The verb



Words like the following are called verbs.


schreiben, reisen, einkaufen, lesen, verstehen, werden, können, fliegen, einschlafen, lachen


The predicate


Verbs form the predicate. The predicate is the most important constituent of a sentence, the one on which other sentence constituents depend. It may consist of one or more parts.


simple predicate complex predicate
Die Kinder spielen im Garten. Er wird nach der Arbeit einkaufen gehen.


Verb categories


Because of their ability to form the predicate, verbs are divided in various categories : full, auxiliary, modal, copular (linking) and empty verbs


  Examples formation of the predicate
full verbs Petra arbeitet bei der Post. form the predicate alone
auxiliary verbs Wir haben eine leckere Pizza gegessen. form the predicate together with an infinitive or the past participle (Partizip II)
modal verbs Ich muss meine Hausaufgaben machen. form the predicate together with an infinitive
copular (linking) verbs* Seine Töchter sind sehr nett. form the predicate together with an adjective or a noun
empty verbs* Triffst du endlich eine Entscheidung? form the predicate together with a noun


* The copular (lnking) verbs and empty verbs form the predicate only with nouns and adjectives, not with infinitive verb forms.


Grammatical categories


Verbs are the only parts of speech that can be conjugated, thus expressing five grammatical categories : person, number, tense, voice and mood.


In the example that follows, the verb "schreibt" expresses these five categories.


Example person number tense voice mood
Julia schreibt ihre Diplomarbeit. 3. person singular present active indicative


Only finite verb forms express all five categories. Non- finite verb forms do not express person, number or mood. These verb forms are not conjugated and include the infinitive, the present participle (Partizip I) and the past partiple (Partizip II).


Furthermore, verbs are divided into irregular (starken) and regular (schwachen) verbs. Regular verbs retain their verb stem vowel unchanged in all tense forms and moods, while the verb stem vowel of irregular verbs changes, at least between the present form and the Präteritum.


  Examples verb stem vowel
schwaches (regular) verb spiele, spielte, gespielt verb stem vowel remains unchanged
starkes (irregular) verb singe, sang, gesungen verb stem vowel changes


Level B1



Verbs are combined with other sentence constituents like the subject, the object or adverbials. Verbs can determine the obligatory and/or optional arguments of a sentence. This property is called valency.


Ich brauche heute unbedingt ein Auto für den Möbeltransport.
obligatory   optional optional obligatory optional



Depending on the way verbs are combined with other sentence arguments (subject, object), they are classified as follows:


  Examples Description
personal ich spiele, du schreibst subject in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd person
impersonal es regnet, es schneit the impersonal es is always the only subject
transitive ich brauche Hilfe object in the accusative
intransitive ich helfe dir object not in the accusative
reflexive ich wasche mich subject and object are identical
reciprocal wir treffen uns a mutual relation between multiple subjects and objects is expresssed


Level A1A2

Separable and inseparable verbs


There are simple and compound verbs. In the German language, it is possible to form a compound verb from a simple one, with the addition of a prefix.


stehen simple verb
aufstehen, bestehen, entstehen, gestehen compound verb



Compound verbs can be either separable or inseparable. As a general rule, in separable verbs the prefix is detached from the verb.


Der Lehrer beantwortet die Fragen der Schüler. inseparable verb
Elena macht die Tür auf. separable verb


Semantic categories of verbs


In conclusion, verbs can be categorized in various semantic classes, depending on whether they express state, process, action or activity.


singen, schlagen, essen, anrufen action verbs
sterben, erfrieren, wachsen, fallen process verbs
leben, sein, wohnen, liegen state verbs