In this article, we will delve into the most frequently used tense in German, the “simple present tense,” known as “Präsens“.
German Present Tense
While English has twelve tenses, German simplifies this with just six. Even more conveniently, you only need to master two tenses to communicate effectively, and one of these essential tenses is the “Präsens” i.e. “present tense”.
“Präsens” is incredibly versatile; it is used to describe actions that are currently happening, actions that are habitually performed, or states that either exist at the moment or generally.
- Current Actions or Situations: Describes actions or situations happening now.
- 🇩🇪 Ich lese ein Buch.
- 🇺🇸 I am reading a book.
- 🇩🇪 Sie trinkt Kaffee.
- 🇺🇸 She is drinking coffee.
- 🇩🇪 Er spielt Fußball.
- 🇺🇸 He is playing football.
- 🇩🇪 Wir schauen einen Film.
- 🇺🇸 We are watching a movie.
- 🇩🇪 Sie arbeiten im Garten.
- 🇺🇸 They are working in the garden.
- Habits: Describes actions that happen regularly.
- 🇩🇪 Ich gehe jeden Tag ins Fitnessstudio.
- 🇺🇸 I go to the gym every day.
- 🇩🇪 Sie kocht jeden Abend.
- 🇺🇸 She cooks every evening.
- 🇩🇪 Er liest jeden Morgen die Zeitung.
- 🇺🇸 He reads the newspaper every morning.
- 🇩🇪 Wir reisen jedes Jahr.
- 🇺🇸 We travel every year.
- 🇩🇪 Sie spielen jede Woche Tennis.
- 🇺🇸 They play tennis every week.
- General Truths: Describes general facts or truths.
- 🇩🇪 Die Sonne geht im Osten auf.
- 🇺🇸 The sun rises in the east.
- 🇩🇪 Wasser kocht bei 100 Grad Celsius.
- 🇺🇸 Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.
- 🇩🇪 Der Winter folgt dem Herbst.
- 🇺🇸 Winter follows autumn.
- 🇩🇪 Pflanzen benötigen Licht zum Wachsen.
- 🇺🇸 Plants need light to grow.
- 🇩🇪 Vögel fliegen südlich im Winter.
- 🇺🇸 Birds fly south in winter.
- Fixed Plans: Describes actions planned for the near future.
- 🇩🇪 Ich fahre morgen nach Berlin.
- 🇺🇸 I am going to Berlin tomorrow.
- 🇩🇪 Sie besucht uns nächste Woche.
- 🇺🇸 She is visiting us next week.
- 🇩🇪 Er kommt heute Abend vorbei.
- 🇺🇸 He is coming over this evening.
- 🇩🇪 Wir fliegen im Sommer nach Spanien.
- 🇺🇸 We are flying to Spain in the summer.
- 🇩🇪 Sie ziehen nächsten Monat um.
- 🇺🇸 They are moving next month.
- Describing Feelings or States: Describes feelings, thoughts, or physical states.
- 🇩🇪 Ich fühle mich heute gut.
- 🇺🇸 I feel good today.
- 🇩🇪 Sie denkt oft an ihre Kindheit.
- 🇺🇸 She often thinks about her childhood.
- 🇩🇪 Er hat Hunger.
- 🇺🇸 He is hungry.
- 🇩🇪 Wir sind müde.
- 🇺🇸 We are tired.
- 🇩🇪 Sie haben Angst.
- 🇺🇸 They are scared.
Differences Between the English Present Tense and the German Present Tense
The German Präsens covers a broader range of meanings and usages than the English simple present tense. Let’s discuss the differences between the two.
❶ Range of Meanings: The most significant difference is the range of meanings and usages. The German Präsens is used to express current actions, habitual actions, general truths, fixed plans in the near future, and feelings or states. On the other hand, the simple English present tense primarily expresses habits, general truths, and sometimes current actions (in a more limited context compared to German).
❷ Expressing Future Actions: In German, it is common to use the Präsens to express actions that will happen in the near future if it is clear from the context that the action is in the future. For example, “Ich gehe morgen ins Kino” (I am going to the cinema tomorrow). In English, while the simple present can be used to express future actions, it is more common to use the present continuous tense or the ‘going to’ future tense for this purpose.
❸ Expressing Current Actions: Both German Präsens and English simple present tense can be used to express current actions. However, in English, it is more common to use the present continuous tense to express actions that are happening at the moment of speaking. For example, “I am reading a book” rather than “I read a book.”
