Strong, weak & mixed verbs

Verbs are words of action or state: to be, to have, to eat, to live, to die.

In German, verbs can be either transitive (they can take a direct object) or intransitive (they don't take a direct object). Examples of the latter include verbs of motion and of state (to go, to be).

In German, verbs have two simple tenses: past and present. All other tenses are compound, i.e. made up of a helping verb (werden, sein, haben) and either a past participle or an infinitive.

Strong verbs

Strong verbs are in general the original verbs that go back thousands of years in the history of German. They are characterized by a vowel change in the stem between the present and past tense. They also often show a vowel change in the present tense in the 2nd and 3rd person singular.

Present tense (vowel change in 2nd and 3rd person singular)

Ich sehe, du siehst, er sieht
(I see, you see, he sees)

Vowel change between present and past tense

er kommt, er kam
(he comes, he came)

In the following chart we have listed the principal parts of German verbs that have irregular forms that must be memorized.

Only some compound verbs are listed (e.g. anfangen). To conjugate other compound verbs based on other verbs, e.g., abgeben, based on geben, simply use the stem verb (in this case geben) with the prefix (in this case ab) to get the past tense (gab ab) or past participle (abgegeben).

Participles that require sein as a helping verb are indicated by ist in front of the past participle. The English meaning shown for each verb may be only one of several possible meanings.

