German Present Tense Master Class

    In this lesson you will learn everything you will ever need to know about the present tense in German. This master class covers everything from regular conjugation to stem-changing verbs and even modal verbs (auxiliaries). You can watch the replay of the livestream above or read through the notes below the video. If you would like the extra materials mentioned in the video, simply click here and I will send them over to you. These materials include worksheets and answer keys for every topic explained in this post.

    Regular Conjugation

    The two verbs below are completely regular in the present tense in German. They don’t do anything fancy. They simply follow the rules. In order to conjugate a verb in the present tense, you need to know a few vocabulary words. “Infinitive” refers to the original form of the verb. It is the form you find in the dictionary and generally ends with “-en”. The “verb stem” is the part of the verb before the -en. In order to conjugate a verb, you need to remove the -en and then add appropriate endings to the stem that is left. The endings are listed in the slide above, which includes the conjugation of the verbs “gehen” and “machen”.

    Regular Present Tense German Verb Conjugation 
Present Tense Endings - ich -e; du -st; er, sie, es -t; wir -en; ihr -t; sie, Sie -en
gehen - ich gehe; du gehst; er, sie, es geht; wir gehen; ihr geht; sie, Sie gehen 
machen - ich mache; du machst; er, sie, es macht; wir machen; ihr macht; sie, Sie machen
    Regular Present Tense German Verb Conjugation: gehen & machen

    When “du” doesn’t use -s

    If a verb stem ends with -s, -ss, -ß, -x, or -z you do not add an -s in the “du” form of the verb. This is the only change that happens with any verb stem with these endings. All of the other forms are exactly as they were before. The slides below show you examples of each of those endings.

    Regular Present Tense German Verb Conjugation: No S for du Example 1
reisen - ich reise; du reist; er, sie, es reist; wir reisen; ihr reist; sie, Sie reisen
hassen - ich hasse; du hasst; er, sie, es hasst; wir hassen; ihr hasst; sie, Sie hassen 
heißen - ich heiße; du heißt; er, sie, es heißt; wir heißen; ihr heißt; sie, Sie heißen
    Regular Present Tense German Verb Conjugation: No S for du Example 1
    Regular Present Tense German Verb Conjugation: No S for du Example 2
hexen - ich hexe; du hext; er, sie, es hext; wir hexen; ihr hext; sie, Sie hexen
sitzen - ich sitze; du sitzt; er, sie, es sitzt; wir sitzen; ihr sitzt; sie, Sie sitzen
    Regular Present Tense German Verb Conjugation: No S for du Example 2

    The Pronunciation-Aiding E

    If a verb stem ends with -d or -t, you need to add -e between the verb stem and the conjugation ending for “du”, “er, sie, es” and “sie, Sie”. This allows you to more easily pronounce these forms of the verbs. Obviously, the other forms do not require this extra -e, as the other forms already have E’s in them. The affected forms are highlighted in green below.

    Regular Present Tense German Verb Conjugation Pronunciation-Aiding E with D or T
reden - ich rede; du redest; er, sie, es redet; wir reden; ihr redet; sie, Sie reden 
reiten - ich reite; du reitest; er, sie, es reitet; wir reiten; ihr reitet; sie, Sie reiten
    Regular Present Tense German Verb Conjugation Pronunciation-Aiding E with D or T

    A similar issue comes up when the verb stem ends with either -m or -n and that letter is preceded by another consonant. As you can see in the examples below, the same forms of the verb as before require an extra -e between the verb stem and the conjugated endings.

    Beginner German with Herr Antrim
    Regular German Verb Conjugation Pronunciation-Aiding E with Consonant and M or N
atmen - ich atme; du atmest; er, sie, es atmet; wir atmen; ihr atmet; sie, Sie atmet 
zeichnen - ich zeichne; du zeichnest; er, sie, es zeichnet; wir zeichnen; ihr zeichnet; sie, Sie zeichnen
    Regular German Verb Conjugation Pronunciation-Aiding E with Consonant and M or N

    Caution: Pronunciation-Aiding E isn’t always needed

    As a word of caution the rule with -m and -n does not apply if the consonant is connected to the syllable preceding the -m or -n. This happens in verbs like “lernen” where the “R” is a vocalic “R”, which means that it is connected to the “E”. This means the verb is not complicated to pronounce without adding -e between the stem and ending. The rule also does not apply if the -m or -n is actually a double -m or -n. While this technically is an -m or -n with another consonant, the fact that the consonants are the same means that the consonants make one sound and therefore do not require the extra -e.

