Conjugation is a little bit like time travel. It can transport you from the present to the past or the future and even alter reality. “What is” suddenly becomes “what could be” if you use the subjunctive or a gender changes due to a single letter.
That’s the magic of grammar. Conjugation is a grammatical term that describes how verbs change to show different tenses, moods, or persons.
When you conjugate a verb, you are changing its form. In English and German this happens by adding an ending to the verb like when you add an “s” to the third-person singular form of a verb. “I live” becomes “she lives.”
While this is fairly simple in English, as a German learner, you’ll soon learn that there are many more changes to watch out for - and we’re here to break them down for you with the German conjugation of the verb “sein” (to be).
The verb sein
"Sein" means "to be," and we use it to describe all kinds of things in German, from emotions to physical states to identities. So, it's crucial to master the conjugation of “to be” in German.
You’ll need it to make some of the most basic statements. This includes:
- Talking about your emotions: Ich bin glücklich (I am happy)
- Saying what color something is: Meine Schuhe sind lila (My shoes are purple)
- Asking for the bathroom: Wo ist die Toilette? (Where is the bathroom?)
- Describing anything with an adjective: Urlaub wäre schön! (A vacation would be nice!)
Conjugation of the verb “sein”
To conjugate a regular verb, you take the stem of the verb and add the appropriate ending. This is how the regular verb "spielen" (to play) changes in the present, according to genus (which gender) and numerus (how many):
|Singular||1st person||I play||Ich spiele|
|2nd person||You play||Du spielst|
|3rd person||He/She/It plays||Er/sie/es spielt|
|Plural||1st person||We play||Wir spielen|
|2nd person||You play||Ihr spielt|
|3rd person||They play||Sie spielen|
However, some of the most important verbs of a language are usually irregular, including “to be” and German is no exception. “Sein” is an irregular verb and the best way to learn those is to study and memorize each form by itself. So we made a table for each tense.
The present tense is arguably the most important one. In German, it’s called “Präsens” and it’s the only present tense. There’s no present progressive in German like there is in English (I am playing).
If you haven’t mastered the others tenses, try to use the present tense and just add the time-related words that signal you’re talking about a different tense like “nächsten Monat” (next month), “letzten Freitag” (last Friday) or “um 18 Uhr” (at 6PM).
This may not be grammatically correct but I guarantee you that people will understand what you’re saying.
|I am||Ich bin||Ich bin glücklich||I am happy.|
|You are||Du bist||Du bist lieb.||You are nice.|
|He/She/It is||Er/sie/es ist||Er/sie/es ist hier.||He/she/it is here.|
|We are||Wir sind||Wir sind Freunde.||We are friends.|
|You are (pl)||Ihr seid||Ihr seid lustig.||You are funny (pl).|
|They are||Sie sind||Sie sind Schüler.||They are students.|
Simple past tense
In German, the simple past tense is used to talk about events that happened in the past and are now completed. This tense is also known as the "Präteritum" or "Imperfekt".
|I was||Ich war||Ich war hier.||I was here.|
|You were||Du warst||Du warst da.||You were there.|
|He/She/It was||Er/sie/es war||Er/sie/es war erfolgreich.||He/she/it was successful.|
|We were||Wir waren||Wir waren schlau.||We were clever.|
|You were (pl)||Ihr wart||Ihr wart laut.||You were loud (pl).|
|They were||Sie waren||Sie waren schön.||They were beautiful.|
Present perfect tense
The Present Perfect is used to describe actions or events in the past that have a connection to the present.
In German, it’s called “Perfekt” and it’s formed by using the auxiliary verbs (or helper verbs) "haben" (to have) or "sein" (to be) in the present tense, followed by the past participle of the verb:
- Ich habe gelacht (I have laughed)
- Ich bin gegangen (I have walked)
|I have been||Ich bin gewesen||Ich bin einkaufen gewesen.||I have been shopping.|
|You have been||Du bist gewesen||Du bist krank gewesen.||You have been sick|
|He/She/It has been||Er/sie/es ist gewesen||Er ist da gewesen.||He has been there.|
|We have been||Wir sind gewesen||Wir waren pleite gewesen.||We have been broke.|
|You have been (pl)||Ihr seid gewesen||Ihr seid nett gewesen.||You have been nice (pl).|
|They have been||Sie sind gewesen||Sie sind hier gewesen.||They have been here.|
As you can see, it’s possible to form the present perfect tense for the German verb “sein” but it’s not as common to use this tense for the verbs “to be” or “to have”, because those two are also the auxiliary verbs you use to form the tense: (Ich habe gehabt / Ich bin gewesen). Instead, it’s more common to use more active verbs in the present perfect:
|Ich habe gefrühstückt.||I’ve had breakfast.|
|Wir haben den Film gesehen.||We’ve watched the movie.|
|Du hast deine Prüfung bestanden.||You’ve passed your exam.|
|Ich habe aufgeräumt.||I’ve cleaned up.|
|Du hast nicht angerufen.||You haven’t called.|
|Sie hat dich gefunden.||She has found you.|
Past perfect tense
The past perfect tense is called “Plusquamperfekt” in German, so you can add that one to your list of weird, long German words!
