – you had been
  • er, sie, es war gewesen – he, she, it had been
  • wir waren gewesen – we had been
  • ihr wart gewesen – you had been
  • sie waren gewesen – they had been
  • Sie waren gewesen – you had been (formal)

Examples:

  • Unsere Freundinnen waren noch nie bei uns gewesen. Our friends had never stayed with us.
  • Sie war damals noch sehr beschäftigt gewesen. She was very busy back then.

FUTURE (FUTUR) TENSE

The future tense of “sein” in German is not used all that often, as it is a combination of “sein” and the verb “werden” (to become). Instead, when talking about the future, you would typically use another verb and indicate when the action takes place.

Sie wird am Wochenende kommen ® Sie kommt am Wochenende.

She will come on the weekend.

  • ich werde sein – I will be
  • du wirst sein – you will be
  • er, sie, es wird sein – he, she, it will be
  • wir werden sein – we will be
  • ihr werdet sein – you will be
  • sie werden sein – they will be
  • Sie werden sein – you will be (formal)

5 COMMON GERMAN VERBS AND HOW TO USE THEM

Examples:

  • Sie werden schon Zuhause sein.  They will already be home then.
  • Es wird sicherlich sehr trocken sein. It will surely be very dry.

The future perfect tense (Futur II) is especially difficult, but it is rarely used. It’s again a triple combination of the verbs “sein” and “werden” to mean will have been.

  • ich werde gewesen sein – I will have been
  • du wirst gewesen sein – you will have been
  • er, sie, es wird gewesen sein – he, she, it will have been
  • wir werden gewesen sein – we will have been
  • ihr werdet gewesen sein – you will have been
  • sie werden gewesen sein – they will have been
  • Sie werden gewesen sein – you will have been (formal)

Example:

  • Wir werdet bis dahin schon fertig gewesen sein. We will have already finished by that point.

CONJUNCTIVE (KONJUNKTIV I & II) 

“Sein” is sometimes used in trickier forms, just like “to be” is used in English. While you won’t need to say or write these two forms often, it’s always good to be aware of them.

The conjunctive in German is used for indirect speech, or when talking about a third person.

Note: The letters in brackets are often omitted when writing German.

  • ich sei – I am said to be
  • du sei(e)st – you are said to be
  • er, sie, es sei – he, she, it is said to be
  • wir seien – we are said to be
  • ihr seiet – you are said to be
  • sie seien – they are said to be
  • Sie seien – you are said to be (formal)

Examples:

  • Er sagte mir, du seist faul. He told me you were lazy.
  • Sie seien uns, Der Arzt sei hilfreich. They told us the doctor was helpful.

Subjunctive: The Konjunktiv II form in German is reserved for wishes and talking about situations that are not real. It expresses uncertainty, doubt and disagreement, and is used mostly in reported speech, just like the conjunctive above. The present subjunctive follows the conjunctive of “sein” as noted above.

The other tenses use the conjunctive form of “werden”.

 

WERDEN – TO BECOME – IRREGULAR

Werden is one of the most important verbs in German, and an irregular one to conjugate. It has two forms: as an auxiliary verb combines with another verb to talk about plans in the future and form the passive voice; and as a full verb used in conjunction with an adjective or noun and talk.

With the examples below and practice with the LingoDeer German courses, you’ll be using werden like a native in no time.

PRESENT (PRÄSENS) TENSE

  • ich werde – I become
  • du wirst – you become
  • er, sie, es wird – he, she, it becomes
  • wir werden – we become
  • ihr werdet – you become
  • Sie werden – you become

Examples (to become):

  • Ich werde endlich fertig mit dem Projekt.  I am finally finishing the project.
  • Sie werden gute Freunde. They are becoming good friends.
  • Das Wetter wird kalt. The weather is becoming cold.
  • Wirst du hungrig? Are you becoming hungry?

SIMPLE PAST (PRÄTERITUM) TENSE & PRESENT PERFECT (PERFEKT) TENSE

  • ich wurde – I became
  • du wurdest – you became
  • er, sie, es wurde – he, she, it became
  • wir wurden – we became
  • ihr wurdet – you (plural) became
  • sie wurden – they became
  • Sie wurden – you became

Unlike most regular verbs, to form the past perfect tense of “werden” you need to use the verb “sein” (to be).

