German conjugation is one of the most confusing elements for English speakers, as the English language has almost no conjugation. In this post, we are going to guide you through the whole process of conjugating various types of verbs.

But before we explain conjugation we need to understand a few other concepts first: verbs and infinitives.

Conjugation happens to verbs and only verbs. Verbs indicate actions. They tell us what someone is doing or being.

The infinitive

Verbs can be in their original form called infinitive (like “to be” or “to eat”) or they can be conjugated to match the subject (like “am”, “are”, “eat” or “eats”).

Almost all German verbs end with -en in their infinitive form. Here are some common German verbs in their infinitive form:

machen
haben
essen
hören
kaufen
lachen
suchen
warten
to do
to have
to eat
to hear
to buy
to laugh
to look for
to wait

Conjugation in the present tense

However when used in a sentence the verbs must match the subject. This is called conjugation.

In German conjugation, to conjugate the verb in the present tense, we take off the -en and add the correct ending for each person.

If, for example, you are the one doing the action you will always add an -e.

machen → mach- → ich mache (I do)

There is one specific ending for every person:

Person / pronounconjugational ending
ich-e
du-st
er, sie, es-t
wir-en
ihr-t
sie, Sie-en

Now, let’s see a full German conjugation:

machen (to make / to do)
Personconjugation
ichmache
du machst
er, sie, esmacht
wirmachen
ihrmacht
sie, Siemachen
Ich mache Spaghetti. I make spaghetti.
Er macht Spaghetti. He makes spaghetti.

Remember that some personal pronouns have several meanings in English and that German sometimes makes a distinction between singular persons and groups of people where English does not.

PronounNumberTranslationExplanation
du
ihr
singular
plural
you
you guys
Informal. Used to address a single person you know.
Informal. Used to address a group of people you know.
Sie
sie
sie
both
singular
plural
you 
she
they
Formal. Used to address unknown people.
Like English, used to talk about a single female.
Like English, used to talk about a group of people.

Note that you can only tell apart the last two pronouns sie and sie when the conjugation is provided:

Sie macht Kaffee.       She makes coffee.
Sie machen Kaffee.     They make coffee.

Although written in uppercase, the pronoun Sie (formal you) cannot be differentiated from they when it stands at the beginning of the sentence as they share the same conjugation.

Sie machen Kaffee. You make coffee.
They make coffee.

Translation

As German has only one present tense form and English has three, the German present tense can be translated to all three English forms:

Ich kaufe.I’m buying.
I buy.
I do buy.

Exceptions

Verbs ending in -ten and -den

For ease of pronunciation verbs that end in -ten or -den have an additional -e in front of the conjugational endings that start with a consonant (du, er/sie/es and ihr).  The other endings are as usual.

arbeiten       to work
icharbeite
Du arbeitest 
Er, sie, esarbeitet
Wirarbeiten
Ihrarbeitet
Sie, siearbeiten

Verbs ending in -sen, -ssen, -ßen and -zen

Verbs ending in -sen, -ssen, -ßen and -zen don’t add an -s in the du-form. 

This is because the s sound is already present in the stem. The other endings are regular.

tanzen         to dance
ichtanze
du tanzt 
er, sie, estanzt
wirtanzen
ihrtanzt
sie, Sietanzen

Verbs ending in -eln

There are a few verbs that don’t end in -en but in -eln. These verbs usually drop the first e in the ich-form. The other forms are regular.

sammeln     to collect
ichsammle
du sammelst 
er, sie, essammelt
wirsammeln
ihrsammelt
sie, Siesammeln

And that’s all you have to know about German conjugation with weak verbs. Next, we will learn how to conjugate irregular verbs which in German are called strong verbs.