Although German is a complicated language, verb conjugation is much easier than in other European languages such as Spanish, Italian or French. If you are a beginner, there are 3 fundamental things you need to know about the conjugation of German verbs in the present tense which apply to the vast majority of German verbs (remember that there are always exceptions, of course!).
THE SUBJECT MUST ALWAYS BE EXPRESSED
In Latin-based languages, it is not necessary to express a pronoun every time we say a verb as the subject is implied by conjugating the verb differently for each person. By contrast, in English we must always express the pronoun every time we say a verb, otherwise we do not understand who is performing the action.
Although in German we conjugate each person differently in a similar way to Spanish, Italian or French, we must also express the pronoun just like in English. As a result, students may sometimes think that German uses redundant words.
And this is correct, of course. German uses more words than necessary! However, rules are rules and so we must accept it. Let us look at the pronouns for each person which we need to memorise.
Ich du er sie es wir ihr sie Sie
I you he she it we you (plural) they you (polite form)
Remember that, unless there is a noun for each verb we say, we must use the correct pronoun.
THE SUFFIXES ARE EASY TO MEMORISE
In addition to the pronoun, we must add the correct suffix to each person. Let us use a regular verb as an example: kochen (to cook).
Kochen has two parts, the root “Koch” and the infinitive suffix “en”: koch-en
In order to conjugate this verb in the present, we remove the infinitive suffix and we add the suffix for each person. Remember that the hyphen below is only used for visual effect and it is not used in reality.
THERE ARE TWO MAIN IRREGULARITIES IN THE PRESENT TENSE
There are two main vowel change in the present which only apply to the second and third persons, du, er/sie/es.
The first change is from an “e” sound to an “i” or “ie” sound. Let us take the example of “sprechen” which means “to talk”. Again, remember that the hyphen below is only used for visual effect and it is not used in reality.
Du sprich-st IRREGULAR
Er/sie/es sprich-t IRREGULAR
The second change is from “a” to “ä“. That is we add two dots on top of the “a” which are called Umlaut. Let us use the verb “schlafen” which means “to sleep”.
Du schläf-st IRREGULAR
Er/sie/es schläf-t IRREGULAR
So, while there are some exceptions, most verbs will follow this model in the present, making German conjugation easier. Good luck!