The present tense: How to talk about what you do in German

You can use the present tense in German to say what you are doing right now, to talk about what you do on a regular basis, and to give facts.

How to form the present tense

To form the present tense, start with an infinitive. An infinitive is the basic form of the verb before any changes for tense or people are made. German infinitives usually end in –en: spielen - to play.

Choose the correct pronoun for the person you are talking about (ich - I, du - you, er, sie, es - he, she, it).

Take the -en off the infinitive. This leaves the stem, which you can add various endings to. Look at the table below to see them.

Spielen - to play

PronounStemEndingExample
ichspiel--elistenich spiele - I play
duspiel--stlistendu spielst - you play
erspiel--tlistener spielt - he plays
siespiel--tlistensie spielt - she plays
esspiel--tlistenes spielt - it plays

Er, sie and es can be replaced with a noun or a name:

  • listenSie spielt Videospiele, und er spielt Basketball - She plays video games and he plays basketball.
  • listenSarah spielt Videospiele, und Michael spielt Basketball - Sarah plays video games and Michael plays basketball.
Sie spielt Videospiele

There are lots of regular verbs that follow this pattern:

  • listenhören - to listen
  • listenmachen - to make/to do
  • listengehen - to go
  • listentrinken - to drink
  • listenwohnen - to live
  • listenheißen - to be called

Irregular and stem-changing verbs

Some verbs are irregular, meaning they don’t follow the same pattern as regular verbs. In German, the endings usually stay the same, but the stem often changes for the second and third person. The stem is what is left of the infinitive verb once you have taken the -en off the end.

Look at the tables below to see how to conjugate common irregular and stem-changing verbs.

Sehen - to see/to watch

  • Take off the -en, leaving you with stem seh-
  • For du and er/sie/es, the stem seh- becomes sieh-
  • For example:
    • listenSie sieht viele Filme - She watches lots of films.
PronounStemEndingExample
ichseh--elistenich sehe - I see
dusieh--stlistendu siehst - you see
ersieh--tlistener sieht - he sees
siesieh--tlistensie sieht - she sees
essieh--tlistenes sieht - it sees

Lesen - to read

  • Take off the -en, leaving you with stem les-
  • For du and er/sie/es, the stem les- becomes lie-
  • For example:
    • listenMein Stiefvater liest viele Bücher - My stepfather reads lots of books.
PronounStemEndingExample
ichles--elistenich lese - I read
dulie--stlistendu liest - you read
erlie--stlistener liest - he reads
sielie--stlistensie liest - she reads
eslie--stlistenes liest - it reads

Essen - to eat

  • Take off the -en, leaving you with stem ess-
  • For du and er/sie/es, the stem ess- becomes is-
  • For example:
    • listenEr isst Erdbeeren - He eats strawberries.
PronounStemEndingExample
ichess--elistenich esse - I eat
duis--stlistendu isst - you eat
eris--stlistener isst - he eats
sieis--stlistensie isst - she eats
esis--stlistenes isst - it eats

Sprechen - to speak

  • Take off the -en, leaving you with stem sprech-
  • For du and er/sie/es, the stem sprech- becomes sprich-
  • For example:
    • listenMeine Cousine spricht Spanisch - My cousin speaks Spanish.
PronounStemEndingExample
ichsprech--elistenich spreche - I speak
dusprich--stlistendu sprichst - you speak
ersprich--tlistener spricht - he speaks
siesprich--tlistensie spricht - she speaks
essprich--tlistenes spricht - it speaks

Quiz

Find out how much you know about the German present tense in this short quiz!

Complete the following phrases using your knowledge of the present tense.
Use the English translations to help you.

Where next?

Discover more from around Bitesize.

The perfect tense: How to talk about the past in German
Word order in German
KS3 German