German Modal Verbs Song

    Today’s lesson is a song about modal verbs in German. Modal verbs in German are verbs that change the mood of a sentence. This is a fancy way of saying that it changes the way in which the other verb in the sentence is done. In German there are 6 modal verbs, also called “auxiliaries”: mögen (to like), müssen (must), dürfen (may), können (can), sollen (should), and wollen (to want).

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    Often you will also see the word “möchten” listed alongside the modal verbs in German. This is not actually another modal verb, but rather a version of “mögen” in Konjunktiv 2. This is the reason you won’t find a past tense form of “möchten”. There can only be the past tense of “mögen”.

    This week’s lesson will teach you how to conjugate the modal verbs in German and how to use them in sentences in the present (Präsens) and simple past (Präteritum, Imperfekt) tenses. Below you will find the conjugated forms of the modal verbs in German along with the example sentences used in the song. I have also included a general overview of each modal and a brief explanation of how to use them.

    Modal Verbs in the Present Tense in German

    As mentioned above, the modal verbs in German are as follows:

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    mögen – to like
    müssen – must, to have to
    dürfen – may, to be allowed to
    können – can, to be able to
    sollen – shall, should, to be supposed to
    wollen – to want

    mögen – to like

    You almost never use “mögen” with another verb. This is why I am more comfortable calling this one a verb instead of an auxiliary, which is how you will see me refer to them in other posts about this topic. An auxiliary is a verb that is used together with another verb. When you use “mögen” with another verb it usually changes the meaning to “may”, as in “might”. It can be difficult to discern what is meant when “mögen” is used with another verb. I would recommend avoiding this for beginners.

    When you use “mögen” on its own, it means “to like” and is completely interchangeable with “gern + haben”. The conjugation of this verb can be seen below.

    ich mag – I like
    du magst – you like
    er, sie, es mag – he, she, it likes
    wir mögen – we like
    ihr mögt – you like
    sie, Sie mögen – they, you like

    Examples of “mögen” from the Modal Verbs Song

    Ich mag Züge und Autos.
    I like trains and cars. 

    Ich mag Züge, Autos und auch Flugzeuge.
    I like trains, cars and airplanes. 

    möchten – would like

    While this one isn’t actually its own modal verb, I like to include it, as it is often listed in German textbooks as a modal verb. It is also incredibly commonly used and simple to do so. You can use this verb in polite requests, which makes it very handy if you are traveling in Germany. The conjugation is listed below.

    ich möchte – I would like
    du möchtest – you would like
    er, sie, es möchte – he, she, it would like
    wir möchten – we would like
    ihr möchtet – you would like
    sie möchten; Sie möchten – they, you would like

    Example of “möchten” from the Modal Verbs Song

    Ich möchte den Rinderbraten
    I would like the roast beef. 

    For more information about the difference between mögen, möchten, and wollen, click here.

    müssen – must, to have to

    This is the first one in the song that uses another verb with it in the example sentences. That makes now a good time to explain what happens when there is another verb used along with a modal verb. Conjugate the modal verb into whatever tense you need and push the other verb to the end of the sentence as an infinitive. The infinitive form of a verb is the version that you see in the dictionary. It is kind of the base form of the verb before any changes are made to it so it fits with the subject and tense. First let’s take a look at the conjugation of “müssen”.

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    ich muss – I must/have to
    du musst – you must/have to
    er, sie, es muss – he, she, it must/have to
    wir müssen – we must/have to
    ihr müsst – you must/have to
    sie, Sie müssen – they, you must/have to

    Examples of “müssen” from the Modal Verbs Song

    Ich muss jetzt nach Hause gehen.
    I have to go home now.

