verbs overview
Grimm Grammar

Verbs:Verben - Überblick

Verbs describe the action of a sentence. To find out who the subject of a sentence is, you ask "WHO is doing what?" To find out what the verb of the sentence is, you ask "WHAT is this person DOING?"

Der Esel kommt aus Bremen. Jetzt lebt er mit seinen Freunden zusammen. Sie haben eine schöne, helle Wohnung. The donkey comes from Bremen. Now he lives together with his friends. They have a nice, bright apartment.

I. Infinitives vs. conjugated verbs

Verbs can appear either in the infinitive form or in their finite, conjugated forms. English infinitives are preceded by the word "to": to work, to be.

Conjugated verbs indicate when an action takes place and, often, by whom (although this is less obvious in English than in German):

der Esel Ich mache Kaffee, möchtest du eine Tasse? I am making coffee, would you like a cup?
der Hahn Ja, gerne, mein Hals ist total ausgetrocknet. Ich krähe immer zu enthusiastisch! Yes, I'd love some, my throat is totally parched. I always crow too enthusiastically!
Making coffee

II. Regular verbs

Regular verbs follow a regular pattern (amazingly).

machen make, do
ich mache wir machen
du machst ihr macht
er/sie/es macht sie machen

III.-ieren verbs

Verbs like dekorieren, reparieren, informieren are regular in the present tense, but will be a separate category in the past tense.

reparieren repair, fix
ich repariere wir reparieren
du reparierst ihr repariert
er/sie/es repariert sie reparieren
Die Tiere reparieren ihre Wohnung. Sie ist eine Märchenwohnung, und hat keine Küche und kein Bad. The animals repair their apartment. It's a fairy tale apartment and has no kitchen or bath.

IV. Irregular verbs

Just like in English (am/are/is or have/has), there are many German words that are irregularly conjugated. In both languages, the most irregular are the most frequently used words, and there is nothing else to do but memorize the different forms (they are not known for logical conjugation!).

sein to be
ich bin wir sind
du bist ihr seid
er/sie/es ist sie sind
haben to have
ich habe wir haben
du hast ihr habt
er/sie/es hat sie haben
wissen to know
ich weiß wir wissen
du weißt ihr wisst
er/sie/es weiß sie wissen

V. Tenses

Verb tenses allow us to show when actions take place: present, future, past.

a) present tense verbs express actions that are happening right now or events that happen regularly.

der Hahn Ich stehe jeden Morgen um halb fünf auf. Wisst ihr, wie anstrengend das ist? I get up every morning at 4:30. Do you know how stressful that is?
die Katze Ja, natürlich weiß ich das, denn du beklagst dich ständig darüber! Yeah, of course I know, because you are always complaining about it.

b) the future tense is not used all that often in German; we express future events merely by stating something in the present tense and adding a time expression of the future.

die Katze Es tut mir leid, mein Freund. Ich will dich nicht beleidigen. Morgen kaufen wir einen elektronischen Wecker! I'm sorry, my friend. I don't want to offend you. Tomorrow we (will) buy an electronic alarm clock.

If the future (with the help of a future time expression) is not clear from the sentence, then you can use the verb werden plus an infinitive to describe actions in the future.

der Hahn Tolle Idee! Ich werde jeden Tag bis Mittag schlafen! Ich kann kaum warten!!! Great idea! I will sleep until noon every day! I can hardly wait!!!

c) the past tense can be expressed in two ways: simple past (used in formal writing and speech) or conversational past (used in informal writing and spoken language).

Also, some verbs (modals, haben, sein, wissen) are often used only with the simple past. In German, both the conversational past and the simple past express the same idea: something happened in the past.

Caught twelve mice
die Katze Gestern habe ich 12 Mäuse gefangen. Ich musste wieder eine Menge Überstunden machen! Yesterday I caught 12 mice. I had to work a lot of overtime again!
der Hund Und was hast du mit ihnen gemacht? And what did you do with them?
die Katze Das sag ich nicht. Dies ist doch ein Märchen. Ich will keine Kinder erschrecken! I'm not telling. This is, after all, a fairy tale. I don't want to scare any children.
der Hund Tja, in der Grimm-Version durften wir alle grausamen Details lesen! Das waren die guten alten Zeiten! Well, in the Grimm-version we could read all the gory details! Those were the good old days!
habe gefangen => conversational past musste => simple past
hast gemacht => conversational past
durften => simple past waren => simple past

d) the past perfect tense is the remaining past tense. It is used when you want to state that something had happened even before another past event took place (this is really helpful in narration, as you can imagine, with words like bevor or nachdem – before/after).

der Esel Wisst ihr noch, wie es im Märchen war? Bevor wir hier eingezogen sind, hatten wir im heruntergekommenen Räuberhaus gelebt. Do you remember how it was in the fairy tale? Before we moved in here, we used to live (i.e., had lived) in the decrepit home of the robbers.
der Hund Ja, ich kriege noch heute Gänsehaut! Nachdem wir die Räuber hinausgejagt hatten, versuchten wir das Räuberhaus sauber zu machen, aber es war wirklich kaputt! Yeah, I still get goose bumps! After we had chased out the robbers, we tried to clean the robbers' home, but it was really run-down!
eingezogen sind => past tense hatten gelebt => past perfect
hatte hinausgejagt => past perfect versuchten/war => past tense

VI. Participle forms

As you could see in both the present perfect and past perfect tenses, the verb takes on a special form (just like "been" or "taken" in English). This is the participle form of the verb.

a) regular verbs are formed by adding a ge- before and a -t at the end of the stem (the infinitive minus the -en):

machen => gemacht (made)
kochen => gekocht (cooked)
arbeiten => gearbeitet (worked)

b) -ieren verbs are also formed by adding a -t to the stem, but they do not get the ge- prefix:

reparieren => repariert (repaired, fixed)
dekorieren => dekoriert (decorated)

c) irregular verbs can be formed with or without the ge- prefix, but end in -en (instead of the -t). And many of them have changes in the verb stem vowel.

finden => gefunden (found)
gehen => gegangen (went)
laufen => gelaufen (ran)

d) mixed verbs put a bit of spin on things because they act like both regular and irregular verbs in some ways. They are like regular verbs because they all get a ge- prefix and a -t suffix, but they are like irregular verbs because the stem vowel changes.

denken => gedacht (thought)
wissen => gewusst (knew)
bringen => gebracht (brought)

VII. Prefixes

One more facet of verbs is that they can be preceded by prefixes, small units of language that somehow modify or enhance the meaning of verbs. Some of these prefixes are separable from the stem of the verb while others are not. Whether the prefixes are separable or not matters in declarative sentences (basic statements) and in forming the participle.

Robbers running

a) separable prefixes (such as aus, an, mit, nach, etc.) move to the end of a sentence or phrase in basic statements (declarative sentences):

die Katze Ja, wir jagten die Räuber hinaus! Sie rannten schnell in den Wald hinaus! Yes, we chased out the robbers! They fled into the forest like crazy!
hinausjagen, hinausfliehen

b) inseparable prefixes (be-, emp-, ent-, er-, ge-, ver- and zer-) stay with the verb at all times:

der Hund Wie sehr der Räuber erschrak! Und wie die Katze ihm das Gesicht zerkratzt hat! Tihihi ... Danke Wilhelm und Jacob Grimm, diese Endung hat mir sehr gut gefallen. The robber was so scared! And the cat really scratched his face! hehehe ... thank you, Wilhelm and Jacob, I really liked this ending.
erschrecken, zerkratzen, gefallen