List of strong verbs

Infinitive: anfangen (to begin)
Past simple: fing an (began)
Past participle: angefangen (begun)
Infinitive: ankommen (to arrive)
Past simple: kam an (arrived)
Past participle: ist angekommen (arrived)
Infinitive: anrufen (to call up)
Past simple: rief an (called up)
Past participle: angerufen (called up)
Infinitive: befehlen (to command)
Past simple: befahl (commanded)
Past participle: befohlen (commanded)
Infinitive: beginnen (to begin)
Past simple: begann (began)
Past participle: begonnen (begun)
Infinitive: beißen (to bite)
Past simple: biss (bit)
Past participle: gebissen (bitten)
Infinitive: bekommen (to get, to receive)
Past simple: bekam (got, received)
Past participle: bekommen (gotten, received)
Infinitive: betrügen (to deceive)
Past simple: betrog (deceived)
Past participle: betrogen (deceived)
Infinitive: biegen (to bend)
Past simple: bog (bent)
Past participle: gebogen (bent)
Infinitive: bieten (to offer)
Past simple: bot (offered)
Past participle: geboten (offered)
Infinitive: binden (to tie)
Past simple: band (tied)
Past participle: gebunden (tied)
Infinitive: bitten (to request)
Past simple: bat (requested)
Past participle: gebeten (requested)
Infinitive: blasen (to blow)
Past simple: blies (blew)
Past participle: geblasen (blown)
Infinitive: bleiben (to stay)
Past simple: blieb (stayed)
Past participle: geblieben (stayed)
Infinitive: bleichen (to bleach)
Past simple: blich (bleached)
Past participle: geblichen (bleached)
Infinitive: braten (to roast)
Past simple: briet (roasted)
Past participle: gebraten (roasted)
Infinitive: brechen (to break)
Past simple: brach (broke)
Past participle: gebrochen (broken)
Infinitive: brennen (to burn)
Past simple: brannte (burnt)
Past participle: gebrannt (burnt)
Infinitive: bringen (to bring)
Past simple: brachte (brought)
Past participle: gebracht (brought)
Infinitive: denken (to think)
Past simple: dachte (thought)
Past participle: gedacht (thought)
Infinitive: dürfen (to be allowed)
Past simple: durfte (was/were allowed)
Past participle: gedurft (been allowed)
Infinitive: empfangen (to receive)
Past simple: empfing (received)
Past participle: empfangen (received)
Infinitive: empfehlen (to recommend)
Past simple: empfahl (recommended)
Past participle: empfohlen (recommended)
Infinitive: erfinden (to invent)
Past simple: erfand (invented)
Past participle: erfunden (invented)
Infinitive: erlöschen (to extinguish)
Past simple: erlosch (extinguished)
Past participle: erloschen (extinguished)
Infinitive: erschrecken (to scare)
Past simple: erschrak (scared)
Past participle: erschrocken (scared)
Infinitive: essen (to eat)
Past simple: aß (ate)
Past participle: gegessen (eaten)
Infinitive: fahren (to drive)
Past simple: fuhr (drove)
Past participle: ist gefaren (driven)
Infinitive: fallen (to fall)
Past simple: fiel (fell)
Past participle: gefallen (fallen)
Infinitive: fangen (to catch)
Past simple: fing (caught)
Past participle: gefangen (caught)
Infinitive: finden (to find)
Past simple: fand (found)
Past participle: gefunden (found)
Infinitive: fliegen (to fly)
Past simple: flog (flew)
Past participle: geflogen (flown)
Infinitive: fliehen (to flee)
Past simple: floh (fled)
Past participle: geflohen (fled)
Infinitive: fließen (to flow)
Past simple: floss (flowed)
Past participle: geflossen (flowed)
Infinitive: fressen (to gorge)
Past simple: fraß (gorged)
Past participle: gefressen (gorged)
Infinitive: frieren (to freeze)
Past simple: fror (froze)
Past participle: gefroren (frozen)
Infinitive: gären (to ferment)
Past simple: gor (fermented)
Past participle: gegoren (fermented)
Infinitive: gebähren (to bear)
Past simple: gebahr (bore)
Past participle: gebohren (born)
Infinitive: geben (to give)
Past simple: gab (gave)
Past participle: gegeben (given)
Infinitive: gedeihen (to flourish)
Past simple: gedieh (flourished)
Past participle: gediehen (flourished)
Infinitive: gefallen (to like)
Past simple: gefiel (liked)
Past participle: gefallen (liked)
Infinitive: gehen (to go)
Past simple: ging (went)
Past participle: ist gegangen (gone)
Infinitive: gelingen (to succeed)
Past simple: gelang (succeeded)
Past participle: gelungen (succeeded)
Infinitive: gelten (to be valid)
Past simple: galt (was valid)
Past participle: gegolten (been valid)
Infinitive: genießen (to enjoy)
Past simple: genoss (enjoyed)
Past participle: genossen (enjoyed)
Infinitive: geschehen (to happen)
Past simple: geschah (happened)
Past participle: geschehen (happened)
Infinitive: gewinnen (to win)
Past simple: gewann (won)
Past participle: gewonnen (won)
Infinitive: gießen (to pour)
Past simple: goss (poured)
Past participle: gegossen (poured)
Infinitive: gleichen (to resemble)
Past simple: glich (resembled)
Past participle: geglichen (resembled)
Infinitive: gleiten (to slide)
Past simple: glitt (glided)
Past participle: geglitten (poured)
Infinitive: graben (to dig)
Past simple: grub (dug)
Past participle: gegraben (dug)
Infinitive: greifen (to grasp)
Past simple: griff (grasped)
Past participle: gegriffen (grasped)
Infinitive: haben (to have)
Past simple: hatte (had)
Past participle: gehabt (had)
Infinitive: halten (to hold)
Past simple: hielt (held)
Past participle: gehalten (held)
Infinitive: hängen (to hang)
