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German verbs

Summary of German verb tenses, voices, & moods

Basic tenses | Passive voice tenses | Subjunctive II tenses | Subjunctive II passive voice tenses
Subjunctive I tenses | Subjunctive I passive voice tenses | Imperative mood | GRAMMAR INDEX


There are 6 basic verb tenses in German. There are two simple verb tenses, which are formed using only the verb or its root or a derivative: the present tense and the simple past tense. The other four verb tenses -- the future tense, the present perfect tense, the past perfect tense, and the future perfect tense, are compound tenses, meaning that they are formed using a helping verb + the verb's infinitive or past participle. In the tables below, forms of the main verb are coded in blue and helping verbs are in orange.

When used in a sentence, either the verb itself or, in the case of compound tenses, the helping verb will be conjugated to agree with the subject of the sentence. This conjugated verb is called the finite verb.

German also has 2 voices: the active voice and the passive voice. A change in voice allows the subject of a sentence to become the object and vice versa. Each voice has a parallel form for each of the 6 verb tenses.

German verbs also have 3 moods: the indicative mood , the subjunctive mood, and the imperative mood. Moods express the speaker's attitude toward what s/he is saying. While the indicative mood uses all 6 verb tenses, the subjunctive uses only 4 verb tenses, and the imperative has only 1 form.



Indicative mood, Active voice

The indicative mood, active voice verb tenses are the ones you will learn first and that are used most frequently in German. When people talk about the "present tense" or "perfect tense" without any other distinction, they are referring to the indicative mood, active voice forms. The indicative mood is used in most statements and questions. The active voice places focus on the action of the sentence and who or what is carrying out the action.
Tense Examples English equivalent
Simple tenses      
PRESENT Ich spiele ...
I play, I do play, I am playing, I will play
  Er geht ... he goes, he does go, he is going, he will go
SIMPLE PAST Ich spielte ...
I played, I did play, I was playing
  Er ging ... he went, he did go, he was going
Compound tenses  
FUTURE Ich werde ... spielen. I will play
  Er wird ... gehen. he will go
PRESENT PERFECT Ich habe ... gespielt. I played, I did play, I was playing, I have played
  Er ist ... gegangen. he went, he did go, he was going, he has gone
PAST PERFECT Ich hatte ... gespielt. I had played
  Er war ... gegangen. he had gone
FUTURE PERFECT Ich werde ... gespielt haben.
I will have played
  Er wird ... gegangen sein. he will have gone


Indicative mood, Passive voice

The passive voice shifts the focus of the sentence from the subject of the action to the object of the action. The object of a sentence in the active voice becomes the subject of the sentence in the passive voice:
ACTIVE: He saw me.
PASSIVE: I was seen by him.
The passive voice is by definition created with the helping verb werden. This helping verb is used in addition to any other helping verbs a tense might use.

Tense Examples English equivalent
PRESENT Ich werde ... gehört.
I am heard
  Er wird ... gesehen. he is seen
SIMPLE PAST Ich wurde ... gehört.
I was heard
  Er wurde ... gesehen. he was seen
FUTURE Ich werde ... gehört werden. I will be heard
  Er wird ... gesehen werden. he will be seen
PRESENT PERFECT Ich bin ... gehört worden. I was heard, I have been heard
  Er ist ... gesehen worden. he was seen, he has been seen
PAST PERFECT Ich war ... gehört worden. I had been heard
  Er war ... gesehen worden. he had been seen
FUTURE PERFECT Ich werde ... gehört worden sein. I will have been heard
  Er wird ... gesehen worden sein. he will have been seen

Basic tenses | Passive voice tenses | Subjunctive II tenses | Subjunctive II passive voice tenses
Subjunctive I tenses | Subjunctive I passive voice tenses | Imperative mood | GRAMMAR INDEX


Subjunctive (II) mood, Active voice

While the indicative mood relates fact, the subjunctive mood conveys possibility, states an unreal condition, or expresses a wish, and it is also used for indirect speech.
INDICATIVE: He is taking a trip when he has the money.
SUBJUNCTIVE: He would take a trip if he had the money.

INDICATIVE: I ate quickly.
SUBJUNCTIVE: I would have eaten quickly.

INDICATIVE: We fell asleep.
SUBJUNCTIVE: If only we hadn't fallen asleep!

