In order to conjugate a verb, you first need to identify the verb stem. The stem is the part of the verb that, in most cases, remains constant. In German, you usually find the stem by taking the infinitive of the verb and removing the –en, or -n ending.
German verbs can fall in three categories:
Weak verbs are regular verbs and their stem never changes.
Strong verbs change their stem. The stem may only change in the past tense conjugation or in the present tense as well.
Let's see these two groups in more detail.
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As we've seen, weak verbs are entirely regular, and the good news is that the majority of German verbs fall in this category. To find their stem, you simply remove the -en or -n ending. Here are a few example verbs.
|machen (to do)||mach-|
|suchen (to search)||such-|
|brauchen (to need)||brauch-|
|bezahlen (to pay)||bezahl-|
|kaufen (to buy)||kauf-|
|segeln (to sail)||segel-|
|arbeiten (to work)||arbeit-|
Now let's see a few example sentences.
Verbs whose stem ends in a -d or a -t, like arbeiten, add an -e before all conjugation endings for pronunciation purposes. From this we have arbeitet (arbeit + e + t ending for third person singular).
Strong verbs are irregular verbs, so their stem can sometimes change depending on the tense. Let's take gehen, to go, as an example: its stem in the present tense is regular, geh-, but in the simple past tense it becomes ging-. Sometimes it's the stem in the past participle that changes, and other times the verb has an irregular stem in the present tense.
|Verb||Stem (present tense / past tense / p.p.)|
|gehen||geh- / ging- / gegangen|
|kommen||komm- / kam- / gekommen|
|denken||denk- / dach- / gedacht|
|sehen||seh-, sieh- / sah- / gesehen|
Finally, a few verbs are totally irregular in the present tense, like sein (to be) and wissen (to know).
|Subject pronoun||Conjugation in the present tense (sein / wissen)|
|Ich||bin / weiß|
|Du||bist / weißt|
|Er/sie/es||ist / weiß|
|Wir||sind / wissen|
|Ihr||seid / wisst|
|Sie||sind / wissen|
When you have the stem by itself, have a look at the table of verb endings for each tense and add the appropriate ending, according to who is performing the action.
Here are a few recommended German lessons to try next!
Paul Weber: Rocket German