Past simple: hing (hung)
Past participle: gehangen (hung)
Infinitive: heben (to lift)
Past simple: hob (lifted)
Past participle: gehoben (lifted)
Infinitive: heißen (to be named)
Past simple: hieß (named)
Past participle: geheißen (named)
Infinitive: helfen (to help)
Past simple: half (helped)
Past participle: geholfen (helped)
Infinitive: kennen (to know)
Past simple: kannte (knew)
Past participle: gekannt (known)
Infinitive: klingen (to sound)
Past simple: klang (sounded)
Past participle: geklungen (sounded)
Infinitive: kneifen (to pinch)
Past simple: kniff (pinched)
Past participle: gekniffen (pinched)
Infinitive: kommen (to come)
Past simple: kam (came)
Past participle: gekommen (come)
Infinitive: können (can)
Past simple: konnte (could)
Past participle: gekonnt (could)
Infinitive: kriechen (to crawl)
Past simple: kroch (crawled)
Past participle: gekrochen (crawled)
Infinitive: laden (to load)
Past simple: lud (loaded)
Past participle: geladen (loaded)
Infinitive: lassen (to let, to allow)
Past simple: ließ (let)
Past participle: gelassen (let)
Infinitive: laufen (to run)
Past simple: lief (ran)
Past participle: gelaufen (run)
Infinitive: leiden (to suffer)
Past simple: litt (suffered)
Past participle: gelitten (suffered)
Infinitive: leihen (to lend)
Past simple: lieh (lent)
Past participle: geliehen (lent)
Infinitive: lesen (to read)
Past simple: las (read)
Past participle: gelesen (read)
Infinitive: liegen (to lie)
Past simple: lag (lay)
Past participle: gelegen (lain)
Infinitive: lügen (to lie)
Past simple: log (lied)
Past participle: gelogen (lied)
Infinitive: meiden (to avoid)
Past simple: mied (avoided)
Past participle: gemieden (avoided)
Infinitive: messen (to measure)
Past simple: maß (measured)
Past participle: gemessen (measured)
Infinitive: misslingen (to fail)
Past simple: misslang (failed)
Past participle: misslungen (failed)
Infinitive: mögen (to like)
Past simple: mochte (liked)
Past participle: gemocht (liked)
Infinitive: müssen (must, to have to)
Past simple: musste (had to)
Past participle: gemusst (had to)
Infinitive: nehmen (to take)
Past simple: nahm (took)
Past participle: genommen (taken)
Infinitive: nennen (to name)
Past simple: nannte (named)
Past participle: genannt (named)
Infinitive: pfeifen (to whistle)
Past simple: pfiff (whistled)
Past participle: gepfiffen (whistled)
Infinitive: raten (to advise)
Past simple: riet (advised)
Past participle: geraten (advised)
Infinitive: reiben (to rub)
Past simple: rieb (rubbed)
Past participle: gerieben (rubbed)
Infinitive: reißen (to tear)
Past simple: riss (tore)
Past participle: gerissen (torn)
Infinitive: reiten (to ride)
Past simple: ritt (rode)
Past participle: geritten (ridden)
Infinitive: rennen (to run)
Past simple: rannte (ran)
Past participle: gerannt (run)
Infinitive: riechen (to smell)
Past simple: roch (smelled)
Past participle: gerochen (smelled)
Infinitive: ringen (to wring)
Past simple: rang (wrung)
Past participle: gerungen (wrung)
Infinitive: rinnen (to flow)
Past simple: rann (flowed)
Past participle: geronnen (flowed)
Infinitive: rufen (to call)
Past simple: rief (called)
Past participle: gerufen (called)
Infinitive: saugen (to suck)
Past simple: sog (sucked)
Past participle: gesogen (sucked)
Infinitive: rufen (to call)
Past simple: rief (called)
Past participle: gerufen (called)
Infinitive: schaffen (to create, to make)
Past simple: schuf (created)
Past participle: geschaffen (created)
Infinitive: scheinen (to shine)
Past simple: schien (shone)
Past participle: geschienen (shone)
Infinitive: schelten (to scold)
Past simple: scholt (scolded)
Past participle: gescholten (scolded)
Infinitive: schießen (to shoot)
Past simple: schoss (shot)
Past participle: geschossen (shot)
Infinitive: schlafen (to sleep)
Past simple: schlief (slept)
Past participle: geschlafen (slept)
Infinitive: schlagen (to hit)
Past simple: schlug (hit)
Past participle: geschlagen (hit)
Infinitive: schleichen (to sneak)
Past simple: schlich (sneaked)
Past participle: geschlichen (sneaked)
Infinitive: schleifen (to polish)
Past simple: schliff (polished)
Past participle: geschliffen (polished)
Infinitive: schließen (to close, to lock)
Past simple: schloss (closed)
Past participle: geschlossen (closed)
Infinitive: schmeißen (to fling, to toss)
Past simple: schmiss (flung)
Past participle: geschmissen (flung)
Infinitive: schmelzen (to melt)
Past simple: schmolz (melted)
Past participle: geschmolzen (melted)
Infinitive: schneiden (to cut)
Past simple: schnitt (cut)
Past participle: geschnitten (cut)
Infinitive: schreiben (to write)
Past simple: schrieb (wrote)
Past participle: geschrieben (written)
Infinitive: schreien (to scream)
Past simple: schrie (screamed)
Past participle: geschrien (screamed)
Infinitive: schweigen (to be silent)
Past simple: schwieg (was silent)
Past participle: geschwiegen (been silent)
Infinitive: schwellen (to swell, to rise)
Past simple: schwoll (swelled)
Past participle: geschwollen (swelled)
Infinitive: schwimmen (to swim)
Past simple: schwamm (swam)
Past participle: geschwommen (swum)
Infinitive: schwinden (to dwindle)
Past simple: schwand (dwindled)
Past participle: geschwunden (dwindled)
Infinitive: schwören (to swear)
Past simple: schwor (swore)
Past participle: geschworen (sworn)

