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How to Use the Top 20 Most Common German Verbs – Rosetta Stone

New to German? Basic words and phrases, like Hallo! (Hello!) and Wie geht’s (how are you?) are a great place to start—they’ll get you around town and set the tone for pleasant interactions. But language is all about expressing yourself freely, and scripted phrases don’t give the wiggle room many learners are looking for. 

That’s why German verbs—while daunting at first—are such a significant milestone for beginner learners. 

Learn the verb lieben and you can share your love for all things cinema: Ich liebe Filme (I love movies). Or maybe your idea of the perfect day is spent curled around a good book? Nicht jetzt! Ich lese (Not now! I’m reading). 

Below, you’ll find a list of the 20 most common verbs to help you express a range of actions, from how you’re feeling to what you love most. We’ll focus on the present tense to keep things simple. 

The 20 most common German verbs 

First, here’s a quick list of the most common verbs in their infinitive form. Verbs in their infinitive form are not bound to a subject or tense. For present-tense conjugations of each verb, jump to the next section!

German  English 
1 werden to become, to get
2 haben to have
3 sein to be
4 können to be able, can
5 müssen  to have to, must
6 sollen ought to, should
7 sagen to say
8 geben to give
9 wollen to want
10 machen to make, to do
11 wissen to know
12 sehen to see
13 mögen to like, may
14 lernen to learn
15 essen to eat
16 trinken to drink
17 nehmen to take
18 denken to think
19 sprechen to speak
20 verstehen to understand

Note: In the conjugation tables below, you’ll notice that the pronoun sie appears three times. In the third person, sie means “she” and “they.” When capitalized, Sie means the formal “you.”

1. Werden: to become, to get

ich werde I get wir werden we get
du wirst you get (singular) ihr werdet you get (plural)
er/sie/es wird he/she/it gets sie/Sie werden they getYou get (formal) 

Example: Der Junge wird müde. = The boy is getting tired.

Werden is one of the most common German verbs and its present tense conjugation is used to form both the future and passive tenses. While we use it most often in combination with other verbs, in the present tense it’s used to express the action of “becoming,” or “getting” as we often say In English to express this.

2. Haben: to have

ich habe I have wir haben We have
du hast You have (singular) ihr habt You have (plural)
er/sie/es hat He/she/it gets sie, Sie haben They haveYou have (formal) 

Example: Ich habe ein schnelles Auto. = I have a fast car.

Haben is also one of the most common German verbs. It is most often used to express ownership over something. It is also used together with the past participle to form the present perfect tense. This tense is similar to the simple past tense, i.e. Sie haben gestern abend einen Film gesehen. (They have watched a movie last night.). 

3. Sein: to be

ich bin I am wir sind We are
du bist You are (singular)  ihr seid You are (plural) 
er/sie/es ist He/she/it is sie, Sie sind They are
You are (singular, formal) 

Example: Sie ist heute sehr beschäftigt. = She is very busy today. 

Sein is an irregular verb. In the present tense, sein is one of the most important verbs as it allows you to form basic statements like: 

  • Ich bin müde. = I am tired. 
  • Wo ist sie? = Where is she? 
  • Was sind Sie? = What are they? 

Sein is typically used in conjunction with activities and actions, like swimming, running, and driving. Just like the verb haben, is also used to form the present perfect tense, i.e. Sie ist gestern abend ins Kino gegangen. (She has gone to the movies last night.). 

4. Können: to be able (can)

ich kann I can wir können We can
du kannst You can (singular)  ihr könnt You can (plural) 
er/sie/es kann He/she/it can  sie, Sie können They canYou can (formal) 

Example: Wir können am Wochenende ins Kino gehen. = We can go to the movies on the weekend. 

Können is both an irregular and a modal verb. A modal verb is used in conjunction with another verb. Think of them as an auxiliary verb, or helping verb. In this case, können is used to indicate the ability to do something. When using a modal verb, you’ll conjugate the modal verb, and the other verb—often an action verb—will remain in the infinitive form. Here’s an example using können and the verb spielen (to play): 

  • Ich spiele Fußball. = I play soccer. 
  • Ich kann Fußball spielen. = I can play soccer. 

5. Müssen: to have to 

ich muss I have to wir müssen We have to
du musst You have to (singular) ihr müsst You have to (plural)
er/sie/es muss He/she/it has to sie, Sie müssen They have toYou have to (formal)

Example: Ich muss den Zug erreichen. = I have to catch the train. 