    Ich muss jetzt nach Hause gehen und schlafen.
    I have to go home now and sleep. 

    dürfen – may, to be allowed to

    People often mixed this one up with “können” (can) in the same way as they do in English. People say they can’t do something when they mean they don’t have permission. You can drive 100 mph on the interstate. You just aren’t allowed to. The lines between these two verbs in German have started to become more blurred, but there still remains a stronger line between the two than in English.

    ich darf – I may/am allowed to
    du darfst – you may/are allowed to
    er, sie, es darf – he, she, it may/is allowed to
    wir dürfen – we may/are allowed to
    ihr dürft – you may/are allowed to
    sie, Sie dürfen – they, you may/are allowed to

    Examples of “dürfen” from the Modal Verbs Song

    Ich darf jetzt Kuchen essen.
    I am allowed to eat cake now. 

    Ich darf Kuchen zum Abendessen haben.
    I am allowed to eat cake for dinner. 

    können – can, to be able to

    This is very easy to remember in English, as the English word originated from the German. That’s the reason that the singular forms of this verb include “kann” and the English translation is “can”. The conjugation of “können” is listed below.

    ich kann – I can/am able to
    du kannst – you can/are able to
    er, sie, es kann – he, she, it can/is able to
    wir können – we can/are able to
    ihr könnt – you can/are able to
    sie, Sie können – they, you can/are able to

    Examples of “können” from the Modal Verbs Song

    Ich kann ohne ein Flugzeug fliegen.
    I can fly without a plane. 

    Ich kann so wie Superman fliegen.
    I can fly like superman. 

    sollen – should, shall, to be supposed to

    The translation of this verb is often a point of contention for German teachers. Many believe that the translation with the word “should” is incorrect, as it is less of a recommendation so much as a soft command in the present tense indicative (the version I am using here). I see it as the word “should” in English as used by a mother to her children. “You should wash the dishes.” is not so much a polite recommendation so much as a passive aggressive command. This is the same usage of “sollen”, but it isn’t always a parent/child relationship.

    ich soll – I should/shall/am supposed to
    du sollst – you should/shall/are supposed to
    er, sie, es soll – he, she, it should/shall/is supposed to
    wir sollen – we should/shall/are supposed to
    ihr sollt – you should/shall/are supposed to
    sie, Sie sollen – they, you should/shall/are supposed to

    Examples of “sollen” from the Modal Verbs Song

    Ich soll brav sein. Ich soll nett sein.
    I should be well-behaved. I should be nice. 

    Ich soll sehr brav, nett und sittsam heute sein.
    I should be well-behaved, nice and proper. 

    wollen – to want

    If you use “möchten” for polite requests, what do you use “wollen” for? Answer: Slightly less polite requests. You can use “wollen” in every instance where you can use “möchten”. The question is whether or not you want to sound that forceful or not? “Wollen” carries with it the sternness that is seen in English with the difference between “would like” and “want”.

    ich will – I want
    du willst – you want
    er, sie, es will – he, she, it want
    wir wollen – we want
    ihr wollt – you want
    sie, Sie wollen – they, you want

    Examples of “wollen” from the Modal Verbs Song

    Ich will dieses Jahr gesund sein.
    I want to be healthy this year. 

    Ich will dieses Jahr gesund und glücklich sein.
    I want to be healthy and happy this year. 

    Modal Verbs in the Simple Past Tense in German

    There are a few ways to use modal verbs with the past tenses in German. While there are Perfekt (present perfect tense) forms of modal verbs, you almost never use them, as the addition of another verb usually muddies the sentence and it is simpler to use the simple past. (See what I did there?) Take these sentences for example.

    Ich wollte einen Hund.
    I wanted a dog.

    Ich habe einen Hund gewollt.
    I wanted a dog.

    Ich wollte den Hund streicheln.
    I wanted to pet the dog.

    Ich habe den Hund streicheln wollen.
    I wanted to pet the dog.