❹ Usage with Time Expressions: In German, it is common to use time expressions with the Präsens, for example, “Ich gehe jeden Tag ins Fitnessstudio” (I go to the gym every day). In English, the simple present tense is also used with time expressions, but the usage can be more restrictive. For example, “I go to the gym every day” is correct, but “I am going to the gym every day” is not standard English.
❗ In German, if an action started in the past but is still ongoing in the present, the present tense, i.e. Präsens, is used.
🇩🇪 Ich wohne seit fünf Jahren in Berlin.
🇺🇸 I have been living in Berlin for five years.
🇩🇪 Er arbeitet bei der Firma seit 2010.
🇺🇸 He has been working for the company since 2010.
🇩🇪 Wir lernen Deutsch seit zwei Monaten.
🇺🇸 We have been learning German for two months.
🇩🇪 Sie spielt Klavier seit ihrer Kindheit.
🇺🇸 She has been playing the piano since her childhood.
❗ Conversely, if the action is completed, the perfect tense, i.e. Perfekt, is used in German.
🇩🇪 Ich habe gestern einen Film gesehen.
🇺🇸 I saw a movie yesterday.
🇩🇪 Sie haben das Buch gelesen.
🇺🇸 They have read the book.
In summary, while both German Präsens and English simple present tense share some similarities, there are significant differences in their usage and range of meanings.
How to Conjugate the Present Tense in German
German verbs have two main parts: a stem and an ending (-en, -n). The stem is derived from the verb’s infinitive form and can sometimes change. Every German verb belongs to one of three categories or conjugations (Konjugation):
- Weak verbs (regular)
- Strong verbs (irregular)
- Mixed verbs (a combination of both = irregular)
German Regular Verbs (Weak Verbs)
Regular verbs, also known as weak verbs in German, follow a certain pattern for each personal pronoun in the present tense, as shown in Table 1.1.
For example, the main part of “spielen” is “spiel-“. Let’s look at how “spielen” (to play) changes with different pronouns in Table 1.2:
|ihr||spielt||you all play|
In this table, the verb stem “spiel-” is combined with the endings from Table 1.1 for each personal pronoun to form the present tense.
German Irregular Verbs (Strong Verbs)
German irregular (strong) verbs do not follow a fixed conjugation pattern like regular verbs. The stem of a strong verb often changes in different ways, especially in the second and third-person singular forms (du, er/sie/es).
As you can see, strong verbs undergo vowel changes in the stem for the pronouns “du” and “er/sie/es” in the present tense, which makes their conjugation less predictable.
For example, the verb “sehen” (to see) changes its stem from “seh-” to “sieh-” in the “du” and “er/sie/es” forms in Table 1.4:
|ihr||seht||you all see|
This table shows that the stem changes from “seh-” to “sieh-” in the “du” and “er/sie/es” forms, characteristic of strong verbs.
❗ Although there are approximately 200 irregular verbs in German, the majority of German verbs are regular. However, it’s important to note that many of those 200 irregular verbs are frequently used in everyday conversation, making it essential to memorize them.
German Mixed Verbs (Weak Verbs)
Mixed verbs in German have characteristics of both regular (weak) and irregular (strong) verbs. Like regular verbs, mixed verbs have a consistent ending in the present tense. For example, the mixed verb “denken” (to think) has regular endings in the present tense:
|ihr||denkt||you all think|
However, similar to irregular verbs, they change their vowels like irregular verbs in the simple past tense (Präteritum):
|ich||dachte (||I thought|
|du||dachtest (||you thought|
|er/sie/es||dachte (||he/she/it thought|
|wir||dachten (||we thought|
|ihr||dachtet (||you all thought|
|sie/Sie||dachten (||they/You thought|
So, mixed verbs are a combination of regular and irregular verbs: they have regular conjugations in the present tense but change their vowel in the simple past tense. These verbs are quite rare in German. Table 1.7 summarises the most frequently used ones:
|senden||sandte, sendete||to send|
|wenden||wandte, wendete||to turn|
In summary, understanding the nuances of the German present tense, including the use of regular, irregular, and mixed verbs, is crucial for mastering the language. By recognizing the different contexts in which the Präsens is used and familiarizing yourself with common irregular and mixed verbs, you can communicate more effectively and naturally in German.