Verb conjugation in present tense (+ imperative) (German-DE)

There is only one present tense in German, which is formed by the verb stem, plus personal endings. The personal endings for each grammatical person are as follows:

ich -e
du -st
er/sie/es -t
wir -en
ihr -t
sie -en

The infinitive, or dictionary entry, of a verb ends in -en (or sometimes just -n). This is the “to ____” form, e.g. “spielen” (“to play”) or “sammeln” (“to collect”). To find the stem, remove the -en (or -n): “spiel-” or “sammel-“. Now to conjugate “spielen” and “sammeln” in the present tense, you simply add the personal endings to the stem:

ich spiele I play ich sammle* I collect
du spielst you play du sammelst you collect
er/sie/es spielt he/she/it plays er/sie/es sammelt I collect
wir spielen we play wir sammeln** we collect
ihr spielt you play ihr sammelt you collect
sie spielen they play sie sammeln** they collect

Note that these forms can also be translated as “I was playing”, “you were collecting”, etc.

*The “ich” form of verbs ending in -n rather than -en usually misses the middle ‘e’, i.e. “ich sammle”, although “ich sammele” is possible.
**The “wir” and “sie” forms of verbs ending in -n rather than -en only add the -n back, i.e. these forms are the same as the infinitive: “wir sammeln” NOT “wir sammelen”.


IRREGULAR VERBS

Unfortunately, most verbs in German are not completely regular, like “spielen”. Some, like “sein” (“to be”), are completely irregular and just have to be learned. Luckily, most irregular verbs still fall into a pattern with others of the same type; most of these involve changing the vowel of the stem in the “du” and “er” forms. This can be by changing “e” to “ie”, “e” to “i”, “a” to “ä”, etc. They quickly become intuitive as you encounter them.

To use two examples: “sehen” (“to see”), whose stem changes from “seh” to “sieh”, and “laufen” (“to walk/run”), whose stem changes from “lauf” to “läuf”.

ich sehe I see ich laufe I run
du siehst you see du läufst you run
er/sie/es sieht he/she/it sees er/sie/es läuft he/she/it runs
wir sehen we see wir laufen we run
ihr seht you see ihr lauft you run
sie sehen they see sie laufen they run

Modal verbs (e.g. “können” [“to be able to”], “wollen” [“to want”]) are conjugated with an irregular stem (können>kann, wollen>will); more information will be able in a separate article.

Separable verbs are those with a separable prefix, e.g. “anfangen” (“to start”). The prefix “an-” is removed to the end of the clause, e.g. “It begins” > “Es fängt an”, NOT “Es anfängt”. More information on this will be available in a separate article.


IMPERATIVE

The imperative form of a verb is the “command” form, such as “Play!”, “Go!”, or “Sit!”. It can also form sentences, such as “Give me the ball”, or “Go away”. For regular German imperatives, the singular imperative (addressed to “du”) comprises the verb stem, e.g. “spiel-“, plus “-e”. The ‘e’ is often dropped both in speech and writing. The plural (“ihr” form) and the polite singular and plural (“Sie” forms) resemble exactly their forms in the present tense; however, note that in the Sie form the words are reversed (verb first) and the pronoun must be included.

“Du” form (sing.) “Ihr” form (plural) “Sie” form (polite)
Spiel mit mir! Spielt mit mir! Spielen Sie mit mir! Play with me!
Komm mit mir. Kommt mit mir. Kommen Sie mit mir. Come with me.
Sammle die Briefe. Sammelt die Briefe. Sammeln Sie die Briefe. Collect the letters.

Note that “sein” takes the irregular stem “sei-“, giving imperatives of “sei”, “seid”, and “seien Sie”.

Note also: Verbs whose stem changes from “e” to “ie” (e.g. “sehen”) form their “du” imperatives differently. You take the “du” present, e.g. “siehst” and remove the “-st” > “sieh”. The “ihr” and “Sie” imperatives are formed as usual: “seht” and “sehen Sie”.


SOME IRREGULAR STEMS

Infinitive Present (ich, du, wir) Imperatives (du, ihr, Sie)
sein (to be) bin, bist, sind sei, seid, seien Sie
lesen (to read) lese, liest, lesen lies*, lest, lesen Sie
fahren (to drive) fahre, fährst, fahren fahr, fahrt, fahren Sie
sehen (to see) sehe, siehst, sehen sieh*, seht, sehen Sie
schlafen (to sleep) schlafe, schläfst, schlafen schlaf, schlaft, schlafen Sie

*As these verbs have a stem change from “e” to “ie” in the present “du” form, the imperative “du” form also undergoes this change. Note that although “fahren” and “schlafen” undergo a stem change in the present, but not in the imperative.

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