    Regular German Verb Conjugation Pronunciation-Aiding E: A Word of Caution
lernen - ich lerne; du lernst; er, sie, es lernt; wir lernen; ihr lernt; sie, Sie lernen
kennen - ich kenne; du kennst; er, sie, es kennt; wir kennen; ihr kennt; sie, Sie kennen 
kommen - ich komme; du kommst; er, sie, es kommt; wir kommen; ihr kommt; sie, Sie kommen
    Regular German Verb Conjugation Pronunciation-Aiding E: A Word of Caution

    Present Tense German Verbs That Don’t End with -en

    Occasionally you might come across a verb that does not have -en at the end of the infinitive, but instead ends with -ln or -rn. In those instances, the conjugated forms that usually have -en only have -n. It is also noteworthy that the “ich” form of these verbs can be shortened to “sammle” and “wandre” respectively.

    Present Tense German Verbs That End with -ln or -rn
sammeln - ich sammele (sammle); du sammelst; er, sie, es sammelt; wir sammeln; ihr sammelt; sie, Sie sammeln 
wandern - ich wandere (wandre); du wanderst; er, sie, es wandert; wir wandern; ihr wandert; sie, Sie wandern
    Present Tense German Verbs That End with -ln or -rn

    The Most Important, but Completely Irregular Verbs in German

    Two of the most useful verbs in German are “haben” (to have) and “sein” (to be). Both of them follow a conjugation pattern of their own. “Haben” is the less weird one, as it simply loses the -b in the middle of the word for “du” and “er, sie, es”. “Sein”, on the other hand, makes no sense whatsoever. Its forms can be found in the image below. You simply have to memorize them, as they don’t follow any pattern that resembles any other verb in the German language.

    The verbs “werden” (will, to become) and “wissen” (to know) are also in a category all of their own. “Werden” is only weird in the “du” and “er, sie, es” forms. For some reason the “du” form is “wirst” and the “er, sie, es” form is “wird”. “Wissen” starts with the stem becoming “weiß” for the “ich”, “du” and “er, sie, es” forms with the “du” form additionally taking a -t at the end to become “weißt”. These four verbs together are the only verbs in German that don’t follow a pattern that can be followed in more than one verb.

    Present Tense German Irregular Verbs: haben, sein, werden, & wissen
haben - ich habe; du hast; er, sie, es hat; wir haben; ihr habt; sie, Sie haben 
sein - ich bin; du bist; er, sie, es ist; wir sind; ihr seid; sie, Sie sind
werden - ich werde; du wirst; er, sie, es wird; wir werden; ihr werdet; sie, Sie werden
wissen - ich weiß; du weißt; er, sie, es weiß; wir wissen; ihr wisst; sie, Sie wissen
    Present Tense German Irregular Verbs: haben, sein, werden, & wissen

    Present Tense Stem-Changing Verbs in German

    Stem-changing verbs, as the name implies, have verb stems that change in some way. Specifically they have a stem vowel change. This change only occurs in the “du” and “er, sie, es” forms.

    German Stem-Changing Verbs: a-ä

    Most of the time, the stem vowel change does not affect the conjugation endings, but it does affect the rule that was mentioned before with verb stems that end with -d or -t. These forms will simply not add the -e for “du” and “er, sie, es” when the stem changes from “A” to “Ä”. The examples below change from “A” to “Ä”.

    Present Tense German Stem-Changing Verbs: a-ä
fahren - ich fahre; du fährst; er, sie, es fährt; wir fahren; ihr fahrt; sie, Sie fahren 
laufen - ich laufe; du läufst; er, sie, es läuft; wir laufen; ihr lauft; sie, Sie laufen 
laden - ich lade; du lädst; er, sie, es lädt; wir laden; ihr ladet; sie, Sie laden 
halten - ich halte; du hältst; er, sie, es hält, wir halten; ihr haltet; sie, Sie halten
    Present Tense German Stem-Changing Verbs: a-ä

    German Stem-Changing Verbs: e-i

    Some verbs change from “E” to “I”. Those verbs are mostly normal, as they simply change the vowel in the “du” and “er, sie, es” forms. The verb “nehmen” is an outlier, as it changes to “nimmst” and “nimmt” for those forms instead of keeping the “H”, as the other forms do.

