German All-in-One For Dummies, with CD
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Maybe you're familiar with some basics of German grammar, but you want to become more confident in both writing and speaking in German. This quick overview will reacquaint you with personal pronouns — try to memorize these and be sure you know all three cases — and help you brush up on present tense verb construction. With practice and time, you'll soon be off and having fun auf Deutsch (in German)!

German personal pronouns

In German, as in English, the personal pronoun family comes in very handy in all kinds of situations when you want to talk (or write) about people, including yourself, without repeating names all the time.

With German personal pronouns, the biggest difference is that you have to distinguish among three ways to formulate how to say you to your counterpart: du, ihr, and Sie. Other personal pronouns, like ich and mich (I and me) or wir and uns (we and us), bear a closer resemblance to English. Note: The genitive case isn’t represented among the personal pronouns because it indicates possession; the personal pronoun mich (me) can represent only a person, not something he or she possesses.

Notice in the following table that you and it don’t change, and the accusative (for direct objects) and dative (for indirect objects) pronouns are identical in English.

Person Subject Pronoun
Direct Object Pronoun
Indirect Object Pronoun
1st person singular ich (I) mich (me) mir (me)
2nd person singular, informal du (you) dich (you) dir (you)
3rd person singular (masculine) er (he, it) ihn (him, it) ihm (him, it)
3rd person singular (feminine) sie (she, it) sie (her, it) ihr (her, it)
3rd person singular (neuter) es (it) es (it) ihm (it)
1st person plural wir (we) uns (us) uns (us)
2nd person plural, informal ihr (you) euch (you) euch (you)
3rd person plural sie (they) sie (them) ihnen (them)
2nd person formal, singular or plural Sie (you) Sie (you) Ihnen (you)

German regular verb forms in the present tense

Talking and writing in German is usually a matter of knowing how to construct a verb in the present tense with the help of a noun (subject) and a few other elements. Most German verbs are regular, meaning they follow a standard pattern of conjugation.

To conjugate a regular verb in the present tense, just drop the -en from the infinitive and add the appropriate ending to the stem. In the present tense, English has only the ending -s or no ending at all (I live, you live, he lives), whereas German has four endings (-e, -st, -t, and -en).

In the following table, arbeiten (to work) represents a verb type that has slightly different endings in the du, er/sie/es, and ihr forms; tanzen (to dance) and heißen (to be called ) stand for types with different endings in the du form. Verb endings are indicated in bold.

Person Wohnen (to live) Arbeiten (to work) Tanzen (to dance) Heißen (to be called)
ich wohne arbeite tanze heiße
du wohnst arbeitest tanzt heißt
er/sie/es wohnt arbeitet tanzt heißt
wir wohnen arbeiten tanzen heißen
ihr wohnt arbeitet tanzt heißt
sie/Sie wohnen arbeiten tanzen heißen

German modal verbs in present tense

In German, modal verbs modify the main verb in the sentence. Here’s how they work: You take a plain old verb or phrase like eat, sleep, walk, plant a garden, play tennis, learn how to play chess, or do nothing. Then you think about your attitude toward these activities, and you decide you want to say I like to eat, I must sleep more, I would like to walk every day, I should plant a garden, I can play tennis well, I want to learn how to play chess, or I may do nothing. The underlined modal verbs offer you a wide range of ways to express your attitude toward actions such as eat, sleep, play, and learn.

Modal verbs such as obligation (sollen), ability (können), or permission (dürfen) usually come in second position; any other verbs get booted to the end of the sentence or clause. Modal verbs may stand alone without the main verb when the meaning of the main verb is clear from the context.

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 following table.

Person Dürfen (may, to be allowed to) Können (can, to be able to) Mögen (to like) Möchten (would like) Müssen (must) Sollen (should) Wollen (to want to)
ich darf kann mag möchte muss soll will
du darfst kannst magst möchtest musst sollst willst
er/sie/es darf kann mag möchte muss soll will
wir rfen können mögen möchten müssen sollen wollen
ihr rft könnt mögt möchtet müsst sollt wollt
sie/Sie rfen können mögen möchten müssen sollen wollen

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