Lessons from the Top German Verbs list

Today I put up a page on the 100 most commonly used German verbs. We’ll do lots of fun and useful things with this list — and the 500 most common German words list — in the coming days and weeks.

Since every sentence has a predicate — i.e., verb parts — and since the predicate largely determines the structure of each sentence and what other elements the sentence contains, any insights into the function and usage of verbs can contribute much to the understanding of the language. Let’s take a closer look at the verb list and see how it can serve as a useful guide in learning German.

The top 3 German verbs are not only words with common meanings in their own right but they also serve as auxiliary verbs in German. (1) sein (to be) and (2) haben (to have) are both used as auxiliary verbs in forming the perfect tenses, and (3) werden (to become) is used as an auxiliary in forming the future tenses and the passive voice.

The next two verbs are modal verbs:  (4) können (can, to be able to) and (5) müssen (must, to have to). In fact, all 6 German modal verbs are in the top 30. The others are: (10) sollen (should, ought to), (11) wollen (to want), (24) dürfen (may, to be allowed) and (28) mögen (to like). Like the auxiliary verbs, modal verbs are almost always used in combination with other verbs in forming the predicate in a sentence.

The popularity of these 9 verbs — the auxiliaries and the modal verbs — tells us that not only knowing these verbs but also knowing how to make sense of compound tenses and structures will be useful in making sense of German.

Next, let’s look at verb patterns. Only 3 weak verbs — verbs that follow regular and predictable conjugation patterns in every verb tense — are in the top 25 verbs. Of the top 100, 37 of the verbs are weak. For these verbs, only the infinitive needs to be learned. All tenses and moods are based on the infinitive stem. The weak verbs can thus be easily recognized in any tense or mood.

This means that the majority of the verbs — 63 of them to be exact — are strong or irregular (mixed) verbs — verbs with unpredictable stem changes across verb tenses and moods. In fact, many of the most anomalous German verbs occur in the top 100.  Because these verbs occur so frequently, it is advisable to learn their various forms. Being able to recognize the principle parts of irregular verbs is essential to understanding them in a sentence.

Here are those 63 irregular verbs with their principle parts. They are in the order of frequency except where verbs share common stems, in which case they are grouped together.

InfinitivePresent tense stem change, if any (er-form)Simple past tense
(er-form)
Past participle
(Marked with ist when sein is used as auxiliary)
Definition
1. seinistwarist gewesento be
2. habenhattegehabtto have
3. werdenwirdwurdeist gewordento become
4. könnenkannkonntegekonntcan to be able to
5. müssenmussmusstegemusstmust to have to
8. gebengibtgabgegebento give
93. ergebenergibtergabergebento result in
9. kommenkamist gekommento come
48. bekommento get, receive
10. sollensollsolltegesolltshould, ought to
11. wollenwillwolltegewolltto want
12. gehengingist gegangento go
85. vergehento elapse; to decay
13. wissenweißwusstegewusstto know
14. sehensiehtsahgesehento see
97. an·sehensieht ansah anangesehento look at, watch
77. aus·sehensieht aussah ausausgesehento appear, look (a certain way)
15. lassenlässtließgelassento let, allow, have (something) done
16. stehenstandgestanden to stand
45. bestehenbestandbestandento exist, insist, pass (an exam)
46. verstehenverstandverstandento understand
61. entstehenentstandentstandento originate, develop
17. findenfandgefundento find
18. bleibenbliebist gebliebento stay, remain
19. liegenlaggelegenlie, to be lying
20. heißenhießgeheißento be called
21. denkendachtegedachtto think
22. nehmennimmtnahmgenommento take
23. tuntatgetanto do
24. dürfendarfdurftegedurftmay, to be allowed
26. haltenhälthieltgehaltento stop, hold
62. erhaltenerhälterhielterhaltento receive
27. nennennanntegenanntto name, to call (a name)
28. mögenmagmochtegemochtto like
31. sprechensprichtsprachgesprochento speak
55. entsprechenentsprichtentsprachentsprochento correspond
32. bringenbrachtegebrachtto bring, take
34. fahrenfährtfuhrist gefahrento drive, ride, go
37. kennenkanntegekanntto know
74. erkennenerkannteerkanntto recognize, admit
38. geltengiltgaltgegoltento be valid
49. beginnenbeganbegonnento begin
52. schreibenschriebgeschriebento write
53. laufenläuftliefist gelaufento run
56. sitzensaßgesessento sit
57. ziehenzogist gezogento pull, move
58. scheinenschienhat geschienento shine, seem, appear
78. erscheinenerschienist erschienento appear
59. fallenfälltfielist gefallento fall
63. treffentriffttrafgetroffento meet
83. betreffenbetrifftbetrafbetroffento affect, concern
69. tragenträgttruggetragento carry, wear
70. schaffen*schufgeschaffento create
71. lesenliestlasgelesento read
72. verlierenverlorverlorento lose
80. an·fangenfängt anfing anangefangento begin
86. helfenhilfthalfgeholfento help
87. gewinnengewanngewonnento win
88. schließenschlossgeschlossento close
90. bietenbotgebotento offer
94. an·bietenbot anangebotento offer
96. verbindenverbandverbundento connect, link
100. vergleichenverglichverglichento compare