    Present Tense German Stem-Changing Verbs: e-i
geben - ich gebe; du gibst; er, sie, es gibt; wir geben; ihr gebt; sie, Sie geben 
nehmen - ich nehme; du nimmst; er, sie, es nimmt; wir nehmen; ihr nehmt; sie, Sie nehmen
    Present Tense German Stem-Changing Verbs: e-i

    German Stem-Changing Verbs: e-ie

    The last category of stem-changing verbs are those that change from “E” to “IE”. These verbs are pretty straight forward, as the “du” and “er, sie, es” forms have “IE” where the other forms have “E”, just as you would expect.

    Present Tense German Stem-Changing Verbs: e-ie
sehen - ich sehe; du siehst; er, sie, es sieht; wir sehen; ihr seht; sie, Sie sehen 
lesen - ich lese; du liest; er, sie, es liest; wir lesen; ihr lest; sie, Sie lesen
    Present Tense German Stem-Changing Verbs: e-ie

    German Separable Prefix Verbs in the Present Tense

    Certain verbs in German have what are known as separable prefixes. These prefixes, as the name implies, are removed from the main part of the verb when used in simple sentences. Simple sentences are those without modal verbs (auxiliaries), which are covered later in this lesson or complicated word order, such as subordinating conjunctions or demonstrative pronouns. The image below lists the prefixes in this category. Each of the prefixes have a meaning associated with them, but this is not an exact science. The meanings of these prefixes are pretty flexible, as you will see in the example sentences. There will be no notes below the slides for example sentences. In these examples, the prefixes have been removed and placed at the end of their respective sentences.

    German Separable Prefix Verbs: ab, an, & auf
abnehmen - to lose (weight) 
Ich nehme dieses Jahr zehn Kilo ab. - I am losing 10 kilograms this year. 
anrufen - to call (up)
Warum rufst du deine Mutter nicht an? - Why don't you call up your mother? 
aufnehmen - to record 
Herr Antrim nimmt jede Woche neue Videos auf. - Herr Antrim records new videos every week.
    German Separable Prefix Verbs: ab, an, & auf
    German Separable Prefix Verbs: aus, bei, & ein
aussehen - to look (like)
Du siehst wie David Hasselhoff aus. - You look like David Hasselhoff. 
beibringen - to teach 
Herr Antrim bringt euch jede Woche Deutsch bei. - Herr Antrim teaches you German every week. 
einladen - to invite 
Deine Mutter lädt mich zum Abendessen ein. - Your mother is inviting me to dinner.
    German Separable Prefix Verbs: aus, bei, & ein
    German Separable Prefix Verbs: fort, mit, & nach
fortbewegen - to move along, continue on 
Die Wolken bewegen sich fort. - The clouds move along. 
mitmachen - to participate 
Charlie Brown macht immer mit. - Charlie Brown always participates. 
nachmachen - to imitate 
Der Schüler macht den Lehrer nach. - The student imitates the teacher.
    German Separable Prefix Verbs: fort, mit, & nach
    German Separable Prefix Verbs: vor, weg, & zu
vorhaben - to have planned 
Ich habe vor, nach Deutschland zu reisen. - I plan to travel to Germany. 
weggehen - to go away 
Warum gehst du nicht weg? - Why don't you go away? 
zunehmen - to gain (weight) 
Er nimmt jedes Jahr zehn Kilo zu. - He gains ten kilograms every year.
    German Separable Prefix Verbs: vor, weg, & zu
    German Separable Prefix Verbs: zurück & zusammen
zurückschlagen - to strike back 
Das Imperium schlägt zurück. - The Empire Strikes Back. 
zusammenbauen - to assemble 
Ich baue das Regal von Ikea selbst zusammen. - I am assembling the shelf from Ikea on my own.
    German Separable Prefix Verbs: zurück & zusammen

    German Dual Prefix Verbs in the Present Tense

    Dual prefixes, as the name implies, can be separable, but don’t have to be. The meaning of the verb changes based on whether the prefix is separable or inseparable. There is a thought process that says verbs that are being used more figuratively are going to be used with separable prefixes, but this only really works about 50% of the time. Honestly, it is just easier to memorize these prefixes and their accompanying verbs as you encounter them. One rule that does work every time is that the separable versions of these prefixes will be stressed when saying the infinitive of the verb.

