German Irregular Verbs


German irregular verbs, also called strong verbs in German, can be distinguished from the other types of verbs. In German, there are about 150 strong verbs. The vowel, which normally changes in the verb, is called “Ablaut”. There's more... let's look.


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In English and in German, there are different kinds of verbs. What constitutes an irregular verb is if there are conjugation changes in either the simple present tense (das Präsens), or the the simple past (das Präteritum/Imperfekt), that differ from the regular conjugation patterns. Verbs that show now changes in their conjugation in any of the tenses are called “regular verbs”. Verbs that have irregularities in their conjugation in any or all of the tenses is considered an “irregular verb”. 

1. Regular verbs

To demonstrate this, let’s first look at a verb that shows no irregularities in its conjugation. This means that the word stem stays the same for all pronouns and all tenses. (Example: spielen – to play)

regular verbs jpg

Notice that the verb stem “spiel-” stays the same for all pronouns and all tenses. 

2. Irregular Verbs 

A number of verbs in the present tense second- and third-person singular forms (“du” and “er/sie/es”) have a stem vowel change. Some verbs substitute “i” for “e” (e.g. treffen). Other substitutions include “ä” for “a” (laufen, fahren, waschen) and “ie” for “e” (lesen, sehen, empfehlen). Some irregular verbs show now changes in the present tense conjugation, but in the simple past conjugation (e.g. gehen)

treffen jpg

Notice how in the example above, the vowel change appears for “du” and “er/sie/es”. The word stem is also different in the simple past conjugation.
The verb “sein” (to be), and “haben” (to have) are both irregular verbs, as they follow an irregular conjugation pattern. 

3. Common Vowel Changes in the Present Tense 

a -> ä
Examples: schlafen, laufen, tragen
Ich schlafe, du schläfst, er/sie/es schläft, wir schlafen, ihr schlaft, sie/Sie schlafen

e -> i
Examples: geben, essen, helfen, sprechen
Ich gebe, du gibst, er/sie/es gibt, wir geben, ihr gebt, sie/Sie geben

e -> ie
Examples: sehen, lesen, 
Ich sehe, du siehst, er/sie/es sieht, wir sehen, ihr seht, sie/Sie sehen

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.