  • Ich bin geworden
  • Du bist geworden
  • Er, sie, es ist geworden
  • Wir sind geworden
  • Ihr seid geworden
  • Sie sind geworden

Examples:

  • Das Wetter wurde kalt. The weather became cold.
  • Die Katzen wurden hungrig. The cats became hungry.
  • Er wurde gestern arbeitslos. The man became unemployed yesterday.

 

FUTURE (FUTUR I) TENSE AND PASSIVE VOICE (PASSIV)

“Werden” is one of the most common verbs in German as it is used to form the future tense and indicate the passive voice – both of which are encountered all the time when speaking and reading.

When used as an auxiliary verb to indicate that action will happen in the future, “werden” is placed early in the sentence.

  • Wir werden am Samstag ins Kino gehen. We are going to the cinema on Saturday.

When used to mean “to become” in the future, you need to use werden twice in the sentence – the first instance (the auxiliary) is conjugated, and the second instance (the full verb) is left in its infinitive (dictionary) form. It can be quite confusing at first but will feel more natural after some time spent practicing.

  • Dieser Apfel wird schön saftig werden.  This apple will be nicely juicy.
  • Ihr werdet noch spät werden! You are going to be late!

A sentence in the passive voice has a similar structure but uses the past participle of the second verb.

  • Das Buch werde von meiner Frau gekauft. The book will be bought by my wife.
  • Meine Uhr wurde von ihm repariert. My watch was being repaired by him.
  • Es wird irgendwann gemacht. It will be done eventually.

 

Note: When you form a complex sentence with a main clause and subordinate clause (combined with “dass” or “so dass”), the auxiliary verb “werden” must come after the full verb.

  • Ich strenge mich an, so dass ich nächste Jahr eine Reise machen werde.

I am working hard so I can take a holiday next year.

  • Es gibt so viele Leute im Buero, dass sie ständig bei der Arbeit gestört wurde.

There are so many people in the office that her work was constantly interrupted.

CONJUNCTIVE (KONJUNKTIV I) / CONDITIONAL

The conjunctive form of the auxiliary verb “werden” is also very common as it is used to talk about wishes, possibilities, hopes, beliefs, conditions, or situations that aren’t real. You can substitute ‘would’ or ‘might’ in most cases to have a sensible translation to English.

  • ich würde – I would
  • du würdest – you would
  • er, sie, es würde – he, she, it would
  • wir würden – we would
  • ihr würdet – you would
  • sie würden – they would
  • Sie würden – you would (formal)

Examples:

  • Ich würde gern eine Party machen. I would love to host a party.
  • Das würde mich freuen. That would make me happy.
  • Wir würden das Geld nicht investieren. We would not invest our money.
  • Sie würden bezahlen. They would pay.
  • Das würde ich nicht machen! I would not do that!

Subjunctive: (Konjunktiv II) This form uses “werden” to express uncertainty, doubt, and disagreement, and is used mostly in reported speech. The present subjunctive follows the conjunctive of “sein, but the other tenses use the conjunctive form of “werden” as described above.

FUTURE PERFECT AND PLUPERFECT TENSES

The verb “werden” can become even more complicated to conjugate in the lesser-used tenses, for example in the future perfect or pluperfect tenses – for expressing the past in the future or talking about a past event that happened after an earlier event.

In these sentences, there are three verbs: the auxiliary “werden”, the perfect conjugated form of “werden”, and the infinitive (dictionary) form or past tense of “sein”.

  • Wenn er mit seinem Studium anfängt, wird sie schon damit fertig geworden sein.

By the time he will have begun his studies, she will have finished hers already.

  • Vor einem Jahr war die Studentin verheiratet geworden.

One year ago, the student was married.

 

HABEN – TO HAVE – IRREGULAR

“Haben“ is another irregular verb. As a full verb, it means “to have”, but it is most used in the formation of the present perfect tense to indicate past actions and events in conversational German.

“Haben” can also be used as an auxiliary or helping verb and is always paired with some specific verbs that are never conjugated by themselves.

PRESENT (PRÄSENS) TENSE

  • ich habe – I have
  • du hast – you have
  • er, sie, es hat – he, she, it has
  • wir haben – we have
  • ihr habt – you have
  • sie haben – they have
  • Sie haben – you have (formal)

Examples:

  • Ich habe zwei Katzen. I have two cats.
  • Du hast eine Schwester. You have a sister.
  • Haben wir ein bisschen Zeit? Do we have a little time?