Weak verbs

Weak verbs are a more recent addition to the language (though still a couple thousand years old!). Weak verbs tend to be very regular and don't have vowel changes, neither within the present tense, nor between the present and past. To build the past tense from the present, just add a t (or et) at the end of the stem and add the proper ending:

Infinitive: arbeiten (to work)
Past simple:
ich arbeitete (I worked)
du arbeitetest (you worked)
er/sie/es arbeitete (he/she/it worked)

wir arbeiteten (we worked)
ihr arbeitetet (you worked)
sie/Sie arbeiteten (they, you [formal] worked)
Infinitive: arbeiten (to work)
ich habe gearbeitet (I have worked)
du hast gearbeitet (you have worked)
er/sie/es hat gearbeitet (he/she/it has worked)

wir haben gearbeitet (we have worked)
ihr habt gearbeitet (you have worked)
sie/Sie haben gearbeitet (they/you [formal] have worked)
Infinitive: spielen (to play)
Past simple:
ich spielte (I played)
du spieltest (you played)
er/sie/es spielte (he/she/it played)

wir spielten (we played)
ihr spieltet (you played)
sie/Sie spielten (they, you [formal] played)
Infinitive: spielen (to play)
ich habe gespielt (I have played)
du hast gespielt (you have played)
er/sie/es hat gespielt (he/she/it has played)

wir haben gespielt (we have played)
ihr habt gespielt (you have played)
sie/Sie haben gespielt (they/you [formal] have played)

New verbs in German are almost guaranteed to be weak verbs, and when you create a new verb in German, it should be weak.

Mixed verbs

The third category is called mixed because they mix characteristics of both strong and weak verbs.

In particular, they add a t in the past tense, but they also have vowel changes:

Infinitive: kennen (to know)
Past simple:
ich kannte (I knew)
du kanntest (you knew)
er/sie/es spielte (he/she/it knew)

wir kannten (we knew)
ihr kanntet (you knew)
sie/Sie kannten (they, you [formal] knew)
Infinitive: kennen (to know)
ich habe gekannt (I have known)
du hast gekannt (you have known)
er/sie/es hat gekannt (he/she/it has known)

wir haben gekannt (we have known)
ihr habt gekannt (you have known)
sie/Sie haben gekannt (they/you [formal] have known)
Infinitive: denken (to think)
Past simple:
ich dachte (I thought)
du dachtest (you thought)
er/sie/es dachte (he/she/it thought)

wir dachten (we thought)
ihr dachtet (you thought)
sie/Sie dachten (they, you [formal] thought)
Infinitive: denken (to think)
ich habe gedacht (I have thought)
du hast gedacht (you have thought)
er/sie/es hat gedacht (he/she/it has thought)

wir haben gedacht (we have thought)
ihr habt gedacht (you have thought)
sie/Sie haben gedacht (they/you [formal] have thought)

There are fewer mixed verbs than strong or weak verbs, and you must just memorize them.

In some languages you refer to regular and irregular verbs — in German we generally don't. Weak verbs could be the regular ones, but strong verbs also fall into well-defined categories ... they aren't irregular. Mixed verbs are often called irregular weak verbs.

German does have a few truly irregular verbs ... ones that don't seem to really follow the rules, and the best example is sein. What is the logic to ich bin, du bist, es ist, wir sind, ihr seid, sie sind? The only comfort we can give is that the verb to be is irregular in basically all Indo-European languages.

Lingwell © 2012-21 All rights reserved.