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A Simple Guide to the German Present Tense

german present tense

Hallo! In this article, we will be looking at the German Present tense, what it is and how to use it. Enjoy!

What is the German present tense?

The German Präsens (or Gegenwartsform) is the only tense to express the present. From all German tenses, the Präsens is the one that is used the most. This tense is always taught first because it is our most important and basic tense. It is used to express both present and future.

When should we use the German present tense?

From all German tenses, the Präsens is the one that is used the most.

We use the German present tense when we want to express:

  • what we are doing right now
  • what we do in general, our habits, our routine
  • what we are planning to do or what will happen in the near future

As you can see, the German present tense is our go-to when it comes to basic and everyday communication.

How do we form the present tense in German?

In order to form German verbs in the present tense, we need the infinitive. The infinitive is the basic form of our verb, so the verb that has not been conjugated yet.

Please note: When we conjugate a verb in German, we always have to add the personal pronoun at the beginning. Maybe you know a language (e.g. Spanish or Italian) where it is possible to just use the conjugated verb form (without a personal pronoun) because its ending is already telling us if it is for example 1. personal singular.

However, in this case, German is like English. In the English present tense, you cannot just say “Am from England.” or “Are a nice person.” It has to be “I am from England.” and “You are a nice person.The same rule applies for German!

These are the German personal pronouns, which you have to learn by heart:

1st person singular
ich
1st person plural
wir
2nd person singular
du
2nd person plural
ihr

3rd person singular
er / sie / es
3rd person plural
sie / Sie*

*The polite form in German is the 3rd person plural Sie.

Back to the infinitive of the verb. The regular German verbs end on “-en”. We take away this suffix (or ending) which leaves us with the verb’s stem. To this stem we now add this suffixes:

1st person singular - e1st person plural - en*
2nd person singular - st2nd person plural - t
3rd person singular - t3rd person plural - en*

*You might notice that 1st and 3rd person plural are similar to the infinitive. One more reason to add the personal pronoun!

Take for example the important verb machen (to do). To the stem mach we now add our endings of the present tense.

1st person singular ich mach - e1st person plural wir mach - en
2nd person singular du mach - st2nd person plural ihr mach - t
3rd person singular er/sie/es mach - t3rd person plural sie/Sie mach - en

With the mandatory personal pronouns, this gives us: ich mache, du machst, er / sie / es macht, wir machen, ihr  macht, sie / Sie machen.

Or as another example the verb fragen (to ask). The stem is frag, which gives us the following conjugation:
1st person singular ich frage1st person plural wir fragen
2nd person singular du fragst2nd person plural ihr fragt
3rd person singular er/sie/es fragt3rd person plural sie/Sie fragen

And also the important verb gehen (to go). The stem is geh, which gives us the following conjugation:

1st person singular ich gehe1st person plural wir gehen
2nd person singular du gehst2nd person plural ihr geht
3rd person singular er/sie/es geht3rd person plural sie/Sie gehen

Irregularities in the German present tense

As almost every other language, German too has its irregularities. But don’t worry, here you find a list of the most frequently used verbs in our daily communication.

Sein (to be)

1st person singular ich bin1st person plural wir sind
2nd person singular du bist2nd person plural ihr seid
3rd person singular er/sie/es ist3rd person plural sie/Sie sind

Haben (to have (got))

1st person singular ich habe1st person plural wir haben
2nd person singular du hast2nd person plural ihr habt
3rd person singular er/sie/es hat*3rd person plural sie/Sie haben

*The only irregularity in this verb are the 2nd and 3rd person singular.

Heißen

When you present yourself, you can use the verb heißen. There is no correct translation into English, it would be to be called but there is just no real equivalent. But maybe you know the French s’appeler, Spanish llamarse or Italine chiamarsi, they are equal to the verb’s sense in German!

1st person singular ich heiße1st person plural wir heißen
2nd person singular du heißt*2nd person plural ihr heißt
3rd person singular er/sie/es heißt3rd person plural sie/Sie heißen

*The only irregularity in this verb is the 2nd person singular.

Here are some sentences, which contain irregular verbs in the present tense:

Ich bin hier.I am here.
Wo seid ihr?*Where are you?
Er hat einen Hund.He has got a dog
Wir haben ein großes Haus.We have a big house.
Sie heißt Lisa.Her name is Lisa.
Wie heißt du?*What is you name?

*You might notice that the personal pronoun stands behind the conjugated verb when you are asking a question. This type of question we call Inversion.

   a) Modal verbs

Let us continue with more irregular verbs. German has modal verbs, which are used frequently in our daily communication.

Maybe you can recognize a pattern concerning the (ir)regularity in the conjugation… If not, don’t despair! We will give you the solution at the end of this paragraph.

Wollen (to want)

1st person singular ich will1st person plural wir wollen
2nd person singular du willst2nd person plural ihr wollt
3rd person singular er/sie/es will3rd person plural sie/Sie wollen

Können (to can; to know how to do sth.)

