Non-finite verb forms in German

(The three unconjugated verb forms in German grammar)

Table of contents – non-finite verb forms

On this page you will find the following:

  1. What are non-finite verb forms?
  2. Further explanations and exercises

What are non-finite verb forms?

German grammar knows three different non-finite forms of the verb, which are the infinitive and the two participles (Präsens and Perfekt). ‘Non-finite’ means that you cannot recognise features like the grammatical person or number directly based on its appearance. Therefore, non-finite verbs are not conjugated.

Compare the list of the three German non-finite verb forms in example sentences:

  1. The infinitive is usually used with modal or other auxiliary verbs:
    • reden (to speak), gehen (to walk), singen (to sing), etc.
      • „Peter kann gut reden.“ (Peter can speak well.)
        • The non-finite appears with modal verb ‘kann’.
      • „Die Chefin wird bezahlen.“ (The boss is going to pay.)
        • The auxiliary verb ‘wird’ accompanies the infinitive ‘bezahlen’ to express the future.
  2. The first or present participle (Partizip Präsens) is utilised as an adjective or adverb, for example:
    • fahrend (driving), lernend (learning), dauernd (continuing), etc.
      • „Das würde mich auch brennend interessieren.“ (I’d also be really interested in that.)
        • Here, the present participle is an adverb.
      • „Die speisenden Gäste sehen sehr zufrieden aus.“ (The dining guests look very pleased.)
        • This sentence shows the participle as an adjective.
  3. The second or past participle (Partizip Perfekt) is needed for the formation of specific tenses (the compound tenses), but it can also function as an adjective:
    • gekocht (cooked), gegangen (gone), gesagt (said), etc.
      • „Davor hatte er sich bereits ein Auto gekauft.“ (Before that, he had already bought a car.)
        • Here, the past participle is the main verb and forms the Plusquamperfekt (past perfect) together with ‘hatte’ as auxiliary verb.
      • „Mensch, das hab’ ich total vergessen.“ (Boy, I totally forgot that.)
        • Here, the participle is part of the Perfekt tense (present perfect).
      • „Die verkaufte Ware wird sofort nachbestellt.“ (The goods sold will be reordered immediately.)
        • This example shows the past participle as an adjective.

Further explanations relating to the ‘Non-finite verb forms’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘Non-finite (unconjugated) verb forms in German grammar’ and may be interesting as well: