Finite verb forms (personal forms)

(Conjugated verbs, personal forms and suffixes)

Table of contents – finite verb forms

On this page you will find the following:

  1. What are finite verb forms?
  2. Personal endings
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What are finite verb forms (personal forms)?

In grammar, finite verb forms (in German: finite Verbformen) mean that you can tell directly by the verb in which grammatical person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd), number (singular/plural), voice (active/passive), tense, and mood (indicative, conjunctive, or imperative) it stands. Thus, it displays all five grammatical categories of a German verb and so it is conjugated. The individual verb suffixes show this as well, which is why the finite forms are also called personal forms or verbs with personal endings. This naming is especially true in foreign language teaching and learning. Compare the following example sentences and further explanations:

  • In contrast to a non-finite verb form, the finite indicates all five categories of a verb:
    • „Gestern fuhr Peter mit dem Fahrrad zur Arbeit.“ (Yesterday, Peter rode his bike to work.)
      • The finite is marked according to these features:
        • Person: 3rd person
        • Number: singular
        • Tense: Präteritum (preterite/past)
        • Mood: indicative
        • Voice: active
    • „Es ist sehr unterhaltsam. Bleiben wir doch den ganzen Tag!“ (It’s very entertaining. Let’s stay all day.)
      • 2nd person plural, Präsens (present), imperative, active
  • A German sentence frequently contains a finite verb together with one or more non-finite verbs. Such a combination happens, for example, with compound tenses, such as the Perfekt (perfect) or Plusquamperfekt (pluperfect / past perfect). In that case, the finite is the auxiliary verb, the non-finite one the main verb or possibly also a modal verb:
    • „Sie hatte sich bereits für einen anderen Job entschieden, als das Angebot kam.“ (She had already decided in favour of another job when the offer came up.)
      • auxiliary verb ‘hatte’ (had) and main verb ‘entschieden’ (decided)
      • 3rd person singular, Plusquamperfekt (pluperfect), indicative, active
    • „Du hättest natürlich auch mitkommen können.“ (You could have come with me, of course.)
      • auxiliary ‘hättest’ plus main verb ‘mitkommen’ and modal ‘können
      • 2nd person singular, Plusquamperfekt (pluperfect), Konjunktiv II, active
  • Likewise, passive constructions are made up of a finite auxiliary and a non-finite main verb:
    • „Die neuen Nachbarn wurden gestern von der Polizei befragt.“ (The new neighbours were questioned by the police yesterday.)
      • 3rd person plural, Präteritum (preterite/past tense), indicative, passive
  • Information: A specific feature of the German language is the brace construction of the predicate that occurs when a finite auxiliary verb and a non-finite main verb are used together. In such an occurrence, the multi-part predicate encloses other words or even parts of the sentence:
    • „Nicole wird während ihres Studiums für ein Jahr ins Ausland gehen.“ (Nicole will go abroad for a year during her studies.)
      • This statement illustrates a typical brace construction, as ‘wird’ and ‘gehen’ enclose the clause ‘während ihres Studiums für ein Jahr ins Ausland’.

What are personal endings/suffixes?

Personal endings (Personalendungen) are the suffixes that a conjugated verb (i.e., finite) has. Combined with a pronoun, it can therefore clearly be assigned to grammatical persons, tenses, etc.

In the table, examples of the weak verb ‘kochen’ (to cook), whose word stem is ‘koch-’, are displayed in the indicative mood. The inflectional suffixes are marked in red:

Person Pronoun Präsens (present tense) Präteritum (past tense)
1st person singular ich koche kochte
2nd person singular du kochst kochtest
3rd person singular er, sie, es kocht kochte
1st person plural wir kochen kochten
2nd person plural ihr kocht kochtet
3rd person plural sie, Sie kochen kochten

For additional information on how the individual forms and endings are composed, please have a look at the formation of the German Präsens (present) and the Präteritum (past).

Further explanations related to the ‘Finite verb forms’

The following explanations refer to the topic ‘Conjugated verb formspersonal forms and suffixes in German grammar’ and may be interesting as well:

  • Conjugation of verbs
  • Grammatical voice (active/passive)
  • Verb tense (Tempus)
  • The German predicate
  • Konjunktiv II (subjunctive mood)