In German, the infinitive is a base form of the verb that ends in en. If the verb is go, the infinitive is to go - gehen, for example. If the verb is have, the infinitive is to have - haben.
Infinitives are used in some compound tenses, such as the future, with a helping verb.
Infinitives are infinite in the sense that they don't have a tense (fixed time) or person (a subject performing the verb), so they are not bound, limited, or finite - hence, in-finite.
Conjugated verbs are called finite verbs.
Participles are part of the verb, and they are a different part of speech. That is, they come from the verb, but they cannot be used as verbs (they don't have subjects, for example). They are often used as adjectives in German.
German has two types of participles: present and past. The present participle corresponds to
-ing words in English (starting, progressing, achieving), whereas past participles correspond, usually, to
-ed words in English (started, progressed, achieved). Past participles in German are used in compound past tenses with a helping verb.
In German the present participle is constructed by adding a -d to the infinitive (or more appropriately: adding -end to the stem, but since the infinitive already adds the -en, we just need to add a -d):
In German the present participle is never used alone. It is used as an adjective, and as such takes adjective endings:
The past participle is usually created by adding a ge- to the stem, and either an -en at the end if the verb is strong, or a -t if it is weak. The exceptions are sein, mixed verbs, and verbs with an inseparable prefix.
The past participle of sein is gewesen, the past participles of mixed verbs add a ge- and a -t but have a vowel change (we generally include the modal verbs here). Verbs with inseparable prefixes do not add a ge-.
Many strong verbs also have vowel changes in the past participle:
Past participles are used both as adjectives (just like present participles) and take adjective endings, and in compound tenses. In particular, they are used in the conversational past (aka the present perfect), the past subjunctive, and the passive.
There are a handful of verbs that can be used on their own, but which are commonly used to produce other tenses or moods, and we call these helping verbs. They fall into three related categories:
We can think of these verbs as changing the way we think of the verb (as an infinitive or past participle) they are paired with. When haben and sein are used with a past participle, they indicate that the action of the other verb has already happened:
Werden as a verb means to become and thus indicates something that has not yet happened. When used as a helping verb with an infinitive, it indicates that the other verb has not (yet) happened:
Werden is also used to make the passive voice: a present or past form of werden is combined with the past participle of a transitive verb (one that can take a direct object):
The modal verbs by themselves indicate ability, desire, and obligation, and when combined with an infinitive they indicate one's desire, obligation or ability regarding the other verb:
German has two moods: indicative and subjunctive. The indicative tells of an action that really happened (or happens). Thus, I speak ( ich spreche), you go (du gehst), we eat (wir essen). This mood is used to describe what we do, what we did, and even what we will do. Notice the similarity to the word indicate. The present and past tenses are both indicative.
The subjunctive shows possibility, doubt, and what ifs. It is most commonly used in its past tense form, known as Konjunktiv II; the II indicates that it is the 2nd subjunctive; the 1st subjunctive, more rarely used, is the present subjunctive.
The subjunctive (Konjunktiv II) is formed from the simple past tense. To summarize its formation: the subjunctive for weak verbs is identical to the past tense. The subjunctive of strong verbs takes the past tense stem (that is, without endings), adds an umlaut if the stem contains an a, o or u, and adds the subjunctive endings. The subjunctive of mixed verbs is the same as the past tense, but the vowels are umlauted. Thus, if you know the past tense, you know the subjunctive.
The subjunctive can also be formed by combining the subjunctive form of werden (würde, würdest, etc.) with the infinitive. Thus, ich würde kommen means the same as ich käme. We translate them the same: I would come, and we almost always translate the subjunctive form as 'would + verb'.
The following guidelines for use should be kept in mind:
The subjunctive of weak verbs is rarely used because it can be confused with the past tense; the würde + infinitive construction is much preferred.
The subjunctive of strong and mixed verbs is only used with certain high-frequency verbs: kommen, geben, gehen, wissen, lassen, and a few others; the würde + infinitive construction can also be used.
