The present tense of German verbs

German has only one present tense. It is the equivalent of three possible forms in English.
ich sageI say
I am saying
I do say

In addition, the German present tense is often used, frequently with specific adverbials of time, to express future time.

Morgen zeige ich es dir.I will show it to you tomorrow.
Wir finden bald eine Wohnung.We’ll find an apartment soon.
Er kommt nicht.He’s not coming. /
He’s not going to come.

Regular verbs

The present tense is one of two verb tenses in German that consist of finite forms. This means that the verb itself is inflected to provide all of the grammatical information necessary to understand its role in the sentence.

The German present tense is usually formed by dropping the –en or –n from the infinitive and adding personal endings (-e, -(e)st, (e)t, –en, -(e)t, –en) to the remaining infinitive stem. Each of the four examples below represent regular verb conjugation in the present tense. The present tense forms of gehen are regular. The other three verbs demonstrate slight variations you should be aware of. These are elucidated below

The variations represented in the chart above:

sitzen: If the infinitive stem ends in –s, –ß, –x, or –z, the  s of the du-ending is omitted:

du sitzt
du faxt
du gießt

finden: If the infinitive stem ends in –d or –t, or if it ends in -m or –n preceded by a consonant other than l or r, to facilitate pronunciation an e is inserted between the infinitive stem and personal ending in the du, er/sie/es, and ihr forms.

du findest
du arbeitest
du öffnest
er findet
er arbeitet
er öffnet
ihr findet
ihr arbeitet
ihr öffnet

handeln: If the infinitive ends in just –n rather than –en, then the personal ending of the wir and Sie/sie forms is simply –n. In speech, sometimes the e in the ich-form is omitted.

wir handeln
wir ändern
Sie handeln
Sie ändern

 

See more about regular verb conjugation.

Stem-changing verbs

Some strong verbs having a, au, or e in their infinitive stems undergo stem-vowel changes in the du and er/sie/es-forms. There are four types of stem changes: a to ä, au to äu, e to i, and e to ie.

Present tense stem-changing verbs

Note these variations:

Unlike regular verbs, stem-changing verbs whose stems end in -d or -t do not add an additional e before the personal -st or -t ending:

raten > du rätst
braten > du brätst
laden > er lädt
treten > er tritt

And some stem-changing verbs whose stems end in -d or -t do not add the -et personal ending in the er/sie/es-form at all.

halten > es hält
gelten > es gilt
werden > es wird

Like regular verbs, stem-changing verbs whose stems end in –s or –ß drop the s in the du-form –st personal ending:

wachsen > du wächst
lesen > du liest
lassen > du lässt
essen > du isst

Other irregular verbs

A small number of very common verbs have irregularities that deviate from the German present tense patterns above. Because their forms are unpredictable and because they are used so frequently, they should be memorized.


Modal verbs

Modal verbs are a special category of verbs in German. There are six modal verbs and they all follow a similar pattern of irregularity: ich-, du-, and er/sie/es-forms have a stem change (except for sollen), and in the ich– and er/sie/es-forms, the regular personal endings are omitted.

Modal verbs are used to express an attitude about an action. They are typically used in combination with another verb, in which case the modal verb is conjugated and the other verb appears at the end of the sentence in the infinitive form.

Er soll jetzt nach Hause kommen.He ought to come home now.
Wir müssen eine neue Wohnung suchen.We have to find a new apartment.
 Kannst du mir helfen?Can you help me?
See more about Modal verbs.

Separable prefix verbs

Separable prefix verbs are indicated in your vocabulary lists, in the glossary, and in most dictionaries by a raised dot between the prefix and the verb infinitive. Separable prefix verbs in German are similar to English phrasal verbs. Compare the following:
aus·gehen to go out
auf·schreiben to write down
statt·finden to take place

 

When the main verb in the sentence is a separable prefix verb, the verb is conjugated and the prefix is placed at the end of the sentence or clause.

Ich gehe morgen mit Freunden aus.I am going out with friends tomorrow.
Schreiben Sie die Adresse auf!Write down the address.
Das Konzert findet um 20.00 Uhr statt.The concert takes place at 8 pm.
See more about Separable prefix verbs.