German Simple Past - Irregular & Mixed Verbs


Irregular verbs- or strong verbs - receive a personal ending, but their stem changes as well. Unfortunately, there are no rules to which ones change or how, so you need to memorize their simple past forms. There are 9 mixed verbs follow a very particular pattern of conjugation.

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For mixed verbs, there are stem vowel changes, even though they appear at first glance to be regular (e.g. machen → machte, bringen → brachte).

As can be seen, these mixed verbs only differ from regular verbs in that their stems change from present to past tense. The irregular verbs, on the other hand, are very distinct from these forms.

Irregular verbs do not add a ‘t’ but do add most of the conjugated endings to their irregular stems. For example, ‘finden’ becomes ‘fand’ (3rd person singular form), and, like the 1st person singular, does not add an ending. Take a look at the chart of frequently used irregular verbs in the simple past below.

simplepastmixedverbs jpg

Irregular Verbs

simplepastirregularverbs jpg

Although there are no set rules for predicting the past tense forms of irregular verbs, a number of verbs in English exhibit similar patterns of vowel changes as those in German (e.g. sing – sang – sung / singen – sang – gesungen). In German there are seven approximate categories of vowel change patterns, from infinitive to simple past to past participle (e.g. ride-rode-ridden):

  1. ei – ie – ie / ei – i – i = bleiben – blieb – geblieben / reiten – ritt – geritten
  2. ie – o – o / e – o – o = verlieren – verlor – verloren / heben – hob – gehoben
  3. i – a – u / i – a – o = singen – sang – gesungen / beginnen – begann – begonnen
  4. e – a – o = nehmen – nahm – genommen
  5. e – a – e / i – a – e / ie – a – e = essen – ass – gegessen / bitten – bat – gebeten / liegen – lag – gelegen
  6. a – u – a = einladen – lud ein – eingeladen
  7. a – ie – a / au – ie – au / ei – ie – ei / u – ie – u / o – ie – o / a – i – a = gefallen – gefiel – gefallen / laufen – lief – gelaufen / heißen – hieß – geheißen / rufen – rief – gerufen / stoßen – stieß – gestoßen / fangen – fing – gefangen

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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.