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How to Master the German Present Tense

present tense german

Whether it’s talking about your hobbies or introducing yourself in German –  all of these situations require you to use the Present Tense correctly.  

For this reason, the topic of today’s lesson will be the basics of German Verb Conjugation im Präsens (Gegenwart)

But before we get started on those fascinating conjugations, I’d like you to take a closer look at the general use of the Present Tense in German. 

How to use the Present Tense in German

In contrast to English, there’s only one form of the Present Tense in German. We use it for things that are happening right now and for regular events or states. 

Let me give you some examples:

Es regnet hier oft.
It rains a lot here.

Wolfgang spielt Klavier.
Wolfgang plays the piano.

Ich arbeite in einem Büro.
I work in an office.

Lisa geht noch zur Schule.
Lisa still goes to school.

Both in German and English, the Present Tense is used when talking about things that happen all the time, or are generally true.  

Es regnet schon wieder.
It’s raining again.

Wolfgang spielt gerade Klavier.
Wolfgang is playing the piano.

Ich arbeite sehr viel diese Woche.
I’m working a lot this week.

Lisa geht heute nicht in die Schule.
Lisa isn’t going to school today.

As you can see, German speakers also use the Simple Present for what’s going on at the moment. You can use words like “gerade”, “heute” or “im Moment” to make clear that things are happening right now.

In English, the Present Perfect is used to talk about actions that started in the past and are still going on. Germans, however, use the Present Tense in this situation. 

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Ich studiere seit zwei Jahren Mathematik.
I’ve been studying Maths for two years.

Wir wohnen hier schon sehr lange.
We’ve been living here for a long time.

Seit Melanie wieder arbeitet, ist sie sehr beschäftigt.
Since Melanie started her new job, she has been very busy.

Conjugation of Weak Verbs in German

The infinitive of nearly all verbs in German ends in -en. If you want to form the Present Tense of a weak verb, you need to drop the -en of the infinitive and add the appropriate personal ending, as shown below:

PronounsEndingsgehen (go)
ich-egehe
du-stgehst
er / sie / es-tgeht
wir-engehen
ihr-tgeht
sie-engehen

This goes for all regular verbs in German like arbeiten (work), spielen (play), kommen (come), warten (wait), machen (do/make), kaufen (buy), etc.

There are, however, some minor exceptions you should know. For instance, if the stem of your verb ends on -z or -s, you need to leave out the s in the du ending. 

Here’s an example:

sitzen (sit): ich sitze, du sitzt, sie sitzt, wir sitzen, ihr sitzt, sie sitzen

Now that you know how to form the Present Tense of regular verbs, it’s time for a bit of challenge. But don’t worry – you’ve got this!

Verb Conjugation German: Strong Verbs

Unlike weak verbs, German strong verbs tend to change their vowels in the du and er/sie/es-form. An “a” often turns into an “ä”, whereas an “e” sometimes becomes an “i”, and so on. 

To make things a bit clearer, I’ll show you the correct conjugation of the strong verbs schlafen (sleep), treffen (meet), laufen (run), and lesen (read):

a → äe → i au → äue → ie
ichschlafetreffelaufelese
duschläfsttriffstläufstliest
er / sie / esschläfttrifftläuftliest
wirschlafentreffenlaufenlesen
ihrschlafttrefftlauftlest
sieschlafentreffenlaufenlesen

As mentioned above, the s in the du-form is omitted as soon as the verb’s stem ends on -s

Here are some other strong verbs with the same vowel changes:

fahren: ich fahre, du fährst, er/sie/es fährt     (drive)

laden: ich lade, du lädst, er/sie/es lädt           (load)

geben: ich gebe, du gibst, er/sie/es gibt        (give)

sprechen: ich spreche, du sprichst, er/sie/es spricht     (speak)

sehen: ich sehe, du siehst, er/sie/es sieht     (see)

The Present Tense in German: Irregular verbs

Like Spanish or French, the German language has some tricky irregular verbs that you have to learn by heart or by using them a lot. 

The three most important are:  

haben (have)sein (be)werden (become)
ichhabebinwerde
duhastbistwirst
er / sie / eshatistwird
wirhabensindwerden
ihrhabtseidwerdet
siehabensindwerden

These three are also called auxiliary verbs, because you can also use them to form other tenses in German, like the Past or Future Tense. 

Other useful irregular verbs in German:

wissen (know)mögen (like)
ichweißmag
duweißtmagst
er / sie / esweißmag
wirwissenmögen
ihrwisstmögt
siewissenmögen

Isn’t it great to know how to conjugate the word wissen in German? If you now also learn how to order a beer in German, you can say things about yourself like: “Ich weiß, wie man ein Bier bestellt.” Awesome!

German Modal Verbs in the Present Tense:

Get yourself ready for the last set of irregular verbs in German. The good thing about modal verbs is that their plural forms are completely regular. But take a look for yourself:

können (can)wollen (want)müssen (must)sollen(shall)dürfen(may)
ichkannwillmusssolldarf
dukannstwillstmusstsollstdarfst
er / sie / eskannwillmusssolldarf
wirkönnenwollenmüssensollendürfen
ihrkönntwolltmüsstsolltdürft
siekönnenwollenmüssensollendürfen

That’s it for today. If you want to become a real grammar expert, you should also read our easy explanation of the German case system

Keep it up!

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Sandra Foessl

Sandra Foessl

Language lover and bookworm. Lives in Austria and has been teaching English, French and German for more than a decade.

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