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
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 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 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)
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 verbs||English translation|
to wash (dishes)
to dream (exemption)
to search/ seek
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;
to take pictures
to try (on/out)
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;
to be called
to divorce/ divide
to hit/ beat
to eat (humans)
to bear (pregnancy)
to eat (animals)
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.
To know (fact)
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.|
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;
|to put off|
to drive off
to put on
to come back
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 listen to
|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-.|
Below are some examples of separable verbs;
to belong to
to narrate/ tell/ recall
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.
|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;
- I am buying a bag.—— ich kaufe eine Tasche.
- 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.
|must/ have to|
want/ want to
may/ permitted to
should/ supposed to
like/ Prefer to
can/ be able to
- You have to eat the orange;— du musst die Orange essen.
- We are not permitted to go home.— wir dürfen nicht nach Hause gehen.
- I want to buy a table.— ich will einen Tisch Kaufen.
To learn how to conjugate these verbs, see here…