German Present Tense Irregular Verbs

In these notes we discuss key German irregular verbs. Here we are focusing on the present tense.

Understanding the patterns of irregular verbs makes it easier for you to learn them. You should only look at these notes once you are familiar with regular verbs.

If at any point you are confused by these notes feel free to contact me, but you may first wish to look at the German Present Tense.

Modal Verbs

The first group of irregular verbs are known as ‘modal verbs’ and are as follows:

  • dürfen = to be allowed to
  • müssen = to have to (must)
  • können = to be able (can)
  • sollen = to ought to
  • mögen = to like
  • wollen = to want

In the present tense these verbs are as follows:

dürfen:  ich darf, du darfst, er/sie/es darf, wir dürfen, ihr dürft, sie/Sie dürfen

= I may/am allowed, you may/are allowed, etc.

können: ich kann, du kannst, er/sie/es kann, wir können, ihr könnt, sie/Sie können

= I can, you can, etc.

mögen: ich mag, du magst, er/sie/es mag, wir mögen, ihr mögt, sie/Sie mögen

= I like, you like, etc.

müssen:ich muss, du musst, er/sie/es muss, wir müssen, ihr müsst. sie/Sie müssen

= I must/have to, you must/have to, etc.

sollen: ich soll, du sollst, er/sie/es soll, wir sollen, ihr sollt, sie/Sie sollen

= I should, you should, etc.

wollen: ich will, du willst, er/sie/es will, wir wollen, ihr wollt, sie/Sie wollen

= I want, you want, etc.

**The order above is as follows: ich (I), du (informal & singular ‘you’), er (he)/sie (she)/es (it), wir (we), ihr (informal & plural ‘you’), sie (they)/Sie (formal ‘you’)**

Do not worry at the moment why they are ‘modal verbs’. This will be discussed in the future, but one feature of them is in the present tense they all share a similar pattern. The pattern is as follows:

The ich (I), er (he), sie (she) and es (it) forms for the verbs are identical:


= I/he/she/it….. am or is allowed/can/like(s)/must/should/want(s)

The du (you) form is created by adding st to the verb form you use for ich (I):

du darfst/kannst/magst/musst*/sollst/willst

= You are allowed/can/like/must/should/want

*You only add ‘t’ here and not ‘st’, as ‘mussst’ would look strange.

The wir (we), ihr (you) and sie/Sie (they/you) forms are completely regular (i.e. follow the usual pattern).

Other irregular verbs with a pattern

There are a number of German irregular verbs which have a common pattern. Take a look at the following:

essen (to eat):  ich esse, du isst, er/sie/es isst, wir essen, ihr esst, sie/Sie essen

= I eat, you eat, etc.

fahren (to go):  ich fahre, du fährst, er/sie/es fährt, wir fahren, ihr fahrt, sie/Sie fahren

= I go, you go, etc.

geben (to give): ich gebe, du gibst er/sie/es gibt, wir geben, ihr gebt, sie/Sie geben

= I give, you give, etc.

helfen (to help):  ich helfe, du hilfst, er/sie/es hilft, wir helfen, ihr helft, sie/Sie helfen

= I help, you help, etc.

lesen (to read):  ich lese, du liest, er/sie/es liest, wir lesen, ihr lest, sie/Sie lesen

= I read, you read, etc.

nehmen (to take):  ich nehme, du nimmst, er/sie/es nimmt, wir nehmen, ihr nehmt, sie/Sie nehmen

= I take, you take, etc.

sehen (to see):  ich sehe, du siehst, er/sie/es sieht, wir sehen, ihr seht, sie/Sie sehen

= I see, you see, etc.

sprechen (to speak):  ich spreche, du sprichst, er/sie/es spricht, wir sprechen, ihr sprecht, sie/Sie sprechen

= I speak, you speak, etc.

vergessen (to forget):  ich vergesse, du vergisst, er/sie/es vergisst, wir vergessen, ihr vergesst, sie/Sie vergessen

= I forget, you forget, etc.

**The order above is as follows: ich (I), du (informal & singular ‘you’), er (he)/sie (she)/es (it), wir (we), ihr (informal & plural ‘you’), sie (they)/Sie (formal ‘you’)**

You will see that for the verbs:

  • All the ich (I), wir (we), ihr (you) and sie/Sie (they/you) are regular (i.e. follow the normal pattern); and
  • The du (you) and er/sie/es (he/she/it) have regular endings, but they have changes in the stem (highlighted in bold and underlined).

Haben (To have) & Sein (To be)

Two miscellaneous verbs are haben (to have) and sein (to be).

Some people have difficulties with knowing what they are saying with the verbs sein (to be) and haben (to have) in English. So I have written these out in full below for ease of reference:

  • sein = to be
  • ich bin = I am
  • du bist = You are (informal & singular ‘you’)
  • er/sie/es ist = He/She/It is
  • wir sind = We are
  • ihr seid = You are (informal & plural ‘you’)
  • sie/Sie sind = They are/You are (formal)
  • Haben = To have
  • ich habe = I have
  • du hast = You have (informal & singular ‘you’)
  • er/sie/es hat = He/She/It has
  • wir haben = We have
  • ihr habt = You have (informal & plural ‘you’)
  • sie/Sie haben = They have/You have (formal ‘you’)

Sein (to be) unfortunately is totally irregular in the present tense (i.e. doesn’t follow the normal pattern for verbs) and just needs to be learnt as it is.

By contrast, haben in the present tense is regular (i.e. follows the normal pattern for verbs), except for du which is hast (and not habst) and er/sie/es which is hat (and not habt). Just remember there is no ‘b’ for those two verb forms.


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