It's also formed with the past participle of the main verb and the auxiliary verbs of "haben" (to have) or "sein" (to be), but this time in the past tense:
- Ich hatte gelacht (I had laughed)
- Ich war gegangen (I had walked)
This brings you back in time even further than the simple past. You may use this tense when you’re telling a story and you want to add a detail from before:
- Ich war gerade dabei, in den Bus zu steigen, als ich merkte, dass ich mein Ticket zu Hause vergessen hatte.
(I was just about to get on the bus when I realized that I had left my ticket at home.)
|I had been||Ich war gewesen||Ich war treu gewesen||I had been loyal.|
|You had been||Du warst gewesen||Du warst drüben gewesen||You had been over there.|
|He/She/It had been||Er/sie/es war gewesen||Er/sie/es war laut gewesen||He/she/it had been loud.|
|We had been||Wir waren gewesen||Wir waren schlau gewesen.||We had been clever.|
|You (pl) had been||Ihr wart gewesen||Ihr wart laut gewesen.||You had been loud (pl).|
|They had been||Sie waren gewesen||Sie waren schön gewesen.||They had been beautiful.|
To form the future tense, also called “Futur I” in German, you use the auxiliary verb "werden" (to become) in the present tense, followed by the infinitive form of the main verb:
- Ich werde lachen (I will laugh)
- Ich werde gehen (I will go)
|I will||Ich werde||Ich werde hier sein.||I will be here.|
|You will||Du wirst||Du wirst toll sein.||You will be great.|
|He/She/It will||Er/sie/es wird||Er/sie/es wird erfolgreich sein.||He/she/it will be successful.|
|We will||Wir werden||Wir werden schlau sein.||We will be clever.|
|You will (pl)||Ihr werdet||Ihr werdet laut sein.||You will be loud (pl).|
|They will||Sie werden||Sie werden rosa sein.||They will be pink.|
Future perfect tense
The German future perfect tense is called “Futur II” and it describes a tense in which something will have happened, so it’s very far in the future.
To form this tense, you need the auxiliary verb "werden" (to become) again, followed by the past participle of the main verb:
- Ich werde gelacht haben (I will have laughed)
- Ich werde gegangen sein (I will have gone)
|I will have been||Ich werde gewesen sein||Ich werde hier gewesen sein.||I will have been here.|
|You have been||Du wirst gewesen sein||Du wirst toll gewesen sein.||You will have been great.|
|He/She/It have been||Er/sie/es wird gewesen sein||Er/sie/es wird erfolgreich gewesen sein.||He/she/it will have been successful.|
|We will have been||Wir werden gewesen sein||Wir werden schlau gewesen sein.||We will have been clever.|
|You will have been(pl)||Ihr werdet gewesen sein||Ihr werdet laut gewesen sein.||You will have been loud (pl).|
|They will have been||Sie werden gewesen sein||Sie werden rosa gewesen sein.||They will have been pink.|
In German, the subjunctive is called “Konjunktiv”. It describes a mood in grammar that is used to express some level of uncertainty, or describe a hypothetical situation: Did I hear “ice cream”? That would be lovely!
Konjunktiv I is mainly used in formal writing, reported speech, and indirect commands, for example if someone proclaims “My mom said I was really smart”. That’s reported speech. We don’t know if it’s a fact!
|(They said) I was||Ich sei||Man sagt, ich sei schlau.||One says I was smart.|
|(They said) you were||Du seist||Man sagt, du seist leichtgläubig.||One says you were gullible.|
|(They said) he/she/it was||Er/sie/es sei||Man sagt, es sei kalt draußen.||One says it was cold outside.|
|(They said) we were||Wir seien||Man sagt, wir seien freundlich.||One says we were friendly.|
|(They said) you were (pl)||Ihr seiet||Man sagt, ihr seiet höflich.||One says you were polite.|
|(They said) they were||Sie seien||Man sagt, sie seien Diebe.||One says they were thieves.|
Konjunktiv II is used to express hypothetical situations, wishes, and politeness, for example when you’re thinking, “If I only moved to Barcelona, then I would be happy.”
|I would be||Ich wäre||Dann wäre ich glücklich.||Then I would be happy.|
|You would be||Du wärst||Dann wärst du neugierig.||Then you would be curious.|
|He / she / it would be||Er/sie/es wäre||Dann wäre sie dabei.||Then she would be with us.|
|We would be||Wir wären||Dann wären wir schlauer.||Then we would be smarter.|
|They would be||Ihr wäret||Dann wärt ihr Ärzte.||Then you would be doctors.|
|You would be (pl)||Sie wären||Dann wären sie Katzen.||Then they would be cats.|
The German imperative
The command form or “Imperativ” is used to tell someone what to do - or in this case what to be. It differentiates only between singular and plural.
|Singular||Be happy!||Sei glücklich!|
|Be kind!||Sei lieb!|
|Be yourself!||Sei du selbst!|
|Plural||Be good!||Seid gut!|
|Be loud!||Seid laut!|
|Be yourselves!||Seid ihr selbst!|
Speaking of imperatives, one of my favorites when it comes to language learning is “be curious”. It’s all those subtle grammatical differences that make different languages difficult to learn - but it’s also what makes them unique and fascinating.
If you’re just curious about those, the learning process will be a lot more fun! So go explore the German language some more and marvel at all its peculiarities and little quirks on our German language learning blog!