    In the second set of examples you can clearly see how it starts to get a bit complicated to use a modal verb in the Perfekt tense. For this reason, Germans will usually use the simple past tense with these verbs. Below I have included the conjugation of each one in the simple past tense and the example sentences from the song.

    mögen > mochten – liked

    ich mochte – I liked
    du mochtest – you liked
    er, sie, es mochte – he, she, it liked
    wir mochten – we liked
    ihr mochtet – you liked
    sie, Sie mochten – they, you liked

    Examples of “mögen” in the Simple Past

    Als Kind mochte ich keinen Kohl.
    As a child I didn’t like cabbage. 

    Als Kind mochte ich keinen Rotkohl essen.
    As a child I didn’t like eating red cabbage. 

    müssen > musste – had to

    ich musste – I had to
    du musstest – you had to
    er, sie, es musste – he, she, it had to
    wir mussten – we had to
    ihr musstet – you had to
    sie, Sie mussten – they, you had to

    Examples of “müssen” in the Simple Past

    Ich musste mein Auto waschen.
    I had to wash my car. 

    Ich musste mein Auto heute morgen waschen.
    I had to wash my car this morning.  

    dürfen > durfte – was allowed to

    ich durfte – I was allowed to
    du durftest – you were allowed to
    er, sie, es durfte – you were allowed to
    wir durften – we were allowed to
    ihr durftet – you were allowed to
    sie, Sie durften  – they, you were allowed to

    Examples of “dürfen” in the Simple Past

    Ich durfte gestern ins Kino.
    I was allowed to go to the movies yesterday. 

    Ich durfte gestern ins Kino gehen.
    I was allowed to go to the movies yesterday. 

    können > konnte – could

    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, Sie konnten – they, you could

    Examples of “können” in the Simple Past

    Warum konntest du das nicht tun?
    Why couldn’t you do that? 

    Warum konntest du das nicht schon gestern tun?
    Why couldn’t you have done that yesterday? 

    sollen > sollte – should have

    This one deserves a bit of a side note. Normally the Konjunktiv 2 sets itself apart in the conjugation of verbs, in that there is an umlaut in the Konjunktiv 2 forms, but the simple past tense of the same verb does not. This is not true, however, for “sollen”, which is why the meaning is occasionally ambiguous. Usually in English if we mean to say “should”, we mean the Konjunktiv 2 version of “sollen” in German. If we say “should have” in English, we mean the simple past version of “sollen” in German. I have included both translations for the examples below.

    ich sollte – I should have
    du solltest – you should have
    er, sie, es sollte – he, she, it should have
    wir sollten – we should have
    ihr solltet – you should have
    sie, Sie sollten – they, you should have

    Examples of “sollen” in the Simple Past and Konjunktiv 2

    Sollten wir nach Hause fahren?
    Should we have driven home?
    Should we drive home? *Konjunktiv 2*


    Sollten wir mit dem Auto nach Haus’ fahren?
    Should we have driven home with the car?
    Should we drive home with the car? *Konjunktiv 2*

    wollen > wollten – wanted

    ich wollte – I wanted
    du wolltest – you wanted
    er, sie, es wollte – he, she, it wanted
    wir wollten – we wanted
    ihr wolltet – you wanted
    sie, Sie wollten – they, you wanted

    Als Kind wollte ich Arzt werden.
    As a child I wanted to become a doctor. 

    Als Kind wollte ich Arzt werden, jetzt nicht mehr.
    As a child I wanted to become a doctor, but no longer. 

    More Help with the Modal Verbs in German

    I hope you found this lesson helpful. If you would like more help with the modal verbs in German, you can click some of the links below.

    Past Tense of Modal Verbs
    Difference Between Mögen, Möchten & Wollen
    Sollen & Müssen
    Dürfen & Können
    Present Tense Master Class

    Herr Antrim

    Herr Antrim is a German teacher with over 10 years of teaching experience. In 2011 he started his successful YouTube Channel "Learn German with Herr Antrim". In 2015 he created this website to enhance the German language lessons he was providing on YouTube. He is now the author of his own e-book, "Beginner German with Herr Antrim". He has also been featured on numerous blogs and other sites.