Although German is a difficult language, verb conjugation is easier than in most other languages, especially easier than in Spanish, Italian or French. With 3 basic forms – like in English – we can conjugate all tenses and persons, making it much simpler for students to memorise the information necessary to make sentences.
Unlike in English, however, every person requires a specific ending. Still, on the whole, German verb conjugation is more manageable than in many languages and it provides a nice break from the many intricacies of the German language.
It is good practice to learn the 3 forms: Infinitiv (used for the present), Präteritum (simple past), Perfekt (present perfect). Firstly, we need to distinguish between regular and irregular verbs.
Let’s start with regular verbs as they are easier and look at the verb “suchen” which means “look for” or “seek” (the English verb seek comes originally from the German suchen).
suchen suchte (haben) gesucht
We notice that we use the letter “t” to indicate that we are speaking in the past, similar to the “ed” used in English regular verbs.
You will notice that, when you look in the dictionary, regular verbs will only show the infinitive form. This means that they are regular and follow the model of “suchen” with a “t” both in the second and third form.
For irregular verbs, we need to memorise the three forms. With practice, you will realise that many verbs fall into groups with the same vowel changes, so you will develop an instinct for many of the irregularities.
The dictionary will help you as irregular verbs are listed with the 3 forms to help you navigate the conjugation. Let us look at a couple of examples:
stehen stand (haben) gestanden
We see that we have a vowel change from “e” to “a” and we replace “h” with “d”. We also notice that the English verb “stand” is derived from the second form of the German verb!
laufen lief (sein) gelaufen
In this case, the verb “laufen” (walk/run) has a vowel change in the second form but not in the third. However, we also notice that “laufen” requires the auxiliary verb “sein” rather than “haben”. The dictionary will specify whether a verb requires “sein” as an auxiliary verb.
If you want to know more about auxiliary verbs in German, check out the article in my blog about auxiliary verbs. Good luck!