SIMPLE PAST (PRÄTERITUM) TENSE 

  • ich hatte – I had
  • du hattest – you had
  • er, sie, es hatte – he, she, it had
  • wir hatten – we had
  • ihr hattet – you had
  • sie hatten – they had
  • Sie hatten – you had (formal)

Examples:

  • Sie hatten Glück, einen freien Stuhl zu finden. She had good luck in finding a free chair.
  • Ich hatte vorher einen guten Computer.  I previously had a good computer.

PRESENT PERFECT (PERFEKT) AND PAST PERFECT (PLUSQUAMPERFECT) TENSES

The present and past forms of “haben” are used as an auxiliary verb with other verbs to form their present perfect tense. This is used when talking about the past in conversational German.

For example:

  • Ich habe ein E-Mail erwartet. I expected to receive an email.
  • Sie hatten das Lotto gewonnen. They had won the lotto.

Double “haben” for the past tense

To form the present perfect with “haben” you need to conjugate the first instance according to the subject of the sentence, and then use the past participle “gehabt”.

  • Du hast großes Glück gehabt. You have had a lot of luck.
  • Als Kinder, hatten wir drei Katzen gehabt. As children, we had three cats.

Past perfect tense (Plusquamperfekt)

Combining the simple past form of “haben” with the past participle “gehabt”, you can form the past perfect tense. Use this tense to say things like the following.

  • Ich hatte einen Traum gehabt. I had had a dream (but not anymore).
  • Sie hatten mehrere gute Ideen gehabt. They had had several good ideas.
  • Wir hatten noch eine Karte übriggehabt. We had one ticket left over.

FUTURE (FUTUR) TENSES

As with other verbs, form the simple future tense with the verb “werden”.

  • Ich werde in einer Woche Zeit haben. I will have some spare time a week from now.
  • Er wird am Wochenende Spaß haben. He will have fun on the weekend.  

Future perfect (Futur II)

This rarely used tense talks about events and actions that will have finished by a certain time in the future.

Just like with the present and past perfect tenses, you need to use “gehabt” plus “haben” and add these to “werden” to show you are speaking about the future.

  • Du wirst bis dahin schon deinen Urlaub gehabt haben.

You will have taken your vacation at that point.

  • Ich werde bis Ende der Woche sicherlich viel Spaß gehabt haben.

I will have had a lot of fun by the end of this week.

 

KÖNNEN – CAN, TO BE ABLE TO – IRREGULAR

“Können” is a modal or helping verb – it is added to another verb to show that you can or can’t do that action. While in most cases, you can translate it to can or could, in more complex tenses, “able to” is a better fit.

PRESENT (PRÄSENS) TENSE

  • ich kann – I can
  • du kannst – you can
  • er, sie, es kann – he, she, it can
  • wir können – we can
  • ihr könnt – you can
  • sie können – they can
  • Sie können – you can (formal)

Examples:

  • Wo können wir hier ein gutes Restaurant finden? Where can we find a good restaurant here?
  • Sie kann alles reparieren! She can repair anything!
  • Ich kann ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen. I can speak a little German.
  • Kannst du Englisch sprechen? Can you speak English?

SIMPLE PAST (PRÄTERITUM) TENSE

Unlike other verbs, the simple past is preferred when speaking conversation German instead of the present perfect tense – perhaps because it sounds less formal.

  • ich konnte – I could
  • du konntest – you could
  • er, sie, es konnte – he, she, it could
  • wir konnten – we could
  • ihr konntet – you could
  • sie konnten – they could
  • Sie konnten – you could (formal)

Examples:

  • Ich konnte die ganze Nacht tanzen. I once could keep dancing for the entire night.
  • Ihr konntet letzte Woche ein bisschen lange schlafen. You could sleep a little longer last week.

PRESENT PERFECT (PERFECT) TENSE

The present perfect tense of “können” is rarely used.

  • ich habe gekonnt – I could have
  • du hast gekonnt – you could have
  • er, sie, es hat gekonnt – he, she, it could have
  • wir haben gekonnt – we could have
  • ihr habt gekonnt – you could have
  • sie haben gekonnt – they could have
  • Sie haben gekonnt – you could have (formal)

Example:

  • Das hat noch niemand gekonnt. Nobody has ever been able to do that.

FUTURE (FUTUR) TENSES

The meaning slightly changes when you conjugate “können” to future tenses. There is still a general meaning of “could” or “will be able to”. Depending on the context, it may change to “will have to”. The future tenses of “können” are rarely used.

