Formation of the Präsens (strong/irregular verbs)

(Irregular forms of the German present tense)

Table of contents – Präsens of strong verbs

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Formation of strong verbs
  2. Divergent conjugation forms
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What are the forms of the German irregular or strong verbs in the Präsens?

The strong verbs (in German: starke Verben), often called irregular verbs in foreign language learning, are clearly outnumbered by the weak or regular verbs in German grammar. However, many of them belong to the everyday words and should therefore be part of a German student’s repertoire. Likewise, one should be familiar with the formation of their forms. The main difference between the two groups is that strong (irregular) verbs are subject to a vowel change, so the main vowel of the verb stem changes. Nevertheless, the regular personal endings for the Präsens correspond to those of the weak (regular) verbs. According to this change of vowel, German strong verbs can be divided into the following categories:

  • Verbs that change their vowel in the Präsens (present tense):
    • from ‘e’ to ‘i’, for example, in ‘treffen’ (meet) or ‘sprechen’ (speak):
      • Triffst du dich heute noch mit Marion?“ (Are you meeting Marion today?)
      • „Hannes spricht fließend Französisch.“ (Hannes speaks French fluently.)
    • from ‘e’ to ‘ie’ as in ‘sehen’ (see) or ‘geschehen’ (happen):
      • „Du siehst das völlig falsch.“ (You’re entirely wrong.)
      • „Vieles geschieht ganz ohne unser Zutun.“ (A lot of things happen without our doing.)
    • from ‘a’ to ‘ä’, for example, in ‘fahren’ (drive, ride) or ‘tragen’ (carry, wear):
      • „Du fährst doch immer mit dem Fahrrad zur Arbeit.“ (You always ride your bike to work.)
      • „Sie trägt heute aber ein schönes Kleid!“ (She’s wearing a beautiful dress today.)

Divergent conjugation forms of strong verbs in the Präsens

Irregular (strong) verbs, which change their vowel, are subdivided according to the type of sound as follows:

Vowel change from ‘e’ → ‘i’

Some strong verbs change their sound from ‘-e-’ to ‘-i-’ in the 2nd and 3rd person singular. The remaining forms maintain the original vowel ‘-e-’. The example in the table shows the verb ‘brechen’ (break) with its stem ‘brech’ or ‘brich’ after having changed the vowel:

Corresponding verbs are ‘helfen’ (to help), ‘treffen’ (meet), ‘gelten’ (be valid), ‘stechen’ (sting), ‘essen’ (eat), ‘sprechen’ (speak), ‘nehmen’ (take), etc.

  Pronoun Personal ending in the Präsens Conjugated verb in the Präsens
1st person singular ich -e breche
2nd person singular du -st brichst
3rd person singular er/sie/es -t bricht
1st person plural wir -en brechen
2nd person plural ihr -t brecht
3rd person plural sie/Sie* -en brechen

Vowel change from ‘e’ → ‘ie’

Similarly, the vowel change from ‘-e-’ to ‘-ie-’ only affects verbs in the 2nd or 3rd person singular. All other forms preserve their original sound. The example verb in the table is ‘sehen’ (see) with the stem ‘seh’ or ‘sieh’ after the sound change:

Additional verbs of this type are ‘lesen’ (to read), ‘stehlen’ (steal), ‘befehlen’ (command), ‘empfehlen’ (recommend), ‘geschehen’ (happen), etc.

  Pronoun Personal ending in the Präsens Conjugated verb in the Präsens
1st person singular ich -e sehe
2nd person singular du -st siehst
3rd person singular er/sie/es -t sieht
1st person plural wir -en sehen
2nd person plural ihr -t seht
3rd person plural sie/Sie* -en sehen

Vowel change from ‘a’ → ‘ä’

Verbs with the change from ‘-a-’ to ‘-ä-’ represent a further class. Nonetheless, this rule also only applies to the 2nd and 3rd person singular and does not affect other forms. The example ‘schlafen’ (sleep) with its verb stem ‘schlaf’ or ‘schläf’ demonstrates this in the table:

Other verbs such as ‘fahren’ (to drive), ‘waschen’ (wash), ‘laufen’ (run), ‘schlagen’ (beat), ‘halten’ (stop), ‘tragen’ (carry) belong to this group.

  Pronoun Personal ending in the Präsens Conjugated verb in the Präsens
1st person singular ich -e schlafe
2nd person singular du -st schläfst
3rd person singular er/sie/es -t schläft
1st person plural wir -en schlafen
2nd person plural ihr -t schlaft
3rd person plural sie/Sie* -en schlafen

* This is the polite form.

Further explanations relating to the ‘Präsens of strong verbs’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Irregular forms of the present tense (Präsens) of strong verbs in German grammar’ and may be helpful as well: