German Stem-Changing Verbs: unregelmäßige Verben im Präsens a-ä, e-i & e-ie
Hallo, Deutschlerner. You already know how to conjugate regular German verbs in the present tense. Today we are going to learn how to use some stem-changing verbs in the present tense in German.
What is the stem of a German verb?
The stem of a verb is the part before the ending of -en or -n in the infinitive form. So the stem of “machen” is “mach” and the stem of “kennen” is “kenn”. Normally when you change a verb to fit the subject of the sentence, you simply remove -en or -n from the end of the infinitive and add the ending that corresponds to your subject. For example:
|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, Sie machen||they, you do, make|
Sometimes there is a change required within the stem of the verb. We call these verbs “stem-changing verbs”. Grammar terminology isn’t very creative in the naming department sometimes.
How many kinds of stem-changing verbs are there in German?
There are three categories of stem-changing verbs in the German present tense: a to ä, e to i and e to ie. You have likely come across all three of these categories of verbs in your German learning already, but you haven’t even realized it. Let’s get to some examples.
Category #1: A to Ä
The verb “fahren” means “to drive” and falls into the first category of a to ä. These stem changes, however, only affect the du and er, sie, es forms. So the full conjugation of “fahren” looks like this:
|ich fahre||I drive|
|du fährst||you drive|
|er, sie, es fährt||he, she, it drives|
|wir fahren||we drive|
|ihr fahrt||you drive|
|sie, Sie fahren||they, you drive|
As you can see, we simply added an umlaut to the du and er, sie, es forms of the verb.
Quirk #1 of the A to Ä Stem Change
That sounds simple enough, but there is one quirk with this. You may remember from my lesson about regular conjugation in the present tense that you add an E between the stem and the ending when the verb stem ends with T or D.
Well, if that verb also has a stem change from a to ä, it does not get this E added to the du and er, sie, es forms. The verb “laden” is one such verb. When added to the prefix “ein-”, you get the verb “to invite” in German. Here are some examples with it.
Ich lade deine Mutter zum Abendessen ein.
I am inviting your mother to dinner.
Was? Warum lädst du meine Mutter zum Abendessen ein?
What? Why are you inviting my mother to dinner?
Haha. Er lädt deine Mutter zum Abendessen ein.
Haha. He is inviting your mother to dinner.
Wir laden deine ganze Familie zum Abendessen ein.
We are inviting your entire family to dinner.
Ladet ihr meinen Vater auch zum Abendessen ein?
Are you inviting my father to dinner, too?
Nein. Sie laden deinen Vater nicht ein.
No. They are not inviting your father.
Notice how I didn’t add E between läd- and the -st and -t endings for du and er, sie, es? How about the fact that I did add one for the ihr form “ladet”, where there is no umlaut? Well, this is exactly what happens with these verbs. If there is an umlaut added to the du and er, sie, es forms, no added E between the verb stem and the ending.
Don’t Forget About the AU Verbs
One other thing to note about verbs in this category is that you might come across a verb that has AU in the middle of it. Sometimes this requires an umlaut for the du and er, sie, es forms. The umlaut goes over the A. This happens in the verb “laufen”.
Ich laufe jeden Morgen zwei Kilometer.
I run 2 kilometers every day.
Warum läufst du so viel?
Why do you run so much?
Mein Vater läuft auch so viel.
My father runs that much, too.
Wir laufen zusammen.
We run together.
Warum lauft ihr so viel?
Why do you (all) run so much?
Alle Familienmitglieder laufen zwei Kilometer.
All family members run 2 kilometers.
Category #2: E to I
Our second category of stem-changing verbs is e to i. This includes such verbs as geben, to give. As with the previous category, you only change the stem in the du and er, sie, es forms. Here is the verb geben in action.
Ich gebe meiner Frau eine Halskette.
I am giving my wife a necklace.
Was gibst du mir zum Geburtstag?
What are you giving me for my birthday?
Hans gibt seinem Vater einen Golfschläger.
Hans gives his father a golf club.
Wir geben einander Geschenke.
We give each other gifts.
Was gebt ihr eurer Oma zum Geburtstag?
What are you giving your grandmother for her birthday?
Die Kinder geben ihren Freunden Schokolade.
The children are giving their friends chocolate.
The Verb nehmen
One verb in this category is a bit weirder than the rest. The verb “nehmen” not only changes from E to I in the stem, but it also replaces the H with an extra M, so instead of “du nihmst” and “er, sie, es nihmt”, we say “du nimmst” and “er, sie, es nimmt”. Here is is in action:
Ich nehme diese Bluse in einer Nummer kleiner.
I’ll take this blouse in a size smaller.
Nimmst du dein Bärchen mit?
Are you taking your (teddy) bear along?
Er nimmt mir die Schokolade weg.
He is taking away my chocolate.
Wir nehmen keine Drogen.
We don’t take drugs.
Warum nehmt ihr euren Bruder nicht mit?
Why don’t you take your brother along?
Die Kinder nehmen ihre Spielzeuge.
The children take their toys.
Category #3: E to IE
The last category of stem-changing verbs is e to ie. As with all of the other categories, only the du and er, sie, es forms get the stem change. You have probably already seen this in the verb “sehen”. Don’t forget, you can also use “sehen” with prefixes such as fern- or aus-, which changes the meaning of the verb. This means you can have more versatile examples like these.
Ich sehe heute Abend fern.
I’m watching TV this evening.
Du siehst ja ganz toll aus.
You look really great.
Meine Schwester sieht die Schlange nicht.
My sister doesn’t see the snake.
Wir sehen uns nächste Woche.
We will see each other next week.
Seht ihr gerne fern?
Do you like watching TV?
Unsere Kinder sehen müde aus.
Our children look tired.
Reminder About S, ß, X and Z
There aren’t any weird rules to be added for verbs that change from e to ie. This is a good time to remind you, however , that verb stems that end with s, ß, x, or z don’t use an S in the du-form. This can be seen in the verb “lesen”.
Ich lese gerne Romane.
I like reading novels.
Was liest du gerade?
What are you reading right now?
Mein Bruder liest gar nicht.
My brother doesn’t read at all.
Wir lesen zuerst die Speisekarte.
We are reading the menu first.
Lest ihr täglich die Zeitung?
Do you read the newspaper daily?
Die Angestellten lesen den Gästen die Regeln vor.
The employees read the guests the rules.
List of Stem-Changing Verbs in German
There are quite a lot of verbs that use one of these stem changes. Here is a quick list of verbs in each of the three categories that you are most likely to see when you are first learning German. I only included base forms of verbs, so verbs with prefixes are not included on the list. If a prefix is used, it is used like any other prefix. Separable ones are separated and inseparable ones are not separated. The conjugation of the verb does not change based on the prefix. You can download this list including the present tense conjugation for every verb on the list for free by clicking here.
*Without the prefixes be- or emp- the verb “fehlen” is regular.
Technically speaking there is one more category of stem-changing verb, but it only happens with one verb, so I would simply classify it as an irregular verb that has to be learned on its own. This verb is “stoßen”, which requires an umlaut in the du and er, sie, es forms.
Ich stoße meinen Bruder mit dem Fuß.
I bump my brother with my foot.
Warum stößt du mich in die Seite?
Why are you poking me in the side?
Der Karatelehrer stößt mit der Faust gegen die Scheibe.
The karate instructor hits his first against the board.
Wir stoßen mit den Fäusten gegen die Scheiben.
We hit our fists against the boards.
Warum stoßt ihr mir Messer in den Rücken? Et tu, Brute?
Why are you stabbing me in the back? You too, Brutus?
Die Bauer stoßen die Bohnenstangen in die Erde.
The farmers are pushing the bean poles into the ground.
Take Your German Learning to the Next Level!
Now that you have seen examples of all of the types of stem-changing verbs in the present tense in German, it is time for you to try them out on your own. Click here to download a worksheet and answer key for this lesson along with a copy of the script.
Das ist alles für heute. Danke fürs Zuschauen. Bis zum nächsten Mal. Tschüss.