German Present Tense

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’. In German we use just one tense for both senses, so:
  • Ich mache = I make/I am making/I do make

Therefore in German you always use the one tense for the Present Tense.

  • 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), for example:
  • Machst du….? = Do you make….? or Are you making? (speaking informally to one person)

Contrast this with a statement:

  • Du machst…. = You make…. or You are making…. or You do make….

There are exceptions to the word orders set out above, but this is not considered here.

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 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).

Forming ‘en’ ending verbs

This is by far the most common verb type. My advice is to learn en endings completely before learning the other two 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 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)

rn’ ending verbs

Verbs which end in rn are far less common than en ending verbs, but 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

Verbs which end in ln are also far less common than en ending verbs, but 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)

‘You’ – ‘du’, ‘ihr’ or ‘Sie’

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.

In reality, you can normally tell whether you are talking about other people i.e. ‘they’. If not, ‘Sie’ normally refers to ‘You’.

Summary Table of German Regular Verb Endings
Person/Verbmach-en (To make)arbei-ten (To work)feie-rn (To celebrate)segeln (To sail)
ich (I)mach-earbei te*fei-resege-le
du (Informal & Singular ‘you’)mach-starbei-testfeie-rstsege-lst
er/sie/es (He/She/It)mach-tarbei-tetfeie-rtsege-lt
wir (We)mach-enarbei-tenfeie-rnsege-ln
ihr (Informal & plural ‘you’)mach-tarbeit-etfeie-rtsege-lt
sie/Sie (They/ Formal ‘you’)mach-enarbeit-enfeie-rnsege-ln

*As mentioned previously an ‘e’ is removed to make the word easier to pronounce.

If you learn the above verbs you can apply the rules to the vast majority of verbs in the German language.

Unfortunately there are some irregular verbs, which do not entirely follow the above pattern. See my Irregular German Present Tense page.


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