How to use the infinitive and other verbs in German

An infinitive is the form of a verb that you find in the dictionary. It is the basic form of a verb before any changes for tense or people are made. In English, the infinitive can be thought of as the to form of a verb, like to eat or to go. German infinitives mostly end in -en, like spielen (to play).

You can change the infinitive to use different tenses by adding different endings. You can conjugate a verb depending on whom you are talking about.

Conjugate means changing the endings of a verb to match the person doing the action.

You can use the infinitive when using modal verbs and the future tense.

Modal verbs

Modal verbs are verbs like can and must. They need an infinitive to help the sentence make sense. For example, the modal verb können (to be able to or can) needs an infinitive to make clear what it is you can do.

  • Ich kann spielen - I can play.
  • Ich kann Klavier spielen - I can play the piano.

The modal verb kann is the second idea in the sentence and the infinitive verb spielen goes to the end of the sentence.

Können – can/to be able to

Take a look at the conjugations of können in the table below.

EnglishGermanExamples
I canich kannIch kann Klavier spielen - I can play the piano.
you candu kannstDu kannst gut Basketball spielen - You can play basketball well.
he caner kannEr kann schwimmen - He can swim.
she cansie kannSie kann streng sein - She can be strict.

Müssen - must/to have to

Take a look at the conjugations of müssen in the table below.

EnglishGermanExamples
I mustich mussIch muss meine Hausaufgaben machen - I must do my homework.
you mustdu musstDu musst lesen - You must read.
he muster mussEr muss essen - He must eat.
she mustsie mussSie muss Vokabeln lernen - She must learn vocabulary.

Mögen - to like

To say you like to do something, use the verb mögen and an infinitive. Watch out, mögen is irregular. The stem mög- becomes mag-. Take a look at the conjugations of mögen in the table below.

EnglishGermanExamples
I likeich magIch mag schwimmen - I like to swim.
you likedu magstDu magst Tee trinken - You like to drink tea.
he likeser magEr mag tanzen - He likes to dance.
she likessie magSie mag Rugby spielen - She likes to play rugby.

Remember you can also use the adverb gern to say you like something.

  • Ich esse gern Kuchen - I like to eat cake.

Wollen - to want

To say you want to do something, use the verb wollen and an infinitive. Watch out, wollen is irregular. The stem woll- becomes will-. Take a look at the conjugations of wollen in the table below.

EnglishGermanExamples
I wantich willIch will lesen - I want to read.
you wantdu willstDu willst Pizza essen - You want to eat pizza.
he wantser willEr will ins Kino gehen - He wants to go to the cinema.
she wantssie willSie will einen Kuchen machen - She wants to make a cake.

The future tense: werden + infinitive

You can use infinitives to talk about the future, such as what you will do next weekend or next year. The future tense is made up of three parts:

1. A subject

The subject is the person or thing who does the verb. This will be a noun or a pronoun such as ich (I), du (you) or er/sie/es (he/she/it).

2. An auxiliary verb: werden

You have to use a conjugated form of werden in the present tense as an auxiliary verb. Along with the pronoun, a conjugated auxiliary verb helps you determine who is doing the action in the future. Watch out, werden is irregular! Take a look at the conjugations of werden in the table below.

EnglishGerman
I willich werde
you willdu wirst
he willer wird
she willsie wird

3. An infinitive

This tells you what action is happening in the future. An infinitive is the form of a verb that you find in the dictionary. It is the basic form of a verb before any changes for tense or people are made, like spielen - to play.

The auxiliary verb werden has to be the second idea in the sentence. The infinitive has to be at the end of the sentence.

  • Ich werde Basketball spielen - I will play basketball.
  • Du wirst nächste Woche ins Kino gehen - You will go to the cinema next week.
  • Er wird am Montag ein Fußballspiel sehen - He will watch a football match on Monday.

The future tense: present tense + time phrase

Remember, there is a simpler way to talk about the future. You can use the present tense with a time phrase:

  • Ich gehe morgen in die Schule - Tomorrow I am going to school.
  • Morgen gehe ich in die Schule - Tomorrow I am going to school.

Quiz

Complete the following phrases using your knowledge of modal verbs and the future tense. Use the English translations to help you.

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