Vistawide - World languages & cultures, foreign language learning tips, study & work abroad, free language  study resources.German language learning - German culture resources - German-speaking countries & customs


Search for
German grammar books
at amazon:

Search Now:


501 German Verbs,
by Henry Strutz

More info - Buy

Historically speaking, strong
verbs represent the oldest
verbs in the German language.
Weak verbs are a newer
invention (about 2000 yrs.
old). Mixed verbs are a
hybrid form that
developed over the

Rosetta Stone German
Language Learning Software

More info - Buy

German verbs

Weak, strong, & irregular verb categories

About verb categories

Each German verb belongs to one of three groups: weak verbs, strong verbs, or mixed verbs. The differences between these categories are prinicipally noticeable in the formation of the simple past and perfect tenses. Unless a verb is in one of these tenses or unless you look up its forms, a verb's class will not be apparent. In the present tense, differences are in most instances imperceptible.

Weak verbs

Verbs that belong to the German weak verb class all follow a basic, predictable pattern in every verb tense. Tenses are formed using the present infinitive stem. For example, all tenses of the weak verbs hören, sagen, warten are formed using their respective infinitive stems: hör, sag, wart.

The signifier for the past tenses of weak verbs is a dental suffix. In the simple past tense, this takes the form of a -te suffix. In the perfect tense, the participle is formed ending in -(e)t. (These endings are preceded by an e where the verb stem ends in -d or -t, or in -m or -n preceded by a consonant other than l or r).

The principle parts of German weak verbs
infinitive simple past
(3rd pers. sing.)
past participle
hörte gehört
sagen sagte gesagt
warten wartete gewartet
regnen regnete geregnet

Because these forms are quite predictable with just a knowledge of a verb's infinitive form, most dictionaries and glossaries do not list the principle parts of weak verbs.

Weak verbs are a feature unique to the Germanic languages, including English. They form the largest group of verbs in German and are the only category that is still expanding in the number of root words it contains. Any relatively modern verbs and all wholly new verbs created in the German language through the creation of new technologies or the adoption of foreign words (e.g., telefonieren, surfen, downloaden) are all weak.

Strong verbs

Unlike the weak verbs, which use the same infinitive stem in the formation of every verb tense, the strong verbs have stem changes to help signify verb tense. These stem changes are not predictable and must be learned.

The principle parts of German strong verbs
infinitive present tense stem change (3rd pers. sing.) simple past
(3rd pers. sing.)
past participle
-- ging gegangen
schreiben -- schrieb geschrieben
fahren fährt fuhr gefahren
trinken -- trank getrunken
kommen -- kam gekommen
sprechen spricht sprach gesprochen

As shown in the table, not all strong verbs have stem changes in every tense. For instance, the past participles of kommen and fahren use the unaltered infinitive stem (gekommen, gefahren). And while a handful of strong verbs do have stem changes in the present tense 2nd and 3rd person singular forms (e.g. fährt, spricht), most strong verbs use the infinitive stem in their present tense conjugations (e.g., geht, trinkt).

However, what all German strong verbs do have in common is a stem change to the signify simple past tense. In addition, all strong verbs in German use an -en suffix in the formation of the past participle (e.g., gesprochen, gefahren).

Because the principle parts of strong verbs are unpredictable, they must be learned -- either through repeated use or memorization -- or looked up in a dictionary. For easy reference, we have compiled a comprehensive list of the strong and irregular verbs that exist in German. This is a finite list. No new root strong verbs are being added to the German language anymore. In fact, over the centuries some old strong verbs have dropped their stem changes and have gradually been transformed into weak verbs.

Mixed verbs

As the name implies, mixed verbs share characteristics of both strong verbs and weak verbs. Like weak verbs, the mixed verbs have the dental suffix -te or -(e)t in the past participle and simple past and past participle forms respectively. Like the strong verbs, they also have a stem vowel change.

The principle parts of German mixed verbs
infinitive present tense stem change (3rd pers. sing.) simple past
(3rd pers. sing.)
past participle
-- brannte gebrannt
kennen -- kannte gekannt
wenden -- wandte gewandt
denken -- dachte gedacht
wissen weiß wusste gewusst

Note that among the mixed verbs, the verb wissen has an irregular conjugation in the present tense as well:

    sing. pl.
  1st person ich weiß_ wir wissen
  2nd person du weißt
ihr wisst
  3rd person er weiß_ sie wissen
The modal verbs are a subset of the mixed verbs that follow the same pattern as the verb wissen, in that they 1) have present tense stem changes, with the exception of sollen; and 2) are conjugated without personal endings in the 1st and 3rd persons of the present tense. Modal verbs are like the rest of the mixed verbs, in that they 1) have a changed stem in the simple past and past participle forms (with the exception of sollen and wollen); and 2) use the dental suffix -te and -(e)t in the simple past and past participle forms respectively:
The principle parts of German modal verbs
infinitive present tense stem change
(3rd pers. sing.)
simple past
3rd pers. sing.)
past participle
darf durfte gedurft
können kann konnte gekonnt
mögen mag mochte gemocht
müssen muss musste gemusst
sollen soll sollte gesollt
wollen will wollte gewollt

See also: Comprehensive list of strong & irregular verbs.

Books consulted:
Hammer's German Grammar and Usage, 2nd ed., by A.E. Hammer, revised by Martin Durrell, 544 p. (1983)
Using German, 2nd ed., Martin Durrell, 319 p. (2003)

The infinitive | The past participle | The present participle | Weak verbs | Strong verbs | Mixed verbs
List of all strong & irregular verbs | The present tense | The simple past tense
For more German verbs topics, see the GERMAN GRAMMAR INDEX

Vistawide - All About Learning Languages & Knowing Cultures

All content on this site is copyrighted. © 2004- VISTAWIDE.COM
Contact - About us