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All you need to know about the verb “to be” in German

the verb to be in german (2)

Knowing the German verb for “to be” (“sein“) is essential for everyday conversations. However, the verb’s conjugation is incredibly irregular – so much so that it deserves its own lesson.

Conjugating the verb “sein

You might already know the rules for conjugating regular and irregular verbs in German. However, apart from a few slight similarities, the verb “sein” does not adhere to those rules at all! Thus, there is no other way than to learn the conjugation of “sein” by heart.

Here’s how “sein” is conjugated in German:

ich bin I am
du bist you are
er/sie/es ist he/she/it is
wir sind we are
ihr seid you are
sie sind they are

Example sentences with “sein

Ich bin heute gut gelaunt.

Today I am in a good mood.

Löwen sind meine Lieblingstiere.

Lions are my favorite animals.

Ihr seid aber früh!

Wow, you guys are early!

Du bist ein Schatz.

You’re a treasure.

Rehema ist meine Schwägerin.

Rehema is my sister-in-law.

Wir sind befreundet.

We are friends.

Now it’s your turn! Can you come up with some simple German sentences using all forms of “to be” just once?

Alternatively, you can try to translate those sentences to German:

  1. I am Marcus.
  2. You are my friend.
  3. She is 27 years old.
  4. We are business partners.
  5. You are our neighbours.
  6. They are visiting today.

Have you tried listening to German songs to improve your range of vocabulary?

When to use the German verb “sein

You use “sein” in several different situations:

  1. When you introduce yourself with name, age and nationality;

Ich bin (der) Lucas.

I’m Lucas.

Ich bin dreiunddreißig Jahre alt.

I’m thirty-three years old.

Ich bin Marokkanerin.

I am Moroccan.

2. When describing people, including yourself:

Annalena ist sportlich.

Annalena is sporty.

Die Nachbarn sind laut.

The neighbours are loud.

Ich bin intelligent.

I am intelligent.

3. When indicating time or location:

Es ist halb drei.

It’s half past two.

Nairobi ist in Kenia.

Nairobi is in Kenya.

Using “sein” when asking questions

You often use “sein” when formulating questions. Note that in German questions, the verb is the first word in the sentence.

Bist du sauer?

Are you angry?

Ist heute schönes Wetter?

Is the weather nice today?

Bin ich zu aufdringlich?

Am I too intrusive?

A conversation in German

Guten Morgen, Frau Fischer!

Ah, guten Morgen. Sie sind aber früh wach!

Ja, in der Tat. Ich bin schon ausgeschlafen.

Was ist Ihr Plan für heute?

Mein Mann ist krank, ich muss ihm Medikamente besorgen.

Oh nein, gute Besserung an ihn!

Und was ist Ihr Plan?

Ich treffe meine Schwester. Wir sind nachmittags verabredet.

Dann viel Spaß!

Danke. Bis später!

This could have been a conversation between two neighbours who meet at the front door. Note that Frau Fischer and her interlocuter address each other with the formal “Sie.

Apart from “Fischer” these are other (very!) common German surnames:

  • Schmitz
  • Schmidt
  • Schneider
  • Krämer
  • Müller
  • Weber
  • Wagner
  • Zimmermann
  • Bauer
  • Schulz

New vocabulary used in this lesson

To help you understand the sample sentences and sample conversation, find below a list of some new vocabulary I’ve used in this lesson.

  • das Tier, die Tiere – animal(s)
  • der Schatz, die Schätze – treasure(s)
  • die Schwägerin, die Schwägerinnen – sister-in-law(s)
  • der Geschäftspartner, die Geschäftspartner – business partner(s)
  • der Plan, die Pläne – plan(s)
  • das Medikament, die Medikamente – drug(s), medication
  • die Schwester, die Schwestern – sister(s)
  • das Wetter – the weather
  • Gute Besserung! – Get well soon!
  • Viel Spaß! – Have fun!
  • in der Tat – indeed
  • dann – then
  • früh – early
  • schon – already
  • sauer – angry
  • aufdringlich – intrusive
  • sportlich – sporty

As always, note vocabulary down with their articles and plural forms! That way you won’t struggle as much when you want to use those words in different contexts.

Schon gewusst?

In the sample conversation in this lesson, one of the interlocutors mentions that her husband is sick and that (s)he’s going to get medication for him. I’m wondering whether you automatically assumed the speaker to be a woman?

Well, actually, the speaker might as well be a man – since same-sex marriage has been legal in Germany since 1 October 2017.

Speaking of his or her husband being sick, do you know much about the German health system? It is actually commonly viewed as one of the best in the world!

By the way, “schon gewusst?” is a phrase commonly used in German writing, meaning “did you (already) know?”

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