The subjunctive form of the helping and modal verbs is used; the würde + infinitive construction is not used.
The future tense in German is built by combining the present tense of werden with an infinitive. Thus, all one really needs to know in order to build the future tense of any verb in German is how to conjugate werden: ich werde, du wirst, er/sie/es wird, wir werden, ihr werdet, sie/Sie werden.
The future tense in German is not used as regularly as the will + verb construction in English. In most cases, the present tense is simply used with an expression of time. In English we sould say I will play basketball tomorrow; in German one says Ich spiele morgen Basketball.
You will not regularly encounter the future tense of werden, though it is possible (ich werde werden = I will become).
Actually, it's called simple because it's a one-word tense (hatte, ging, sprach, machte) and isn't a compound tense like the present perfect (hat gehabt, ist gegangen, habe gesprochen, haben gemacht). To be precise and technical, the Imperfekt or narrative past tense refers to a past event that is not yet fully completed (Latin 'perfect'), but I have never seen how this applies to its actual use in German in any practical way. However, it is sometimes useful to think of the narrative past as being used to describe a series of connected events in the past, i.e., a narrative. This is in contrast to the present perfect described below, which (technically) is used to describe isolated events in the past.
Used less in conversation and more in print/writing, the simple past, narrative past, or imperfect tense is often described as the more formal of the two basic past tenses in German and it is found primarily in books and newspapers. Therefore, with a few important exceptions, for the average learner it is more important to recognize and be able to read the simple past than to use it. (Exceptions include helping verbs such as haben, sein, werden, the modal verbs, and few others, whose simple past tense forms are often used in conversation as well as written German.)
The German simple past tense may have several English equivalents. A phrase such as er spielte Golf can be translated into English as: he was playing golf, he used to play golf, he played golf, or he did play golf, depending on the context.
The conversational past is the most common past tense in German because, as its name suggests, it is used in spoken (conversational) German. It is built by combining the present tense of haben or sein with the past participle of the verb under consideration. Ich habe gemacht means either I have done or I did - in German this distinction is not really made.
We not use the conversational past for haben or sein, but the simple past (say ich hatte not ich habe gehabt; say er war not er ist gewesen).
The present perfect is a compound (two-word) tense formed by combining an auxiliary (helping) verb with the past participle. Its name comes from the fact that the present tense form of the auxiliary verb is used, and the word perfect, which, as we mentioned above, is Latin for done/completed.
Because the present perfect or conversational past is used in spoken German, it is important to learn how this tense is formed and used. However, just as the simple past is not used exclusively in print/writing, neither is the present perfect used only for spoken German. The present perfect (and past perfect) is also used in newspapers and books, but not as often as the simple past. Most grammar books tell you that the German present perfect is used to indicate that something is finished at the time of speaking or that a completed past event has results that continue into the present. That can be useful to know, but it is more important to recognize some of the major differences in the way the present perfect is used in German and English.
For instance, if you want to express, I used to live in Munich in German, you can say, Ich habe in München gewohnt. - a completed event (you no longer live in Munich). On the other hand, if you want to say, I have lived/have been living in Munich for ten years, you can't use the perfect tense (or any past tense) because you're talking about an event in the present (you are still living in Munich). So German uses the present tense (with schon seit) in this situation: Ich wohne schon seit zehn Jahren in München, literally I live since ten years in Munich.
English speakers also need to understand that a German present perfect phrase such as er hat Geige gespielt, can be translated into English as: he has played (the) violin, he used to play (the) violin, he played (the) violin, he was playing (the) violin, or even he did play (the) violin, depending on the context. In fact, for a sentence such as, Beethoven hat nur eine Oper komponiert, it would only be correct to translate it into the English simple past, Beethoven composed only one opera, rather than the English present perfect, Beethoven has composed only one opera. (The latter incorrectly implies that Beethoven is still alive and composing.)
Past perfect: past tense of haben or sein with the past participle, meaning had done.
