German Modal Verbs (die Modalverben)

In German, modal verbs, known as “Modalverben,” act as helping verbs to modify or change the meaning of main verbs. They express different shades of necessity, possibility, desire, and more.

German Modal Verbs

Modal verbs, commonly known as “auxiliary” verbs, are designed to alter or refine the meanings of other verbs, embodying notions such as necessity, possibility, capacity, or even suggestion.

In the German language, there are six primary modal auxiliary verbs, and all of these are strong irregular verbs. These six verbs are shown in Table 1.1:

ModalverbenModal Verbs
dürfenbe allowed to, may
könnenbe able to, can
mögenlike, would like
müssenhave to, must, need to
sollenshould, ought to
wollento want, to want to
Table 1.1 – Modal Verbs in German

In the German language, the conjugation of modal verbs distinguishes them from regular verbs. You can see their present tense conjugations detailed in Table 1.2:

Table 1.2 – German Modal Verbs Conjugation


Table 1.3

⭐ “Dürfen” primarily means “to be allowed to” or “may”:

🇩🇪 Darf ich hier rauchen?
🇺🇸 May I smoke here?
🇩🇪 Darfst du mit ins Kino kommen?
🇺🇸 Are you allowed to come to the cinema with us?
🇩🇪 Dürfen wir hier parken?
🇺🇸 Can we park here?

⭐ In the negative form, “dürfen” translates as “must not”:

🇩🇪 Ich darf kein Kaffee trinken.
🇺🇸 I mustn’t drink any coffee.
🇩🇪 Wir dürfen es uns nicht zu leicht machen.
🇺🇸 We mustn’t make it too easy for ourselves.
🇩🇪 Du darfst nicht schwimmen gehen.
🇺🇸 You must not go swimming.

⭐ “Dürfen” can also express politeness:

🇩🇪 Darf ich mein Beileid aussprechen?
🇺🇸 May I offer my condolences?
🇩🇪 Was darf es sein?
🇺🇸 How may I help you?
🇩🇪 Darf ich Ihnen einen Kaffee anbieten?
🇺🇸 May I offer you a coffee?


Table 1.4

⭐ “Können” primarily denotes ability in German, akin to “can” or “be able to” in English.

🇩🇪 Brad kann gut Deutsch sprechen.
🇺🇸 Brad can speak German well.
🇩🇪 Sie kann nicht singen.
🇺🇸 She can’t sing.
🇩🇪 Er kann das Auto reparieren.
🇺🇸 He can repair the car.

⭐ In some contexts, “können” can mean “know,” especially regarding learned skills:

🇩🇪 Julia kann Spanisch.
🇺🇸 Julia knows Spanish.
🇩🇪 Mein Vater kann den Trick.
🇺🇸 My father knows that trick.
🇩🇪 Sie kann Klavier spielen.
🇺🇸 She knows how to play the piano.

⭐ “Können” can also indicate a possibility:

🇩🇪 Ich kann mich irren.
🇺🇸 I might be wrong.
🇩🇪 Thomas kann krank sein.
🇺🇸 Thomas might be ill.
🇩🇪 Es kann regnen.
🇺🇸 It might rain.

⭐ Used to express permission:

🇩🇪 Kann ich herein?
🇺🇸 Can I come in?
🇩🇪 Du kannst das Buch behalten.
🇺🇸 You can keep the book.
🇩🇪 Kann ich deinen Stift verwenden?
🇺🇸 Can I use your pen?


The verb “mögen” is frequently used in its Konjunktiv II form as “möchte.” Due to this common usage, some might mistakenly think that “möchten” is the infinitive form of a separate verb. The conjugations of “mögen” can be seen in Table 1.5:

Table 1.5

⭐ When used in the Präsens form, “mögen” often means “like” in the context of preferences.

🇩🇪 Magst du Schokolade?
🇺🇸 Do you like chocolate?
🇩🇪 Anna mag es nicht.
🇺🇸 Anna doesn’t like it.
🇩🇪 Tom mag keinen Tee.
🇺🇸 Tom doesn’t like tea.
🇩🇪 Mag sie Hunde?
🇺🇸 Does she like dogs?
🇩🇪 Ich mag das Buch, das du mir gegeben hast.
🇺🇸 I like the book you gave me.

⭐ In its Konjunktiv II form, “möchte” translates to “would like” and is used for expressing desires or making polite requests.

🇩🇪 Möchten Sie etwas trinken?
🇺🇸 Would you like something to drink?
🇩🇪 Ich möchte zwei Tickets nach Köln kaufen.
🇺🇸 I would like to buy two tickets to Köln.
🇩🇪 Möchtest du ins Kino gehen?
🇺🇸 Would you like to go to the cinema?
🇩🇪 Wir möchten einen Tisch für vier Personen reservieren.
🇺🇸 We would like to reserve a table for four people.
🇩🇪 Sie möchte das in Blau, bitte.
🇺🇸 She would like that in blue, please.


