Being the brain of a sentence, german verbs can vary in identity, structure and how the are used. Even though they are mainly placed in the second position, they can be displaced by other certain conditions.

Content in this post
1. Definition of a verb
2. The structure of a german verb
3. The different categories and subcategories of german verbs with examples
4. Separable and inseparable prefixes
Table of content for German verbs

From the English definition, a verb is the action word of a sentence. In other words, a verb is actually what someone is doing in that sentence or statement or even question. For example, see below.

  • Cook — I am cooking/ I cook
  • Sleep — she is sleeping/ she sleeps
  • Count — John is counting the apples
  • Have — we have tomatoes

The parts of a German verb

Identifying a German verb is quite easy because of their definite characterization. They begin with small letters within a sentence and end with either “en” or “n” in their finite Form.

**Note that; the finite form of a verb is the whole form of the verb when it has not been conjugated**

All German verbs are divided into three parts namely;

  • The verb-end
  • The stem
  • The stem-end
The parts of a german verb
  • The verb-ending can either be “en” or “n”.
  • The stem is referred to the remainder of the verb after the verb-ending “en” or “n” has been detached.
  • The stem-ending is the last letter of the stem just before the verb ending. This serves a vital role when conjugating a german verb.

Categories of German verbs

There are basically three categories of verbs in German just like in English. They are;

  • Main verbs
  • Auxiliary verbs
  • Modal verbs

Main Verbs

Main verbs are referred to as those verbs that are always translated in an English sentence. That is when translating from English to German. There are several sub-categories of main verbs in German;

  • Weak verbs (regelmäßige Verben )
  • Strong verbs (unregelmäßige Verben )
  • Mixed verbs (gemischte Verben)
  • Separable verbs (trennbare Verben)
  • Inseparable verbs (untrennbare Verben)

Weak Verbs

These are verbs that have regular conjugation patterns and no stem changes when conjugating them. They are mostly those English verbs that make their past tenses by add “-ed” in which case are also exemptions. Some examples of German weak verbs with their corresponding English meaning are shown below;

German verbsEnglish translation
kochen
sammeln
klettern
reisen
spielen
weinen
putzen
spülen
baden
beten
regnen
tanzen
heiraten
küssen
zählen
träumen
suchen
stören
hören
danken
trennen
kämpfen
füttern
to cook
to count/gather
to climb
to travel
to play
to cry
to clean/brush
to wash (dishes)
to bathe
to pray
to rain
to dance
to marry
to kiss
to number/count
to dream (exemption)
to search/ seek
to disturb
to hear
to thank
to separate
to wrestle/fight
to feed
List of german weak verbs

Apart from the examples of weak verbs listed above, there are other verbs that are classified under this category. These examples of verbs end with the suffix “-ieren”. These verbs are usually obtained from English or Latin verbs. As a matter of fact, verbs many Foreigners usually coin a verb from English words by simply adding the suffix “-ieren”.

Athough these verbs are well understood by german speakers, there are most often alternatiive verbs that mean exactly the same and are of german origin. Some examples are listed below;

GermanEnglishAlternative Verb
studieren
informieren
trainieren
gratulieren
lackieren
markieren
rasieren
installieren
telefonieren
engagieren
kalkulieren
arrangieren
organisieren
kombinieren
kopieren
isolieren
fotografieren
operieren
diskutieren
animieren
reparieren
dekorieren
identifizieren
kapieren
kritisieren
manipulieren
passieren
(an/aus-) probieren
separieren
reagieren
akzeptieren
to study
to inform
to train
to congratulate
to paint
to mark
to shave
to install
to call
to engage
to calculate
to arrange
to organise
to combine
to copy
to insulate
to take pictures
to operate
to discuss
to animate
to repair
to decorate
to identify
to catch
to criticise
to manipulate
to happen
to try (on/out)
to separate
to react
to accept
lernen
mitteilen
einüben
beglückwünschen
malen
kennzeichnen
Haare abnehmen
aufstellen
anrufen
machen
rechnen
ordnen
einordnen
zusammenfügen
vervielfältigen

Foto machen
Chirugie machen
besprechen
beleben
herrichten
schmücken
fest stellen
fangen


ereignen
prüfen
trennen
widersetzen
annehmen
List of german verbs with -ieren and alternate verbs

Strong Verbs

These verbs are said to have irregular conjugation patterns and stem changes when conjugating them. They are mostly those English verbs with simple past tense form that is different from their past participle tense. Some examples are shown below;

GermanEnglish
schneiden
backen
fliegen
schwimmen
braten
fliehen
singen
laufen
fahren
gehen
geben
sterben
werden
schließen
stehen
gießen
beißen
heißen
finden
leihen
scheiden
wiegen
rufen
schlagen
nehmen
sprechen
lesen
schreiben
essen
trinken
brechen
gebären
fressen
frieren
to cut
to bake
to fly
to swim
to fry
to flee
to sing
to run
to drive
to go
to give
to die
to become
to close
to stand
to pour
to bite
to be called
to find
to lend
to divorce/ divide
to weigh
to call
to hit/ beat
to take
to speak
to read
to write
to eat (humans)
to drink
to break
to bear (pregnancy)
to eat (animals)
to freeze
lists of unregelmäßige Verben

Mixed Verbs

These are verbs that have dual characteristics. Like their name implies, they tend to behave sometimes like weak verbs and some other times like strong verbs. These variations are seen when they are conjugated in their present and past tense. Study the sketch below.