Past subjunctive: subjunctive of haben or sein with the past participle, meaning would have done.
Future perfect - present tense of werden along with haben or sein as an infinitive, and a past participle, meaning will have done (future because it hasn't yet happened, and perfect because by the time the future comes around, it will be completed).
We usually talk about a subject performing a verb (action). Often, the action is performed upon an object.
What if we wish to stress the object (that was acted upon) rather than the subject? What if we know the action, and what was acted upon, but not who did it? Then it is a good time to use the passive voice instead of the active voice.
We have the same distinction in English between the passive and the active, but the construction is a little different. In the examples below, the subject of the active and passive example is highlighted.
In English we use to be + past participle; in German we use werden + past participle. You don't use sein to form the passive in German.
The subject of a passive sentence is the direct object of an active sentence; the subject of an active sentence becomes the agent of a passive sentence, and usually can be left out.
Because every sentence needs a subject, verbs that do not take direct objects cannot be used in the passive. In short, any passive sentence can be turned into an active sentence; an active sentence with a direct object can be turned into a passive sentence.
Most of the time, the active voice is preferred to the passive (just as in English), but there are times when the passive is the better, or even only choice. If you do not know who performed the action, you use the passive. In some cases, it makes no sense to use the active.
Finally, since active sentences can be in a variety of tenses (present, past, present perfect, future, etc.) and moods (indicative, subjunctive), so can the passive.
In the list below you'll find those German verbs that take a direct object in the dative case rather than the normal accusative case.
The dative verbs category is a rather loose classification because almost any transitive verb can have a dative indirect object. But in general a dative verb is one that normally takes an object in the dative case - usually without any other object.
The list below does not include such normal verbs, as geben (to give) or zeigen (to show, to indicate), that commonly have both a direct and an indirect object (as in English):
In addition to the single-word English translation, many dative verbs can be translated with a to-phrase:
This favorite grammar trick of many German teachers does not always hold up (as with folgen (to follow). But this to aspect does have some basis in the German grammar of some dative verbs, in that they are not actually taking a true direct object. Ich glaube dir nicht. (I don't believe you.) is short for Ich glaube es dir nicht - in which es is the true direct object and dir is a sort of dative of possession that could be translated of you (i.e., I don't believe it of you.).
However, even if you are one of those rare people who find all this dative grammar fascinating, it is best to simply learn (memorize!) the more common dative verbs. Thus, the list below, which lists the most common dative verbs - those that you should learn first.
Note that many dative verbs also have an accusative be- prefix variation: antworten/beantworten, danken/bedanken, etc.
Below are additional dative verbs that are perhaps less common and not listed in part one. However, many of the verbs in this list are important German vocabulary and should also be learned.
One of the things German-learners need to learn is that German and English often do things a little differently. Although English does have some reflexive verbs forms (enjoy yourself), German relies much more on the reflexive than English does.
The grammatical term reflexive simply means that a verb's subject (the initiator of an action) is the same person as that verb's object (the person acted upon). The object reflects back to, or is a reflection of the subject. We are enjoying ourselves is a reflexive phrase. We are enjoying them is not—because the subject (we) is not the same person as the object (them).
The word reflexive means the same thing in English and German grammar, but as we said, German uses reflexive verbs much more frequently. German uses reflexive verb phrases and expressions that may not be reflexive in English. Particularly when it comes to showing possession and referring to parts of the body, German prefers the reflexive. To express he's washing his hands, German usually avoids the possessive sein (his) and uses the reflexive form er wäscht sich die Hände - in which the reflexive sich (himself) indicates whose hands are being washed. In English you can say I'm shaving myself, but you usually just say I'm shaving. In German to shave is a reflexive verb: sich rasieren. I'm shaving in German is ich rasiere mich - and such German verbs can't be used without the reflexive pronoun ( mich/myself).
Although some German verbs are exclusively reflexive, most can be either reflexive or not; the meaning of the reflexive form is very different from the non-reflexive form.