Table 1.6

⭐ “Müssen” is typically used to convey a sense of obligation, necessity, or compulsion. In English, it often translates to “must” or “have to”.

🇩🇪 Thomas musste jeden Tag um sieben aufstehen.
🇺🇸 Thomas had to get up at seven o’clock every day.
🇩🇪 Thomas und Anna müssen jetzt abfahren.
🇺🇸 Thomas and Anna must leave now.
🇩🇪 Kinder müssen früh ins Bett gehen.
🇺🇸 Children have to go to bed early.
🇩🇪 Sie müssen morgen früh zur Arbeit.
🇺🇸 They must go to work early tomorrow.

❗ While negative “müssen” maintains its sense of necessity, in many contexts, you can use a negative form of “brauchen” as an alternative to express “don’t have to” or “need not”.

🇩🇪 Du musst nicht hier bleiben. 👍🏻
🇩🇪 Du brauchst nicht hier zu bleiben. 👌🏻
🇺🇸 You needn’t stay here.

⭐ Additionally, “müssen” can be employed for making logical deductions. Still, for negative deductions, “nicht können” is more appropriate.

🇩🇪 Anna muss den Unfall gesehen haben.
🇺🇸 Anna must have seen the accident.
🇩🇪 Thomas muss heute in Frankfurt sein.
🇺🇸 Thomas must be in Frankfurt today.
🇩🇪 Bei diesem Lärm muss er wach sein.
🇺🇸 With that noise, he must be awake.
🇩🇪 Julia spielt heute Volleyball, also kann sie nicht krank sein.
🇺🇸 Julia is playing volleyball today, so she can’t be ill.
🇩🇪 Mit diesem Regen kann er nicht draußen sein.
🇺🇸 With this rain, he can’t be outside.


Table 1.7

⭐ “Sollen” in German primarily denotes obligation or duty, corresponding to English’s “be supposed to” or “be to.”

🇩🇪 Dein Vater soll nicht so viel rauchen.
🇺🇸 Your father isn’t supposed to smoke so much.
🇩🇪 Um wie viel Uhr soll ich kommen?
🇺🇸 What time am I supposed to come?
🇩🇪 Ihr solltet das Zimmer aufräumen.
🇺🇸 You are supposed to clean the room.
🇩🇪 Wir sollen die Regeln befolgen.
🇺🇸 We are to follow the rules.

⭐ “Sollen” can also convey the sense of “ought to” or “should,” suggesting advice or a strong recommendation.

🇩🇪 Das sollten Sie sofort machen.
🇺🇸 You should do that right away.
🇩🇪 Er soll gesund essen.
🇺🇸 He ought to eat healthily.
🇩🇪 Sie sollten öfter Sport treiben.
🇺🇸 You should exercise more often.
🇩🇪 Du solltest weniger Zeit am Handy verbringen.
🇺🇸 You ought to spend less time on your phone.

⭐ At times, “sollen” carries the weight of a command or authoritative instruction:

🇩🇪 Man soll sofort den Saal verlassen.
🇺🇸 Everyone should leave the room immediately.
🇩🇪 Er soll sofort kommen.
🇺🇸 He should come immediately.
🇩🇪 Die Kinder sollen ihre Hausaufgaben machen.
🇺🇸 The children are to do their homework.
🇩🇪 Ihr sollt nicht reden!
🇺🇸 You are not to talk!


Table 1.8

⭐ “Wollen” in German predominantly denotes a desire or intention, much like the English “to want” or “to want to.”

🇩🇪 Was wollen Sie von mir?
🇺🇸 What do you want from me?
🇩🇪 Anna will nächstes Jahr in Frankreich Urlaub machen.
🇺🇸 Anna wants to vacation in France next year.
🇩🇪 Ich will ein neues Handy kaufen.
🇺🇸 I want to buy a new phone.
🇩🇪 Die Kinder wollen ins Kino gehen.
🇺🇸 The kids want to go to the cinema.

⭐ At times, “wollen” is parallel to the English “will” or “would” when suggesting an offer or polite request.

🇩🇪 Willst du mir helfen?
🇺🇸 Will you help me?
🇩🇪 Wollen Sie bitte die Frage wiederholen?
🇺🇸 Would you please repeat the question?
🇩🇪 Wollen wir morgen zusammen essen gehen?
🇺🇸 Shall we go out to eat together tomorrow?
🇩🇪 Sie wollen nicht verstehen.
🇺🇸 They don’t want to understand.
🇩🇪 Würdest du das für mich tun wollen?
🇺🇸 Would you want to do that for me?

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button

😞 AdBlock Detected 😞

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker