Being the brain of a sentence, german verbs can vary in identity, structure and usage. Even though they mainly take the second position, they can be displaced to the first position under certain conditions such as in the formation of questions and imperative.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, a verb is a word or phrase that describes an action, a condition or an experience. In other words, a verb is actually what someone/something is doing in that sentence or statement or even question. For example;
- Cook — I am cooking/ I cook
- Sleep — she is sleeping/ she sleeps
- Count — John is counting the apples
- Have — we have tomatoes
The Structure of a German verb
Identifying a German verb is quite easy because of their definite characterization. They begin with small letters within a sentence (all sentences begin with a capital letter) and end with definite letter(s) in their infinite form. All German verbs are of three parts namely;
- The verb-end
- The stem
- The stem-end
**Note that; The verb-end can either be “en” or “n”, the stem is the remainder of the verb after the verb-ending “en” or “n” has been detached while the stem-end is the last letter of the stem just before the verb ending which serves a vital role during conjugation. Also, the infinite form of a verb is the whole form of the verb when it has not been conjugated**
Categories of German verbs
There are basically three categories of verbs in German just like in English which are;
- Main verbs/ Hauptverben
- Auxiliary verbs/ Hilfsverben
- Modal verbs
German Main Verbs
Main verbs are those verbs that can always be conjugated or are always translated in an English sentence (that is when translating from English to German). They are either transitive or intransitive with several sub-categories which are; weak verbs (regelmäßige Verben ), strong verbs (unregelmäßige Verben ), mixed verbs (gemischte Verben), separable verbs (trennbare Verben), inseparable verbs (untrennbare Verben).
German Auxiliary Verbs
These are assistive verbs which are never translated/conjugated in the presence of a main verb. They are however conjugated if they happen to be the only verb in the sentence. They are; sein (to be), haben (to have), werden (to will) and tun (to do).
Sein and haben are the auxiliary for perfect tense while sein alone for Zustandspassiv voice. Werden is the auxiliary for future tense, Vorgangspassiv and Konjunktiv II formation. Tun on the other hand does not help another verb but nevertheless is not conjugated when there is a main verb.
German Modal Verbs
These are verbs that can not meaningfully stand alone. They are always supported by infinite verbs. There are six modal verbs in German namely; müssen (must/ to have), mögen (to like), können (can/ be able to), wollen (want to), dürfen (may/ permitted to).
Forms of Verbs
All German verbs can exist in five different forms which serves different purposes. The forms are;
- Infinite form
- Conjugated form
- Participial form
- Imperative form
- Subjunctive form
The infinite form of German verbs is one which is whole and has its three verb-parts (verb-end, stem and stem-end) intact. It is used as a supporting/landing base for modal verbs and compound sentences that require two or more verbs such as with zu + infinitive. They are equally used as substantive neuter nouns. Some examples are suchen, kommen, sein, tanzen etc.
The conjugated form of a verb is that which describes the action of the subject/nominative. It is derived using certain conjugating factors such as the stem-end as well as the verb-end. German verbs can only be conjugated in present tense as well as in past tense (Präteritum). Their usage is in constructing a proper sentence e.g geht/ ging, suche/suchte, arbeitest/ arbeitetest, kommen/kamen etc. See how to conjugate here.
The participial form of a verb is of two types – Partizip I and Partizip II. Their formation involves adding –d to an infinite verb ( Partizip I) and ge– to the third person verb conjugate (Partizip II). They are both used as adjectives while just the Partizip II is required to form the perfect tense. Some examples are; suchen➡️suchend/gesucht, kommen➡️kommend/gekommen, tanzen➡️tanzend/getanzt
The imperative form of german verbs is a derivative of the verb-conjugate to the subject pronouns du, wir, ihr and Sie e.g gehen➡️geh, kommen➡️komm, aufmachen➡️macht…auf, schließen➡️schließen Sie, tanzen➡️tanzen wir etc.
The subjunctive form is of two types – subjunctive I and subjunctive II. Subjunctive I helps one to make an indirect speech while II helps one make wishes or assumptions. Subjunctive I is formed by removing the verb end for all tenses and then adding the relevant ending while the subjunctive II is derived by changing the first syllable non-umlaut vowel of the Präteritum verb to the umlaut counterpart. For example waren➡️wären, kamen➡️kämen etc.