Tense Examples English equivalent
PRESENT Ich spielte ...
I would play; (if) I played
  Er ginge ... he would go; (if) he went
  Wir sängen ... we would sing; (if) we sang
FUTURE* Ich würde ... spielen. I would play
  Er würde ... gehen. he would go
  Wir würden ... singen. we would sing
PAST Ich hätte ... gespielt. I would have played; (if) I had played
  Er wäre ... gegangen. he would have gone; (if) he had gone
  Wir hätten ... gesungen. we would have sung; (if) he had sung
FUTURE PERFECT* Ich würde ... gespielt haben.
I would have played
  Er würde ... gegangen sein. he would have gone
  Wir würden ... gesungen haben. we would have sung
The future tense subjunctive is often used as an alternative to the present tense subjunctive, particularly in conversational German. The future perfect may also be used as an alternative to the past subjunctive. Note that the English equivalents are the same for these pairs of tenses.



Subjunctive (II) mood, Passive voice

The passive voice is by definition created with the helping verb werden. This helping verb is used in addition to any other helping verbs a tense might use.
Tense Examples English equivalent
PRESENT Ich würde ... gehört.
I would be heard; (if) I were heard
  Er würde ... gesehen. he would be seen; (if) he were seen
FUTURE* Ich würde ... gehört werden. I would be heard
  Er würde ... gesehen werden. he would be seen
PAST Ich wäre ... gehört worden. I would have been heard, (if) I had been heard
  Er wäre ... gesehen worden. he would have been seen, (if) he had been seen
FUTURE PERFECT* Ich würde ... gehört worden sein. I would have been heard
  Er würde ... gesehen worden sein. he would have been seen
As with the active voice of the subjunctive mood, in the passive voice the future tense subjunctive may substitute for the present tense subjunctive, and the future perfect tense may substitute for the past subjunctive. Note that the English equivalents are the same for these pairs of tenses.


Basic tenses | Passive voice tenses | Subjunctive II tenses | Subjunctive II passive voice tenses
Subjunctive I tenses | Subjunctive I passive voice tenses | Imperative mood | GRAMMAR INDEX


Subjunctive (I) mood, Active voice

The forms of subjunctive I parallel the subjunctive II forms. Subjunctive I is used primarily for reporting indirect speech. However, in the instances where subjunctive I is identical to the indicative form (indicated below in purple), subjunctive II is typically substituted to avoid confusion. English has no similar special form for reporting indirect speech.
Tense Examples English equivalent
PRESENT Ich spiele ...
(they said) I played
  Er gehe ... (they said) he went
  Wir singen ... (they said) we sang
FUTURE* Ich werde ... spielen. (they said) I would play
  Er werde ... gehen. (they said) he would go
  Wir werden ... singen. (they said) we would sing
PAST Ich habe ... gespielt. (they said) I had played
  Er sei ... gegangen. (they said) he had gone
  Wir haben ... gesungen. (they said) he had sung
FUTURE PERFECT* Ich werde ... gespielt haben.
(they said) I would have played
  Er werde ... gegangen sein. (they said) he would have gone
  Wir werden ... gesungen haben. (they said) we would have sung



Subjunctive (I) mood, Passive voice

The passive voice is by definition created with the helping verb werden. This helping verb is used in addition to any other helping verbs a tense might use. Again, the instances where subjunctive I is identical to the indicative form are indicated in purple. In these cases, the subjunctive I is normally replaced with the equivalent subjunctive II form to avoid confusion.
Tense Examples English equivalent
PRESENT Ich werde ... gehört.
(they said) I was heard
  Er werde ... gesehen. (they said) he was seen
FUTURE* Ich werde ... gehört werden. (they said) I would be heard
  Er werde ... gesehen werden. (they said) he would be seen
PAST Ich sei ... gehört worden. (they said) I had been heard
  Er sei ... gesehen worden. (they said) he had been seen
FUTURE PERFECT* Ich werde ... gehört worden sein. (they said) I would have been heard
  Er werde ... gesehen worden sein. (they said) he would have been seen


Basic tenses | Passive voice tenses | Subjunctive II tenses | Subjunctive II passive voice tenses
Subjunctive I tenses | Subjunctive I passive voice tenses | Imperative mood | GRAMMAR INDEX


Imperative mood

The imperative mood is used to express a command. There are only 4 forms of the imperative mood. To determine which one to use, the speaker need only consider whether to address those with whom s/he is speaking with Sie, ihr, or du, or whether to include him/herself by using the collective 1st person wir.
Imperative form Examples English equivalent
SIE-form Spielen Sie ... !
Play!
  Gehen Sie ... ! Go!
WIR-form Spielen wir ... !
Let's play!
  Gehen wir ... ! Let's go!
IHR-form Spielt ... !
Play!
  Geht ... ! Go!
DU-form Spiel ... !
Play!
  Geh ... ! Go!

Basic tenses | Passive voice tenses | Subjunctive II tenses | Subjunctive II passive voice tenses
Subjunctive I tenses | Subjunctive I passive voice tenses | Imperative mood | GRAMMAR INDEX



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