German for Music Lovers

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Present Tense of Regular Verbs

Other tenses

The present tense in German functions as three different tenses in English.

Present tense in German er geht
Present tense in English he goes
Present progessive in English he is going
Present emphatic in English he does go

Because of this, to ask a question, reverse the order of the subject and verb:

Present tense in German Tanzt Renée? Reist Anton? Geht er?
Present progessive in English Is Renée dancing? Is Anton travelling? Is he going?
Present emphatic in English Does Renée dance? Does Anton travel? Does he go?

 

In your dictionary and the vocabulary lists in textbooks, verbs are listed in the infinitive form: to do, to say, to go, etc. The infinitive form in German is a one-word form ending in -en. Occasionally they end only in "-n." The part of the verb in front of the -en (or just -n) is referred to as the "stem." 

Look at the following verbs. What is the "stem" of each of these infinitives?

schwimmen to swim, machen to do, to make, sagen to say, to tell, kaufen to buy, hören to hear, tun to do, kochen to cook, heißen to be called, reisen to travel, arbeiten to work, to study, reden to talk, to chat, wandern to hike

Person and Number 

To form the present tense in German, we add endings to the stem. The endings vary with the person and number of the subject.

"Person" refers to whether the subject is the speaker (I, we), the one(s) spoken to (you), or the one(s) spoken about (he, she, it, they).

The speaker is first person, the one(s) spoken to second person, and the one(s) spoken about are third person.

When we refer to "number," we mean whether a term refers to one person/place/thing, or more. If we are referring to just one, that is singular (einzählig) in number. For more than one, the number is plural (mehrzählig).

The chart below illustrates these terms with the verb schwimmen, to swim.

(Click here for more detailed information about the pronouns in the chart.)

 

singular
einzählig
plural
mehrzählig
first person
I swim
ich schwimme
we swim
wir schwimmen
second person
you swim
du schwimmst
you swim
ihr schwimmt
third person
he/it swims
er schwimmt
they swim
sie schwimmen

she/it swims
sie schwimmt

he/she/it swims
es schwimmt
("formal" you)
Sie schwimmen

In English, we use endings on only one form: the third person singular ends with "-s" (swims) or "-es" (does). In German, however, we use four different endings.

 Standard Variations

  • When the verb stem ends in "-s-," "-z-" or "-ß-,"
    it "absorbs" the "-s-" of the "-st" ending for "du," so add only "-t." The verb looks the same as the third-person singular.

    heißen to be called
    du heißt, der Student heißt you are called (your name is), the student's name is ...
    reisen to travel
    du reist, Anton reist you are travelling, you do travel, you travel, Anton is travelling
    tanzen to dance
    du tanzt, Renée tanzt you are dancing, you do dance, you dance, Renée is dancing

  • When the verb stem ends in "-t-," "-gn-" or "-d-,"
    we insert an "e" before "-t" and "-st"-endings, to make the endings audible and easier to pronounce.


    arbeiten to work
    er arbeitet, ihr arbeitet he is working, he does work, he works; you-all are working
    reden to talk, to speak, to chat
    ihr redet, du redest you are talking, speak, do chat ("you-all" and "you")
    regnen to rain
    es regnet, regnet es? it is raining, it rains, it does rain; is it raining?

Verbs with Stem-vowel Changes in the Present Tense

Many verbs follow a regular pattern with a shift: in the second and third person singular forms (du, er, sie, es): the present tense is formed by adding the appropriate ending to an altered stem. The first person (ich), the plural forms and Sie all form the present tense like regular weak verbs. Stem-vowel changing verbs are usually listed in vocabulary lists as follows:

infinitive
stem-vowel change
simple past stem
past participle
fahren
fährt
fuhr
ist gefahren
to drive
drives
drove
has driven
sehen
sieht
sah
gesehen
to see
sees
saw
seen

The stem-vowel change in the vocabulary is the third-person-singular form. The full conjugation in the present tense is shown in the charts below.

fahren - to go, to drive
ich fahre
wir fahren
du fährst
ihr fahrt
er / sie / es fährt
sie fahren (Sie fahren)

sehen - to see
ich sehe
wir sehen
du siehst
ihr seht
er / sie / es sieht
sie sehen (Sie sehen)

Worksheet: Regular and Irregular Verbs in the Present Tense
Verben mit Stammvokabeländerung: Übung 1,Übung 2, Übung 3 (3 exercises on verbs with stem-vowel changes)
Verben: haben, sein, wissen & geben, Übung 1, Übung 2

 

©A. Campitelli, Greensboro, NC 1999-2001