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Getting a Feel for German Modal Verbs

Modal verbs help you convey your attitude or explain how you feel about an action in German. They usually accompany another verb and appear in the second position of a sentence. The verb they assist generally appears at the end of the clause.

The following table shows each German modal verb in infinitive form along with the English translation, followed by a statement using the modal verb. Look at the various ways of modifying the statement Ich lerne Deutsch (I learn German) with the modal verbs. Notice that the modal verb is in second position in the sentence, and the main verb gets booted to the end.

German Modal Verb Translation Example English Equivalent
dürfen may, to be allowed to Ich darf Deutsch lernen. l may/am allowed to learn German.
können can, to be able to Ich kann Deutsch lernen. l can/am able to learn German.
mögen to like to Ich mag Deutsch lernen. l like to learn German.
möchten would like to Ich möchte Deutsch lernen. l would like to learn German.
müssen must, to have to Ich muss Deutsch lernen. l must/have to learn German.
sollen should, to be supposed to Ich soll Deutsch lernen. I’m supposed to/should learn German.
wollen to want to Ich will Deutsch lernen. I want to learn German.

These verbs all have regular verb endings in their plural forms (wir, ihr, sie, and Sie). Most of them also have irregular verb changes, some of which you can see in the examples in the table.

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