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Irregular verb conjugation in German

irregular verb conjugation

You’ve already learned how to conjugate regular German verbs. In this lesson, you’ll find out more about irregular (“strong”) verb conjugation.

Irregular German verbs

In irregular German verbs a vowel in the verb stem changes during conjugation, mostly in the second and third person singular. However, the same endings used for conjugating regular German verbs also apply to irregular verbs.

To recap the word endings used when conjugating German verbs, have a look at this table:

1st person singular (verb stem)+e
2nd person singular (verb stem)+st
3rd person singular (verb stem)+t
1st person plural (verb stem)+en
2nd person plural (verb stem)+t
3rd person plural (verb stem)+en

Verbs with a vowel change from ‘e‘ to ‘i

Firstly, some verbs change the ‘e‘ in their verb stem to an ‘i‘ in the second and third person singular.

A good example is the word “helfen” (to help). Check out the table below to see how the ‘e‘ in “helfen” changes:

ich helfe i’m helping
du hilfst you’re helping
er/sie/es hilft he/she/it is helping
wir helfen we’re helping
ihr helft you’re helping
sie helfen they’re helping

Other words that change the ‘e‘ in their verb stem to an ‘i are, among others:

  • essen (to eat) – du isst; er/sie/es isst
  • geben (to give) – du gibst; er/sie/es gibt
  • treffen (to meet) – du triffst; er/sie/es trifft
  • sprechen (to speak) – du sprichst; er/sie/es spricht
  • vergessen (to foget) – du vergisst; er/sie/es vergisst
  • brechen (to break, informally also: to vomit) – du brichst; er/sie/es bricht
  • sterben (to die) – du stirbst; er/sie/es stirbt
  • werfen (to throw) – du wirfst; er/sie/es wirft

Note that for the verb “essen“, in the second person singular, despite the second person singular ending being “-st“, and the verb stem itself already having two “s“, “isst” is spelled with two “s“, not with three.

There is one verb in this category that changes more than just the vowel ‘e‘ to ‘i‘. This is the verb “nehmen” (to take). When conjugating “nehmen“, in the second and third person singular the ‘h‘ is replaced with an ‘m:

ich nehme i’m taking
du nimmst you’re taking
er/sie/es nimmt he/she/it is taking
wir nehmen we’re taking
ihr nehmt you’re taking
sie nehmen they’re taking

Example sentences with irregular verbs whose stem changes the vowel ‘e‘ to ‘i‘:

Nimmst du das Bonbon?

Are you taking the candy?

By the way, did you know that Germany has a rich history in candy-making and that many of the treats known around the world originated there?

irregular verb conjugation 2irregular verb conjugation 3irregular verb conjugation 4

Antonia hilft ihrem Nachbarn beim Mähen.

Antonia is helping her neighbor with mowing the lawn.

Changing the vowel ‘e‘ to ‘ie

Some verbs that have an ‘e‘ in their verb stem change this ‘e‘ to ‘ie‘ in the second and third person singular.

Let’s illustrate this with the example of the verb “sehen” (to see):

ich sehe i’m seeing
du siehst you’re seeing
er/sie/es sieht he/she/it is seeing
wir sehen we’re seeing
ihr seht you’re seeing
sie sehen they’re seeing

Other German verbs that change the ‘e‘ in their verb stem to an ‘ie‘ are, among others:

  • lesen (to read) – du liest; er/sie/es liest
  • empfehlen (to recommend) – du empfiehlst; er/sie/es empfiehlt
  • geschehen (to happen) – es geschieht
  • stehlen (to steal) – du stiehlst; er/sie/es stiehlt

Example sentences with irregular verbs whose verb stem vowel changes from ‘e‘ to’ie‘:

Liest du gerne?

Do you like reading?

Der Dieb stiehlt ein Auto.

The thief is stealing a car.

Changing ‘a‘ to ‘ä‘ in German verb stems

Finally, the last vowel change in the verb stems of (some!) German verbs is a change from the vowel ‘a‘ to its mutated version ‘ä‘:

ich trage i’m seeing
du trägst you’re seeing
er/sie/es trägt he/she/it is seeing
wir tragen we’re seeing
ihr tragt you’re seeing
sie tragen they’re seeing

Other verbs that change the vowel ‘a‘ in their verb stem to ‘ä‘ when conjugating the second and third person singular are:

  • fahren (to drive) – du fährst; er/sie/es fährt
  • laufen (to run) – du läufst; er/sie/es läuft
  • anfangen (to begin) – du fängst an; er/sie es fängt an
  • einladen (to invite) – du lädst ein; er/sie/es lädt ein
  • halten (to hold) – du hältst; er/sie/es hält
  • schlafen (to sleep) – du schläfst; er/sie/es schläft
  • fallen (to fall) – du fällst; er/sie/es fällt
  • schlagen (to hit) – du schlägst; er/sie/es schlägt
  • waschen (to wash) – du wäschst; er/sie es wäscht

Example sentences with irregular verbs whose verb stem vowel changes from ‘a‘ to ‘ä‘:

Du schläfst jeden Abend um 9 Uhr.

You’re sleeping at 9 o’clock every evening.

Das Kind fällt hin.

The child is falling down.

Using irregular German verbs

Apart from the vowel changes in some irregular German verbs, those verbs are being used in the same way as regular German verbs.

If you have trouble remembering vocabulary, why not try learning some verbs with pictures?

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