  • ich werde können – I will be able to
  • du wirst können – you will be able to
  • er, sie, es wird können – he, she, it will be able to
  • wir werden können – we will be able to
  • ihr werdet können – you will be able to
  • sie werden können – they will be able to
  • Sie werden können – you will be able to (formal)

Example:

  • Du wirst sicherlich eine Woche warten können, oder? Surely you can wait a week, can’t you?

You can conjugate “können” to form the future perfect to explain that someone will have been able to do something by a specific point in time in the future.

First conjugate “werden” to match your subject, then add “gekonnt haben” at the end of the sentence.

  • Bis Ende nächste Woche, werden wir ins Kino gekonnt haben.

By the end of next week, we will have been able to go to the cinema.

 

5 COMMON GERMAN VERBS AND HOW TO USE THEM

MACHEN – TO DO, TO MAKE

In German “machen” has multiple meanings, with “to do” and “to make” being the most common. Depending on the context, it can mean “take”, “go”, “turn”, “comes to” or even to do something to reach a certain state.

With all these meanings, it’s easy to see why it is in the list.

Tip: “Machen” is a regular verb which follows a common pattern for conjugation.

PRESENT (PRÄSENS) TENSE

  • ich mache – I do/make
  • du machst – you do/make
  • er, sie, es macht – he, she, it does/makes
  • wir machen – we do/make
  • ihr macht – you do/make
  • sie machen – they do/make
  • Sie machen – you do/make (formal)

Examples:

  • Wir machen eine lange Pause. We are taking a long break.
  • Bitte, machen Sie es fertig. Please, finish this for me.
  • Mache ich das Licht aus. I am turning out the light.
  • Was machst du da? What are you doing there?
  • Das macht fünf Euro. That comes to five euros.
  • Was macht er von Beruf? What does he do for a living?

SIMPLE PAST (PRÄTERITUM) TENSE

Like most verbs, the simple past is used in written German. To show you did something in the past in spoken or conversational German, use the present perfect in the section below.

  • ich machte – I did/made
  • du machtest – you did/made
  • er, sie, es machtet – he, she, it did/made
  • wir machten – we did/made
  • ihr machtet – you did/made
  • sie machten – they did/made
  • Sie machten – you did/made (formal)

Examples:

  • Machten sie ein Angebot? Did they make an offer?
  • Ich machte einen Spaziergang gestern. I took a walk yesterday.
  • Sie machten viele Tests ins Krankenhaus. They did many tests in the hospital.

PRESENT PERFECT (PERFECT) TENSE 

To form the present perfect to show you did or made something in the past in conversational German, use the conjugation of “haben” and add the past participle “gemacht”.

  • ich habe gemacht – I did/made, or I have done/made
  • du hast gemacht – you did/made, or you have done/made
  • er, sie, es hat gemacht – he, she, it did/made, or he, she, it has done/made
  • wir haben gemacht – we did/made, or we have done/made
  • ihr habt gemacht – you did/made, or you have done/made
  • sie haben gemacht – they did/made, or they have done/made
  • Sie haben gemacht – you did/made, or you have done/made (formal),

Examples:

  • Ich habe gemacht, was du hattest gesagt. I have done what you asked.
  • Was denkst du, was ich gerade gemacht habe? What do you think about what I just did?
  • Wer hat diesen Kuchen gemacht? Who made this cake?
  • Sie haben den Fotos gemacht. They have taken the photos.

FUTURE (FUTUR) TENSES AND PASSIVE VOICE (PASSIV)

  • ich werde machen – I will do/make
  • du wirst machen – you will do/make
  • er, sie, es wird machen – he, she, it will do/make
  • wir werden machen – we will do/make
  • ihr werdet machen – you will do/make
  • sie werden machen – they will do/make
  • Sie werden machen – you will do/make (formal)

Examples:

  • Du wirst noch alles kaputt machen! You will break everything!
  • Ich werde morgen meine Hausafgaben machen. I will do my homework tomorrow.
  • Das werde sicherlich schnell gemacht. Surely that will be done quickly.

To form the future perfect tense (I will have made, or I will have done), use the correct conjugation of “werden” and add “gemacht haben” to the end of the sentence.

  • Ich werde der Arbeit um 10 Uhr gemacht haben. I will have finished the work at 10 o’clock.
  • Sie wird die Skizzen dort gemacht haben. She will have done the sketches there. 

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