1st person singular ich kann1st person plural wir können
2nd person singular du kannst2nd person plural ihr könnt
3rd person singular er/sie/es kann3rd person plural sie/Sie können

Müssen (to must; to have to)

1st person singular ich muss1st person plural wir müssen
2nd person singular du musst2nd person plural ihr müsst
3rd person singular er/sie/es musst3rd person plural sie/Sie müssen

Dürfen (to be allowed; to can)

1st person singular ich darf1st person plural wir dürfen
2nd person singular du darfst2nd person plural ihr dürft
3rd person singular er/sie/es darf3rd person plural sie/Sie dürfen

Sollen (to be supposed to; shall)

1st person singular ich soll1st person plural wir sollen
2nd person singular du sollst2nd person plural ihr sollt
3rd person singular er/sie/es soll3rd person plural sie/Sie sollen

There is a pattern with these modal verbs in the present tense, which facilitates your studying! Just have a look at the three plural forms. They still follow the rule from above: stem + regular suffix. Only the singular forms are irregular!

Here are some sentences, which contain modal verbs in the present tense:

Du musst mir helfen.You have to help me.
Ich will dich wiedersehen.I want to see you again.
Wir können das schaffen.We can manage it.
Kannst du tanzen?Can you dance?
Was wollt ihr tun?What do you want to do?
Ihr sollt das nicht essen.You are not supposed to eat that.
Er darf mich nicht stören.He is not allowed to disturb me.
Sie müssen ihr Zimmer aufräumen.They have to tidy up their room.
Darfst du heute ausgehen?Can you go out tonight? (Are you allowed to go out tonight?)
Sie soll es ihm sagen.She is supposed to tell him.

   b) Strong verbs

Strong verbs change their vocal in the 2nd and 3rd person singular.

a -> ä (“Umlaut”)

e -> i or ie

Here you find the most commonly used strong verbs.

a -> ä

Fahren (to drive)

1st person singular ich fahre1st person plural wir fahren
2nd person singular du fährst2nd person plural ihr fahrt
3rd person singular er/sie/es fährt3rdperson plural sie/Sie fahren

Laufen (to walk; to run)

1st person singular ich laufe1st person plural wir laufen
2nd person singular du läufst2nd person plural ihr lauft
3rd person singular er/sie/es läuft3rd person plural sie/Sie laufen

Tragen (to carry; to wear)

1st person singular ich trage1st person plural wir tragen
2nd person singular du trägst2nd person plural ihr tragt
3rd person singular er/sie/es trägt3rd person plural sie/Sie tragen

e -> ie

Lesen (to read)

1st person singular ich lese1st person plural wir lesen
2nd person singular du liest2nd person plural ihr lest
3rd person singular er/sie/es liest3rd person plural sie/Sie lesen

Sehen (to see)

1st person singular ich sehe1st person plural wir sehen
2nd person singular du siehst2nd person plural ihr seht
3rd person singular er/sie/es sieht3rd person plural sie/Sie sehen

e -> i

Brechen (to break)

1st person singular ich breche1st person plural wir brechen
2nd person singular du brichst2nd person plural ihr brecht
3rd person singular er/sie/es bricht3rd person plural sie/Sie brechen

Essen (to eat)

1st person singular ich esse1st person plural wir essen
2nd person singular du isst2nd person plural ihr esst
3rd person singular er/sie/es isst3rd person plural sie/Sie essen

Sprechen (to speak)

1st person singular ich spreche1st person plural wir sprechen
2nd person singular du sprichst2nd person plural ihr sprecht
3rd person singular er/sie/es spricht3rd person plural sie/Sie sprechen

Geben (to give)

1st person singular ich gebe1st person plural wir geben
2nd person singular du gibst2nd person plural ihr gebt
3rd person singular er/sie/es gibt3rd person plural sie/Sie geben

Here are some sentences, which contain strong verbs in the present tense:

Ich fahre dich nach Hause.I will drive you home.
Er fährt einen BMW.He drives a BMW.
Fährst du mit dem Auto? – Nein, ich laufe.Do you drive? – No, I walk.
Wir laufen einen Marathon.We run a marathon.
Ihr tragt dieselben Schuhe.You wear the same shoes.
Er trägt ihre Taschen.He carries her bags.
Ich lese viel.I read a lot.
Lesen Sie Zeitung?Do you read the newspaper?
Siehst du mich?Do you see me?
Wir sehen uns morgen!See you tomorrow!
Sie bricht ihr Versprechen.She breaks her promise.
Ihr esst zu schnell.You eat too fast.
Heute Abend essen wir zusammen.Tonight, we will eat together.
Du sprichst gut deutsch.Du speak German well.
Ihr sprecht zu laut.You speak to loud.
Er gibt ihr alles, was sie will.He gives her everything she desires.
Du gibst so schnell nicht lauf.You don’t give up so fast.

Of course, there are numerous irregular verbs. Nevertheless, we can categorize them in order to discover a pattern in there irregularity.

a)  Verb stem ends in –d or –t .

Arbeiten (to work)

1st person singular ich arbeite1st person plural wir arbeiten
2nd person singular du arbeitest*2nd person plural ihr arbeitet*

3rd person singular er/sie/es arbeitet3rd person plural sie/Sie arbeiten

*Here, we insert an additional e in front of the regular suffix.

Halten (to hold)

1st person singular ich halte1st person plural wir halten
2nd person singular du hältst2nd person plural ihr haltet
3rd person singular er/sie/es hält3rd person plural sie/Sie halten

Vielen Dank!

We hope you have learnt something from this article. Surely, you can always come back here to check on a conjugation. But keep in mind that your successful learning comes from steady repetition: Constant dripping wears away the stone. Or as we say in German: Steter Tropfen höhlt den Stein.



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About the Author Marion Maeurman

Marion studies English, French and Italian in Freiburg, Germany. She enjoys diving into new cultures and never misses the opportunity to somehow improve her language skills.

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