    FREE A1/A2 Materials
    List of German Dual Prefix Verbs
    List of German Dual Prefix Verbs

    German Inseparable Prefix Verbs in the Present Tense

    Other prefixes cannot be separated from the verb. This is important, as you may look at a verb and think, “That looks like this other verb I know, I bet that prefix is separable.” But in reality, it might be one of these prefixes. You need to know which prefixes are separable and which ones are not. Just as I mentioned with the separable prefixes, there are meanings attached to these prefixes, but they are fluid. Again, I will not annotate the example sentences.

    List of German Inseparable Prefix Verbs
    List of German Inseparable Prefix Verbs
    German Inseparable Prefix Verbs: be, emp, & ent
bekommen - to receive 
Meine Kinder bekommen Schokolade zu Weihnachten. - My children receive chocolate for Christmas. 
empfehlen - to recommend 
Der Kellner empfiehlt den Rinderbraten. - The waiter recommends the roast beef. 
entfernen - to remove 
Ich entferne die Blätter vom Dach. - I remove the leaves from the roof.
    German Inseparable Prefix Verbs: be, emp, & ent
    German Inseparable Prefix Verbs: er, ge, & hinter
erreichen - to achieve, accomplish 
Mit harter Arbeit erreichen wir unsere Ziele. - With hard work, we achieve our goals. 
gefallen - to like 
Das T-Shirt gefällt mir. - I like the t-shirt. 
hinterlassen - to leave behind 
Der Verbrecher hinterlässt viele Spuren. - The criminal leaves behind many clues.
    German Inseparable Prefix Verbs: er, ge, & hinter
    German Inseparable Prefix Verbs: miss, ver, & voll
missbrauchen - to abuse
Er missbraucht den Löffel als Messer. - He misuses the spoon as a knife.
verstehen - to understand
Ich verstehe Ozzy nicht. - I don't understand Ozzy.
vollenden - to complete, finalize
Der Künstler vollendet sein Meisterwerk. - The artist is completing his masterpiece.
    German Inseparable Prefix Verbs: miss, ver, & voll
    German Inseparable Prefix Verbs: zer
zerreißen - to tear apart
Ihr Ehemann zerreißt den Brief. - Her husband is tearing up the letter.
    German Inseparable Prefix Verbs: zer

    Present Tense of Modal Verbs (Auxiliaries)

    Modal auxiliaries, also known as modal verbs or auxiliary verbs, are verbs that are generally used with other verbs in one sentence. They act like helpers to the sentence and change the way that the main verb acts. Grammatical jargon says that this change is a change in “mood”, which is why they are called “modal verbs”.

    No one really cares what they are called and why. What is important is that they are conjugated in a weird way and they generally use another verb in the sentences. The other verb in the sentence gets put back into its infinitive form and moves to the end of the sentence. The pattern generally is that the top of the chart (the singular forms of the verb) are irregular and have some sort of stem change. Also, the “ich” and “er, sie, es” forms of the verb don’t get an ending. All of that is to say that the conjugation of these verbs simply has to be memorized.

    mögen vs möchten vs wollen

    Many German textbooks list “möchten” as one of the modal verbs (auxiliaries), but that is deceptive. Technically, “möchten” is just a form of “mögen”. It is the subjunctive (Konjunktiv 2) form of “mögen”. The conjugation is listed below, but if you are wondering why the conjugation is weird in a different way than the other verbs on this list, the reason is that the endings follow the simple past tense (preterite or Präteritum). These all have -te followed by another ending.

    The verb “mögen” itself means “to like”. If you are using “gern” with “haben” it is perfectly acceptable to use “mögen” instead. Be careful when using “mögen” with an additional verb, however, as this is generally translated as “may” instead of “like”. This makes the sentence mean something completely different than the original sentence. The final distinction on this page is that “möchten” and “wollen” are similar, but not the same. “Möchten” is considered more polite than “wollen”. It is the same in English. It is more polite to say “I would like that.” as opposed to “I want that.”

    Present Tense Conjugation: mögen, möchten, & wollen
mögen - to like 
ich mag; du magst; er, sie, es mag; wir mögen; ihr mögt; sie, Sie mögen 
möchten - would like 
ich möchte; du möchtest; er, sie, es möchte; wir möchten; ihr möchtet; sie, Sie möchten 
wollen - to want 
ich will; du willst; er, sie, es will; wir wollen; ihr wollt; sie, Sie wollen
    Present Tense Conjugation: mögen, möchten, & wollen

    dürfen vs können vs müssen

    The verbs “dürfen”, “können” and “müssen” are conjugated as the image below shows. They each lose their umlaut in the singular forms, but not always in the same way. “dürfen” changes from “Ü” to “A”, but “müssen” changes from “Ü” to “U” and “können” changes from “Ö” to “A”. Again, you have to memorize this conjugation.