This is an illustration with a glass of coca-cola (weak verb) and another glass of Orange juice (Strong verb). Half of the coca-cola and half of the orange juice is poured into an empty glass and then mixed together. This mixture will neither taste like coca-cola nor orange juice even though it contains half of them both. It will even take a new color.

The mixed verbs in German are nine in total as shown below.

GermanEnglish
senden
bringen
wissen
wenden
rennen
brennen
denken
nennen
kennen
To send
To bring
To know (fact)
To turn
To run
To burn
To think
To name/ nickname
To know (somebody/something)

Separable Verbs (trennbare Verben)

They are verbs that have separable prefixes. They are those weak, strong and mixed verbs listed above except that in this case they are attached to certain prefixes called separable prefixes. When these prefixes are attached to weak verbs, they are termed separable weak verbs. When they are attached to strong verbs, they are equally termed separable strong verbs and likewise called separable mixed verbs when they are attached to mixed verbs. The key strategy to learning these verbs is to memorize their prefixes. The separable prefixes are;

vor-, an-, auf-, aus-, mit-, zu-, her-, hin-, weg-, nach-, los-, bei-, herunter-, ab-, zurück-, wieder-, ein-, fort-, nieder.
separable prefixes

When conjugating these verbs, the prefixes must first be detached from the root verb and thereafter placed at the end of the sentence. Hence, they are called separable verbs.

Examples of these verbs are shown below;

GermanEnglish
ausmachen
vorschlagen
wegfahren
mitmachen
anmachen
aufmachen
zumachen
zurückkommen
beibringen
anfangen
wiederholen
nachsuchen
abräumen
aufräumen
aufsammeln
abholen
anschalten
ausschalten
ausruhen
zuhören
niederlassen
to put off
to suggest
to drive off
to participate
to put on
to open
to close
to come back
to teach
to start
to repeat
to check
to clear up
to tidy up
to pick up (from the floor)
to pick up (from another location)
to switch on
to switch off
to rest
to listen to
to settle
list of german separable verbs
Usage
1. Max is driving the car away.——— Max fährt das Auto weg.

2. She is closing the door.—— sie macht die Tür zu.

Inseparable Verbs (untrennbare Verben)

These verbs are also attached to prefixes but in this case, inseparable prefixes. When these prefixes are attached to weak, strong and mixed verbs, they are termed inseparable weak, inseparable strong and inseparable mixed verbs respectively.

Unlike separable prefixes, these prefixes cannot be detached from their root verbs. They are instead conjugated in their attached form while Just like separable prefixes, it is also important to memorize these inseparable prefixes so as to correctly conjugate them. The german inseparable prefixes are listed below;

be-, zer-, ge-, miss-, unter-, über-, emp-, ent-, er-, voll-, ver-, wieder-.
inseparable prefixes

Below are some examples of separable verbs;

GermanEnglish
zerschneiden
gehören
bezahlen
empfehlen
entdecken
bekommen
empfangen
bedeuten
beginnen
missbrauchen
versprechen
erleben
erzählen
erholen
erinnern
erkennen
to pieces
to belong to
to pay
to recommend
to discover
to get
to receive
to mean
to begin
to misuse/abuse
to promise
to experience
to narrate/ tell/ recall
to recover
to remember
to recognize
list of german inseparable verbs

It is important to note the following about separable and inseparable verbs;

  • They should be conjugated based on the type of their root verb. That is, if it is a strong verb it should be conjugated like a strong verb and likewise weak and mixed verbs.
  • They may be likened to “phrasal verbs” in English. That is, they can have slight meaning from their root verbs or a different meaning entirely.
Usage
1. The book belongs to John.
Das Buch gehört John.

2. The party begins by 5 O’clock.
Die Party beginnt um 5 Uhr.

3. I recognize the man.
Ich erkenne den Mann.

German Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary verbs are also called helping verbs in English or Hilfsverben in Deutsch. They are those verbs in German that are hardly conjugated in the presence of a main verb. They should only be translated when there is no other verb in the English sentence. The auxiliary verbs in German are;

GermanEnglish
sein
haben
tun
werden
to be
to have
to do
will
modal verbs in german

Illustration;

  1. I am buying a bag.—— ich kaufe eine Tasche.
  2. I am a woman.—— ich bin eine Frau.

In sentence 1 above, “am” is the auxiliary verb which is conjugated from “sein” while “buying” is the main verb. Here the auxiliary is not translated because there is a main verb. But in sentence 2, it is translated because there is no other verb in that sentence.

German Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are those verbs that usually require other verbs in other to stand firm in a sentence. They are those verbs that give the possibility of having two verbs in a German sentence without the use of the German preposition “zu” which means “to” in English. This is because German modal verbs usually include “to” in their meanings. There are six Modal verbs in German as shown below.

GermanEnglish
müssen
wollen
dürfen
sollen
mögen
können
must/ have to
want/ want to
may/ permitted to
should/ supposed to
like/ Prefer to
can/ be able to
modal verbs in german

Usage;

  1. You have to eat the orange;— du musst die Orange essen.
  2. We are not permitted to go home.— wir dürfen nicht nach Hause gehen.
  3. I want to buy a table.— ich will einen Tisch Kaufen.

To learn how to conjugate these verbs, see here

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