German Irregular Verbs – Explanation, Tips and Tricks

Unregelmäßige Verben im Deutschen – Erklärungen, Tips und Tricks

“Ich esse.” – “Ich aß.”

Well, most of you you might have seen this verb: “essen”. So, up here, you can see its 1st person singular form in the present tense. After that, you can see its form in the past tense.

Can you tell me, why this verb changes completely from one tense to another? Well, I can tell you why: It’s a German irregular verb!

Actually you have already entered one of the most ugly parts of German Grammar. So, you better be positive – once you have understood this topic, there is nothing that can frighten you anymore.

In the following, I’d like to give you some examples for irregular verbs. Furthermore, I’ll present to you five useful tricks that will help you to master this topic. It is important that you also understand in general about German verbs.

The Importance of German Irregular Verbs

Die Wichtigkeit von unregelmäßigen Verben im Deutschen

Of course, knowing that by passing this topic you master one of the most difficult ones in German should not be your only encouraging factor. So, here is why German irregular verbs are actually that important.

1. All Modal Verbs are German Irregular Verbs

Well, I am sure that most of you have heard about modal verbs. So, there are:

  • “können” – can
  • “müssen” – must
  • “wollen” – want to
  • “sollen” – should
  • “dürfen” – to be allowed to

Probably it’s unnecessary to talk about the crucial importance of these verbs in German, as well as in the English language. So, in order to conjugate them in a correct way, you should master irregular verbs.

2.  The three Auxiliary Verbs are German Irregular Verbs

Whether you’d like to form a special tense of say something in the passive mood – you always need an auxiliary verb (haben and sein). Unfortunately, all three of them are German irregular verbs:

  • “haben” – to habe
  • “sein” – to be
  • “werden” – to become

3. A lot of Other important Verbs are irregular

Well, to think, to help, to eat, to run — all of these common verbs are irregular. Unfortunately, messing up verb conjugation can mark you pretty quickly as a non-native speaker. So, just imagine if you heard someone say “I runned” instead of “I ran.” It would be a tip-off that this person was learning English. That’s why it’s important to learn how to conjugate these verbs.

German Irregular Verbs

Four Tricks to master German Irregular Verbs

Fünf Tricks um unregelmäßige Verben im Deutschen zu beherrschen

In the following, I’d like to present to you four tricks that could help you mastering German irrgular verbs.

1. The Difference between Weak and Strong Verbs

Of course, most of you know that there are actually three kind of verbs: Weak, strong and mixed verbs. Well, that also the main reason why you say “du läufst” instead of “du laufst”.

What is a Strong Verb?

Well, a strong verb’s stem changes. Based on the conjugation, as well as in the two past tenses. So, some of these stem changes in the present tense simply involve adding an “ä” or an “ö” in place of an “”a or an “o”. Other stems in the present tense undergo a complete change. Unfortunately, you simply have to recognize strong verbs by learning them by heart. Nevertheless, there is an example:

ich fahreich gebe
du fährstdu gibst
er/sie/es fährter/sie/es gibt
wir fahrenwir geben
ihr fahrtihr gebt
sie fahrensie geben

2. Learn the Past Tense of Strong Verbs

Although you might think that you have mastered German irregular verbs by knowing how to conjugate them in the present tense – I have to disappoint you. Unfortunately, their forms in the past tense are as irregular as the ones in the present tense. Well, at least there is one rule: All strong verbs in German use -en at the end of their stem to form the Particip II.

  • “Ich habe gewonnen.” (I have won.)
  • “Ich habe begonnen.” (I was beginning.)

3. Understand the Principles of Mixed Verbs

So, a mixed verb is a verb that combines some characteristics of weak verbs and strong verbs. Well, almost all mixed verbs are regular in the present tense, but in the past tense, they combine the ending of a weak verb (–t for Particip II, and te for Präteritum) with the vowel change of a strong verb. In the following, I’d like to present to you the most common mixed verbs.

  • “haben, hatte, gehabt” (to have, had, was having)
  • “kennen, kannte, gekannt” (to know, known, was knowing)
  • “wissen, wusste, gewusst” (to know, known, was knowing)
  • “denken, dachte, gedacht” (to think, thought, was thinking)
  • “bringen, brachte, gebracht” (to bring, brought, was bringing)
  • “rennen, rannte, (bin) gerannt” (to run, ran, was running)
  • “nennen, nannte, genannt” (to call, called, was calling)
  • “brennen, brannte, gebrannt” (to burn, burned, was burning)

4. Mind the “-ieren” Verbs

Basically, an “–ieren” verb is one of a handful of verbs, many of which came to German through French, that end in “–ieren”. These verbs follow the pattern of weak verbs, except in one way. In the Particip II form, instead of putting “ge-” at the beginning, you simply put a “–t” on the end.

  • “Diskutieren” (to discuss) is formed in the past as “Ich habe diskutiert” (I was discussing).
  • “Existieren” (to exist) is formed in the past as “Ich habe existiert” (I was existing).
  • “Fotografieren” (to photograph) is formed as “Ich habe fotografiert” (I was photographing).



Finally we have reached the last part of this article where you can proof the German skills you have just learned. In the following you will see some phrases that you should complete with the correct terms. Once you have filled all the gaps, just click on the “correct” button and  you can see your errors and the correct results. Good luck and .. auf Wiedersehen!

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