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Infinitives, present participles,
and past participles can all be
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See Infinitive nouns and
Adjectival nouns.













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German verbs

Infinitives, present participles & past participles


The infinitive in German

The infinitive form of a verb is the basic form found in dictionary entries and is equivalent to the English form with to + the simple verb, e.g., to see, to have, to know. Most German infinitives end in -en with the exception of two that end in -n (sein, tun) and a handful that end in -ern (e.g. wandern, ändern) and -eln (e.g., handeln, sammeln).

This most basic form is also known as the present infinitive. When someone refers to the infinitive, it is normally this present infinitive that is meant. There are, however, four types of infinitives in the German language:

Infinitive type
(Parentheses indicate words that are often left out when naming these infinitive types.)
Examples
(Present Active) Infinitive
essen to eat
hören to hear
Perfect (Active) Infinitive gegessen haben to have eaten
gereist sein to have traveled
(Present) Passive Infinitive gegessen werden to be eaten
gehört werden to be heard
Perfect Passive Infinitive gegessen worden sein to have been eaten
gehört worden sein to have been heard

The infinitive is typically used in a clause in addition to another finite (conjugated) verb form. It commonly accompanies finite modal verbs (können, müssen, dürfen, sollen, wollen, mögen), some verbs of perception (e.g. hören, sehen, spüren), and a few other verbs (e.g., lassen, gehen, bleiben, helfen, lehren). The infinitive is also used in the formation of some verb tenses and moods. When used with a finite verb, the accompanying infinitive appears at the end of a sentence or independent clause.

Examples
(The finite verb is in black, bold-faced type and the infinitive form is indicated in blue.)
Ich kann nicht schlafen.

I am not able to sleep.
Sie soll uns schon geschrieben haben.

She is supposed to have written us already.
Die Kinder gehen täglich schwimmen.

The children go swimming every day.
Das wird heute gemacht werden.

That will be done today.
Wir hörten ihn kommen.

We heard him coming.
Er mag wohl gesehen worden sein. He may have been seen.

Notice that in German is not always best translated as an infinitive form in English. The preposition to is sometimes omitted and in some instances the English -ing is a preferable equivalent to the German infinitive.

See also: Infinitive nouns.



The present participle

Formation
The present participle of German verbs is formed by adding a -d suffix to the infinitive form of the verb.

infinitive present participle
reisen to travel reisend traveling
ankommen to arrive ankommend arriving
leiden to suffer leidend suffering

Usage
By far the most common use of the German present participle is as an adjective. Like other adjectives, the present participle takes endings when used attributively.

der bellende Hund the barking dog
ein schreiendes Kind
a screaming child
die kochenden Kartoffeln the boiling potatoes

Note, however, that although the German present participle is often equivalent in meaning to the English -ing form, the German variant may never be used in forming verb tenses. The progressive tenses in English (e.g. I am going, I was sleeping, I will be working) are included as possible meanings in the formation of the German present, future, and perfect tenses. Note, for example, that the English present progressive tense is rendered in German with the present tense.

Der Hund bellt. The dog is barking.
Ein Kind schreit.
A child is screaming.
Die Kartoffeln kochen. The potatoes are boiling.

There are a number of present participles that have come into very common usage in German, so much so that they have taken on meanings independent of their status as a present participle. Unlike other participles, these may be used as predicate adjectives.

Examples:
anscheinend apparently entscheidend decisive
ansteckend contagious reizend charming
auffallend conspicuous spannend exciting
bedeutend significant überzeugend convincing
dringend urgent wütend angry
       
Der Krimi war sehr spannend. The thriller was exciting.
Sein Verhalten ist überraschend. His behavior is surprising.


The past participle

Formation
The marker of the German verbs past participle is often a ge- prefix at the beginning of the word: geschrieben, gemacht, gewusst. In addition to this prefix, the participle is generally formed in one of two ways, depending upon the verb's status as a weak verb or a strong verb:

Verb type &
Infinitive forms
Past participle examples
Formation of past participles
Weak verbs
  machen
  kochen
  mieten


gemacht
gekocht
gemietet

ge + infinitive stem + (e)t
Strong verbs
  fahren
  trinken
  schreiben

gefahren
getrunken
geschrieben

ge + perfect stem + en

Weak verbs form their participles using the present tense stem and the suffix -(e)t.
(An e is added before the -t where the verb stem ends in -d or -t, or in -m or -n preceded by a consonant other than l or r).

Strong verbs all form their participles with the suffix -en, but the verb stem is unpredictable and often includes a stem vowel change (e.g., getrunken, geschrieben), though not necessarily (e.g. gefahren).

In addition to these two verb types, a third type -- mixed verbs -- combine characteristics of the weak and strong past participles:

Verb type &
Infinitive forms
Past participle Formation of past participles
Mixed verbs
  wissen
  denken
  können

gewusst
gedacht
gekonnt

ge + perfect stem + (e)t

Mixed verbs form their participles with a stem change, like the strong verbs, but have the suffix -(e)t of the weak verbs. These verbs are relatively few in number.

There are some deviations and additional features to consider in the use of the ge- prefix in the past participle of all verb types.

• Verbs with separable prefixes include the ge- between the prefix and the verb stem (e.g., angefangen, aufgeregt, zurückgebracht).

• Verbs with inseparable prefixes in their infinitive forms omit the ge- prefix entirely in the past participle (e.g., verkommen, erzählt, bewusst). Hence, verbs with the inseparable prefix ge- in their infinitive forms do not add an additional ge- in the past participle (gelungen [from the infinitive gelingen], gestaltet [from the infinitive gestalten].

• Verbs with -ieren omit the ge- in the past participle form. These verbs are all weak, so their past participles all end in -t (e.g., studiert, repariert, manipuliert).
See also: Weak verbs, Strong verbs, Mixed verbs, List of strong & irregular verbs.
See also: Separable prefix verbs, Inseparable prefix verbs.

Usage
Past participles are used in German in the formation of all of the perfect tenses -- the present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect -- to mark past action, and it is used in the formation of all 6 tenses of the passive voice.

In addition, past participles are frequently used as adjectives. Like other adjectives, the present participle takes endings when used attributively.

gekochte Kartoffeln boiled potatoes
ein erfahrener Lehrer
an experienced teacher
die angesehene Schauspielerin the esteemed actress

Past participles can be used as predicate adjectives following the verb sein. This is often referred to as the statal passive in analogy with the structure of passive voice. However, it is important to note that the verb sein + past participle describes a particular state, whereas the use of the passive voice conveys a process or its end result.

Es ist heute bedeckt. Today it's overcast.
Der Laden ist schon geschlossen.
The store isn't already closed.
Berlin war durch eine Mauer getrennt. Berlin was divided by a wall.

English speakers should be aware that sein + past participle is not identical to the English passive voice which is formed using to be + the English past participle.


See also: Adjectives, Extended modifiers, Adjectival nouns.
See also German tenses: Present perfect, Past perfect, Future perfect, Passive voice.
The infinitive | The past participle | The present participle | Weak verbs | Strong verbs | Mixed verbs
List of strong & irregular verbs | Dative verbs | Genitive verbs | Verb + preposition idioms
For more German verbs topics, see the GERMAN GRAMMAR INDEX

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