    Present Tense Conjugation: dürfen, können, & müssen
dürfen - may 
ich darf; du darfst; er, sie, es darf; wir dürfen; ihr dürft; sie, Sie dürfen 
können - can 
ich kann; du kannst; er, sie, es kann; wir können; ihr könnt; sie, Sie können 
müssen - must 
ich muss; du musst; er, sie, es muss; wir müssen; ihr müsst; sie, Sie müssen
    Present Tense Conjugation: dürfen, können, & müssen

    Below are a few examples of how to use these three verbs “dürfen”, “können”, and “müssen”. Notice that the verb at the end of each of the sentences are in the infinitive form. This includes the verb “aufbauen”, which would normally be a separable prefix verb, but in this sentence it is put back into the infinitive, which is one word instead of being split.

    Present Tense Examples: dürfen, können, & müssen
Darf ich ins Kino gehen? - May I go to the movie theater? 
Der Mann kann zweihundert Kilo heben. - The man can lift two hundred kilograms. 
Er muss ein Zelt aufbauen. - He has to put up a tent.
    Present Tense Examples: dürfen, können, & müssen

    sollen vs sollten

    The verb “sollen” is another verb that is commonly used in the subjunctive (Konjunktiv 2), just as “mögen” is. This means that there is a commonly used version of “sollen”, which includes the -te endings you saw on “möchten”. These forms are often translated the same, which leads to confusion for German learners. The real translation should be that without the -te endings it is not a suggestion, but more of a command. With the -te endings the meaning is much more of a suggestion or recommendation. You can see this more clearly in the examples in the following image.

    Present Tense Conjugation: sollen vs sollten
sollen - shall
ich soll; du sollst; er, sie, es soll; wir sollen; ihr sollt; sie, Sie sollen 
sollten - should 
ich sollte; du solltest; er, sie, es sollte; wir sollten; ihr solltet; sie, Sie sollten
    Present Tense Conjugation: sollen vs sollten
    Present Tense Examples: sollen vs sollten
Du sollst das Geschirr spülen. - You are supposed to wash the dishes. (not a suggestion) 
Du solltest das Geschirr spülen. - You should wash the dishes. (suggestion)
Er soll dich anrufen. - He is supposed to call you. (not a suggestion) 
Er sollte dich anrufen. - He should call you. (suggestion)
    Present Tense Examples: sollen vs sollten

    German Modal Verbs (Auxiliaries) Present Tense Examples with Additional Verb

    The example sentences below highlight what happens when a sentence is written with a normal verb and then what happens when a modal verb (auxiliary) is introduced. You can clearly see in each of the sentences that the other verb has been moved to the end of the sentence in the infinitive form.

    Present Tense Modal Verbs: Examples
Ich kaufe einen Döner. - I am buying a Döner. 
Ich will einen Döner kaufen. - I want to buy a Döner.
Er fährt mit dem Fahrrad zur Schule. - He is riding his bicycle to school. 
Er muss mit dem Fahrrad zur Schule fahren. - He has to ride his bicycle to school.
    Present Tense Modal Verbs: Examples

    Implied Secondary Verbs with Modal Verbs (Auxiliaries)

    Occasionally it is acceptable to leave out the extra verb, when the meaning is clear without the other verb. This is most commonly done with “essen” (to eat) and “trinken” (to drink), but it can also be done when the sentence includes movement from one place to another, but the movement is expressed via a prepositional phrase.

    Beginner German with Herr Antrim
    Present Tense Modal Verbs with Implied Secondary Verbs
Er isst gerne Spargel. - He likes eating asparagus. 
Er mag Spargel. - He likes asparagus. 
Ich bestelle den Rinderbraten. - I am ordering the roast beef. 
Ich möchte den Rinderbraten. - I would like the roast beef.
    Present Tense Modal Verbs with Implied Secondary Verbs

    Present Tense Master Class Materials

    As I mentioned at the top of this post, there are additional materials to go with this lesson. These include worksheets for every topic mentioned and answer keys for those worksheets. If you would like these materials, you can find them here. If you found this post helpful, please share it with your German learning friends.

    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.