Müssen is also a modal verb. You can pair it with an infinitive to express necessity, or an action that needs to be done. Here’s an example using müssen and the verb schreiben (to write): 

  • Tomas schreibt einen Brief. = Tomas is writing a letter. 
  • Tomas muss einen Brief schreiben. = Tomas must write a letter. 

6. Sollen: ought to, should

ich soll I should wir soll We should
du sollst You should (singular)  ihr sollt You should (plural) 
er/sie/es soll He/she/it should sie, Sie sollen They shouldYou should (formal) 

Example: Du sollst eine Pullover anziehen. = You should wear a sweater.

Sollen is also a modal verb. You can pair it with an infinitive to express what one should be doing at a given time. 

7. Sagen: to say

ich sage I say wir sagen We say
du sagst You say (singular)  ihr sagt You say (plural) 
er/sie/es sagt He/she/it says  sie, Sie sagen They sayYou say (formal) 

Example:  Er sagt mir jeden Tag die neuen Preise. = He tells me the new prices each day. 

If you’re new to German, you will find yourself using sagen quite often! Sagen can be used when you need something repeated or if you’re not sure what word you should use: 

  • Sag das nochmal? = Say that again? 
  • Wie sagst du das auf Deutsch? = How do you say that in German?

8. Geben: to give

ich gebe I give wir geben We give
du gibst You give (singular)  ihr gebt You give (plural) 
er/sie/es gibt He/she/it gives sie, Sie geben They giveYou give (formal) 

Example: Bitte geben Sie mir den Autoschlüssel. = Please give me the car keys.

Geben is a stem-changing verb and an irregular verb, so it can be tricky to conjugate. While it’s primary meaning is “to give,” it is also used in many standard phrases as an equivalent for the English “is”: 

  • es gibt = there is / there are 
  • Was gibts? = What’s up? What’s the matter? 
  • Was gibts zum Abendessen? = What’s for dinner? 

9. Wollen: to want

ich will I want wir wollen We want
du willst You want (singular)  ihr wollt You want (plural) 
er/sie/es will He/she/it wants sie, Sie wollen They want (formal) 

Example: Wollen wir zusammen auf den Markt gehen? = Do you want to go to the market together?

Wollen can be used as a modal verb with an infinitive to express the desire to do something, as shown above. Or, it can function as an independent verb with a direct object to express the desire to have something: 

  • Ich will ein neues Kleid. = I want a new dress.

10. Machen: to make, to do

ich mache I make wir machen We make
du machst You make (singular)  ihr macht You make (plural) 
er/sie/es macht He/she/it makes  sie, Sie machen They make You make (formal) 

Example: Was machst du heute? = What are you doing today? (which translates literally to, “What are you making today?”)

11. Wissen: to know

ich weiß I know wir wissen  We know
du weißt You know (singular)  ihr wisst You know (plural) 
er, sie es weiß He/she/it knows sie, Sie wissen They knowYou know (formal) 

Example: Ich weiß es nicht. = I don’t know.

12. Sehen: to see

ich sehe I see wir sehen We see
du siehst You see (singular)  ihr seht You see (plural) 
er/sie/es sieht He/she/it sees sie, Sie sehen They seeYou see (formal) 

Example: Es sieht nach Regen aus. = It looks like it’s going to rain. 

13. Mögen: to like, may

ich mag I like wir mögen We like
du magst You like (singular)  ihr mögt  You like (plural) 
er/sie/es mag He/she/it likes sie, Sie mögen They likeYou like (formal) 

Example: Leider mag sie keinen Fisch. = Unfortunately she doesn’t like fish.

In the simple present, mögen means to like or like to do something, like in the example above. 

The subjunctive form of mögen is möchten, which means “would like to.” It is used to express a wish. This is used often in interactions at restaurants, cafes, or stores to politely make a request. For example: 

  • Ich möchte eine Tasse Tee, bitte. = I would like a cup of tea, please. 

Möchten becomes a modal when connected with an infinitive verb, and means “would like to + action.”

  • Möchten Sie dieses Anzug anprobieren? = Would you like to try on this suit?
  • Wir möchten uns ein neues Auto kaufen. = We would like to buy a new car.

14. Lernen: to learn 

ich lerne I learn wir  lernen We learn
du lernst  You learn (singular)  ihr lernt You learn (plural) 
er/sie/es lernt He/she/it learns sie, Sie lernen They learnYou learn (formal) 

Example: Meine Tochter lernt in der Schule Spanisch. = My daughter learns Spanish at school.