* schaffen is a weak verb when it means to manage (to do something).

Does the Top 100 German verbs list reveal anything else about the language? What do you see?

26 comments on “Lessons from the Top German Verbs list
  1. Vedran says:

    Thank You very much!

  2. Onkara says:

    This is a great article and worthy of the time you clearly invested. Booked marked your site and will return.

  3. Wm. says:

    Lovely site! The list of verbs is excellent and the lessons are great. Tschüss!

  4. Maha says:

    thanks
    really helpful
    thanks again

  5. Shiyu says:

    Thank you very much. Very comprehensive and easy to study. I bet it’ll help me a lot in understanding the words spoken in my german class (some of the students are very advanced).

  6. Gullu says:

    really a fruitful list. Simple and effective list and helped me a lot.

  7. Maggie says:

    Ausgezeichnet!!!

  8. reza khalilpour says:

    Freundlichen grüßen.sie machen sehr gut Idee für 500 verb sprachen deutsch. .Dankbar

  9. Angelo says:

    Great site. Thanks.

  10. Hiruma says:

    I just found your website, it really helps me a lot for studying German’s grammar and more. Please continue to write more helpful articles. Thanks so much! :)

  11. Anthony says:

    Sehr gut

  12. Hasnaa says:

    Thank you, one of the best I have found online.

  13. Ramanjaneya says:

    It’s much worthy for the people who r really want to learn

  14. Deepak Karki says:

    Thanks a lot for all these knowledgeable grammar site which would be very fruitful for all German language learner student like me. Keep on posting such meaningful words.

  15. Andy Baker says:

    Love this list! Thanks so much- just an fyi,

    halten in the 3rd person singular is missing an umlaut on this page:
    http://www.thegermanprofessor.com/lessons-top-german-verbs-list/

    Thanks again though- honestly- amazing list!

  16. Siegfried says:

    Hello there!

    I am sorry my English is not really good, but my German is much better and therefore I would like to draw your attention to the position of two letters in the word with number 78.

    It should be written with “ei” instead of “ie”.
    So the correct verb in infinitive should be: “erscheinen”
    as “erschienen” is the past participle of this verb not the infinitive!

    (78. erschienen erschien ist erschienen to appear)

    Many greetings from Austria!

    ied

  17. Adenle Nurudeen says:

    it is very good explanation .

  18. Adeeb says:

    Vielen Dank, für die Unterstützung unserer deutschen Sprache. Wir hoffen, mehr nützliche Lektionen zu teilen
    Noch einmal eine welt danke
    Adeeb

  19. Anne says:

    Hi, the verb “scheinen” (58) uses “haben” as an auxiliary to form the perfect: http://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/scheinen, e.g. “Gestern hat den ganzen Tag die Sonne geschienen.” Interestingly, in certain parts of southern Germany and Austria, this is treated as a weak verb (“Die Sonne hat gescheint”), which is not correct in written standard language, but is still widely used.
    Thanks for your great work!

  20. ken williams says:

    Very very useful. Are all 100 entries now correct? Thanks.

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