German Present Tense Verbs

Let’s take a look at the German Present tense. I feel that before we start, we need to consider some differences between English and German. The main differences for the Present Tense are:

  • In English we have two main present tenses, one of which is in the format ‘I am talking’ and the other is in the format ‘I talk’. We also sometimes say things like ‘I do talk’. The German present tense only uses one structure for all these meanings, so:

    • Ich mache = I make/I am making/I do make
    • Ich spreche = I talk/I am talking/I do talk
  • To make a question in German you put the verb (i.e. the action word) before the subject (i.e. the person doing the action). In English we do this for words like ‘are’ and ‘is’, for example:

    • Are you tired? = Question

    • You are tired = Statement

      • In German however we do this for all verbs, so:

      • Machst du….? (= literally: Make you….?)

        = Do you make….? or Are you making? (speaking informally to one person)

Words you should become familiar with

The following words are used with verbs:

  • ich = I

  • du = You (speaking to one person informally)

  • er = He

  • sie = She

  • es = It

  • wir = We

  • ihr = You (speaking to two or more people informally)

  • sie = They

  • Sie = You (speaking formally to one or more people)

You’

You may have noticed that there are several words for ‘you’ in German, namely du, ihr and Sie. These are:

  • du is used when you say ‘you’ to one person informally (for example to one friend)

  • ihr is used when you say ‘you’ to two or more people informally (for example to two or more friends)

  • Sie is the more formal ‘you’, so you use this with strangers, people in authority, etc.

sie, sie and Sie

In German ‘sie’ can have several meanings. In practice this is not such a problem. Let’s look at ‘sie’ using the verb ‘machen’ (to make):

  • sie macht = She makes

    = You can tell that this is ‘she’, because the verb ending is t.

  • sie machen = They make

    = You can tell that this is ‘they’ because sie is not capitalised and the verb ending in en.

  • Sie machen = You make (formal ‘you’)

    = You can tell that this is ‘You’, because Sie is capitalised and the verb ending is en.

There however remain a couple of difficulties. These are:

  • Firstly, there is no difference in the spoken form between ‘sie machen’ (They make) and ‘Sie machen’ (You make); and

  • Secondly, sie machen (They make) becomes Sie machen at the start of a sentence. Just like English, the first letter of a sentence is capitalised. With the capitalised s on Sie you will not know whether it is the formal ‘you’ or ‘they’ when the verb ending is en.

In reality, despite these potential problems, you can normally tell whether someone is talking about other people i.e. ‘they’. If not, ‘Sie’ normally refers to ‘You’.

How to form the present tense in German

Now that we have looked at differences between Engilsh and German, let’s now look at how to form the German Present Tense.

In German the dictionary form of all verbs end in en, rn or ln (e.g. machen = to make, feiern = to celebrate and segeln = to sail).

Verbs which end in ‘en’

Verbs which end in ‘en’ are by far the most common verb type. My advice is to learn en endings completely before learning the other types.

machen = To make (or ‘to do’)

ich mache = I make

du machst = You make (singular & informal ‘you’)

er/sie/es macht = He/She/It makes

wir machen = We make

ihr macht = You make (plural & informal ‘you’)

sie machen = They make

Sie machen = You make (formal ‘you’)

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An important side note

Note that for verbs which end in ten you add an extra e before the verb ending for

  • du (= informal and singular ‘you’);
  • ihr (= informal and plural ‘you); and
  • er/sie/es (he/she/it)

The reason for this is for pronunciation purposes. See the verb arbeiten (to work) below for an example of this:

arbeiten = To work

ich arbeite = I work

du arbeitest = You work (singular & informal ‘you’)

er/sie/es arbeitet = He/She/It works

wir arbeiten = We work

ihr arbeitet = You work (plural & informal ‘you’)

sie arbeiten = They work

Sie arbeiten = You work (formal)

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‘rn’ ending verbs

The next type of verbs in German end in rn. They are far less common than en ending verbs. They are formed as follows:

feiern = To celebrate

ich feire* = I celebrate

du feierst = You celebrate (singular & informal)

er/sie/es feiert = He/She/It celebrates

wir feiern = We celebrate

ihr feiert = You celebrate (plural & informal)

sie feiern = They celebrate

Sie feiern = You celebrate (formal)

*Note that an ‘e’ is removed from the stem of the verb (= the bit of the verb before the ending). This has been done to make the word easier to pronounce. ‘Ich feire’ is far easier to say than ‘Ich feiere’.

ln’ ending verbs

The final type of verbs in German end in ln. They are also far less common than en ending verbs. The German present tense for ln verbs are formed as follows:

segeln = To sail

ich segle = I sail

du segelst = You sail (singular & informal)

er/sie/es segelt = He/She/It sails

wir segeln = We sail

ihr segelt = You sail (plural & informal)

sie segeln = They sail

Sie segeln = You sail (formal)

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I hope that this post has helped you to understand better how to form the German present tense. If you learn the above verbs you can apply the endings to the vast majority of verbs in the German language.

Unfortunately there are many irregular verbs, which do not entirely follow the above pattern. See my German Present Tense Irregular verbs post for further information.

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Further Information

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