15. Essen: to eat 

ich esse I eat wir essen We eat
du isst You eat (singular)  ihr ess You eat (plural)
er/sie/es isst He/she/it eats  sie, Sie essen They eat You eat (formal) 

Example: Er isst eine Currywurst mit Pommes. = He is eating a Currywurst with french fries.

>> Hungry? Learn how to order Currywurst, french fries, and more in German! 

16. Trinken: to drink 

ich trinke I drink wir trinken We drink
du trinkst You drink (singular)  ihr trinkt You drink (plural)
er/sie/es trinkt He/she/it drinks sie, Sie trinken They drinkYou drink (formal) 

Example: Die Frau trinkt eine Tasse Kaffee. = The woman is drinking a cup of coffee.

17. Nehmen: to take

ich nehme I take wir nehmen We take
du nimmst You take (singular)  ihr nehm You take (plural) 
er/sie/es nimmt He/she/it takes sie, Sie nehmen They takeYou take (formal) 

Example: Wir nehmen den nächsten Bus ins Kino. = We take the next bus to the movie theater. 

18. Denken: to think 

ich denke I think wir denken We think
du denkst You think (singular)  ihr denkt You think (plural) 
er/sie/es denkt He/she/it thinks sie, Sie denken They thinkYou think (formal) 

Example: Ich denke, es ist keine gute Idee = I think this isn’t a good idea. 

19. Sprechen: to speak, to talk 

ich spreche I talk wir sprechen We talk
du sprichst You talk (singular)  ihr sprecht You talk (plural) 
er/sie/es spricht He/she/it talks sie, Sie sprechen They talkYou talk (formal) 

Example: Der Arzt spricht mit den Angehörigen. = The doctor talks to the relatives. 

20. Verstehen: to understand

ich verstehe I understand wir verstehen We understand
du verstehst You understand (singular)  ihr versteht You understand (plural) 
er/sie/es versteht He/she/it understands sie, Sie verstehen They understandYou understand (formal) 

Example: Ich verstehe die Anleitung nicht. = I don’t understand the instructions. 

Understanding German verb conjugation

All verbs have one thing in common—to use them in conversation, you’ll need to know how to conjugate them. This means you’ll need to alter the verb to match: 

  1. Who/what is performing the action
  2. When the action is taking place 

As you begin learning and speaking German, you will primarily express yourself in the present tense, also known as Präsenz or Gegenwart in German. 

German present tense 

In German, there is only one form of the present tense. This single tense expresses both habitual and continuous action. 

  • Habitual: Rob eats oatmeal for breakfast every day. 
  • Continuous: It’s always raining in Ireland. 

For regular verbs in the present tense, you can apply the following steps: 

  1. Take the infinitive form of the verb 
  2. Drop the “-en” at the end of the verb
  3. Add the appropriate ending 

Take a look at the verb essen (“to eat”) conjugated in the present tense below. You’ll notice that the conjugated form of essen for “we” and “they” is the same as the infinitive! 

ich esse I eat wir essen We eat 
du isst You eat (singular) ihr esst You eat (plural) 
er/sie/es isst He/she/it eats  sie, Sie essen They eatYou eat (formal) 

Example: Er isst eine Currywurst mit Pommes. = He eats a Currywurst with French Fries. 

When you make the leap from beginner to intermediate German, you’ll branch into verb tenses with more complexity to express what happened in the past, what might happen in the future, and so on. Though new tenses can be challenging, they give you the freedom to speak naturally and with more nuance. 

The most common tenses you’ll encounter are the: 

  • Present 
  • Future
  • Present perfect 
  • Simple past
  • Future perfect

Now that you’ve seen conjugations of the 20 most common German verbs, are you ready to make the leap into the other verb tenses? To fully express yourself, you’ll want to explain what happened in the past and what might happen in the future. Though these new tenses can be challenging, we’re here to help you conquer them. Check out the full guide on German verb conjugation here

Take your German to the next level 

Commit these 20 common German verbs to memory, and you’ll be able to carry yourself in any conversation! To feel even more confident, you’ll want to shift from memorization to intuitive, immersive learning. 

Immersive learning is the #1 way to learn a language, and Rosetta Stone’s Dynamic Immersion approach allows you to reap the benefits from anywhere. You’ll learn German naturally, through images and audio from native speakers, to boost your retention and get you truly conversation-ready in no time. Plus, Rosetta Stone’s TruAccent feature gives you immediate pronunciation feedback on every word you say, so you can perfect your accent from the very first lesson. 
Start learning German with Rosetta Stone today at www.rosettastone.com.

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.


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