Strong German verbs: what are they? List and examples

There are many irregular, particular or otherwise difficult to memorize verbs in the German language, and if you are already studying it you will have had the opportunity to realize this. Strong German verbs, for many, fall into this category. Basically, in fact, we are talking about irregular verbs, that is, which present an alteration of the conjugation compared to the canonical one. Nothing to fear, though! Even if it may seem like a difficult topic, thanks to this Sprachcaffe lesson - and all your good will - at the end of this reading you will have understood all the elements necessary to make strong verbs in German... your strong point.

What exactly are strong verbs in German?

First, let's learn to identify them. German strong verbs are all those verbs that form certain verb tenses starting from roots different from those of the infinitive, which are the ones from which they are regularly formed.

In more detail, all strong verbs modify the root to Past tense, while they exist:

  • some strong verbs that also modify the root in the present tense (but only for the second and third person singular). They are the verbs that have the stem in -A/-AU in the infinitive and many of those that have the stem in -E;
  • some strong verbs that modify the root also at Partzip II. In this case, these are verbs that have the root in -EI or -IE/-I and many of those that have the root in -E in the infinitive form

When and how to use the strong verbs?

As often happens in languages ​​-unfortunately for those who study them!-, the irregularities do not represent a small part of the words but, on the contrary, a more consolidated reality.

German strong verbs are also part of this equation, in fact: they are not as numerous as weak verbs, of course, but they represent a good 40-50% of the common verbs in the German language.

There are over 200 strong verbs in German, and while they may seem numerous, they make up a relatively small portion of the total verbs used in the language.

The fact is that many of the most commonly used verbs are actually strong verbs. For example, verbs like "gehen" (go), "sehen" (see), "sprechen" (speak), "kommen" (come) and many others are strong verbs that are widely used in everyday conversations. And, as you can see, they represent words that we use every day to communicate, even at a basic level.

For this reason, studying German strong verbs and remembering their characteristics is really very important right from the first approaches to the language: without them, otherwise, being able to communicate even simple concepts at A1 level is practically impossible.

How are German strong verbs used? Very simply, like regular verbs, but remembering the irregularities. Therefore they can be conjugated in all the main moods and verb tenses, following the guidelines we have learned today.

Let's see some example sentences using strong verbs to fully understand them even when placed in a context:

  • Ich bin gestern spazieren gegangen. = I went for a walk yesterday.
  • "Sie hat das Buch gelesen = You have read the book.
  • Er ist mit dem Zug gefahren. = He went by train.
  • Wir haben gestern viel gelacht. = Yesterday we laughed a lot.
  • Du hast mir sehr geholfen. = You helped me a lot.
  • Sie ist gestern geschwommen. = She swam yesterday.
  • Er hat einen Apfel gegessen. = He ate an apple.
  • Wir sind gestern in den Park gegangen. = We went to the park yesterday.
  • Sie hat gut gesungen. = She sang well.
  • Er hat das Fenster geöffnet. = He opened the window.

These examples show how irregular verbs in German are used in sentences to express past actions and how they change form in the past tense and past participle compared to regular or weak verbs.

Want to learn German in Germany?

Come join us at Sprachcaffe Frankfurt and Munich to learn German and other languages by experiencing the German lifestyle in the historical cities.

Learn German now

What changes between strong and weak verbs?

The difference between weak verbs and strong verbs in German, therefore, is first of all the way of following the conjugation, which for strong verbs is a bit "in itself".

In particular, we find the first differences already in the construction of the present tense:

  • in weak verbs, the vowel in the second and third person is retained;
  • in strong verbs, however, that same vowel could undergo a modification and add the Umlaut, or umlaut.

For example:

  • Kaufen, weak verb: ich kaufe, du kaufst, er/sie/es kauft
  • Laufen,strong verb: ich laufe, du läufst, er/sie/es läuft.

As we can see, the only difference at the conjugation level between these two practically identical verbs is the appearance of umlauts in the second and third person verbs.

Even in the formation of the Past tense, weak verbs and strong verbs in German have differences: weak verbs never change their vowel, and end with the ending -TE. Strong verbs, on the other hand, have a completely different form from their original.

For example, going back to using two practically identical verbs, we see that:

  • Kaufen: Present tense: ich kaufe, Past tense: ich kaufte
  • Laufen: Present tense: ich laufe, Past tense: ich lief.

Finally, it is also important to consider the difference that exists in the Partzip II suffix:

  • in weak verbs, we simply add the ending -T;
  • in strong verbs, however, we add the ending -EN
  • Kaufen → Gekauft
  • Laufen → Gelaufen

Don't worry: getting confused at first is completely normal, especially since there are many things to pay attention to. In any case, with a little training, the right study and the necessary time, we are sure that in no time at all, strong verbs in German will no longer have any secrets for you.

If you then decide to leave for a language trip in Frankfurt with Sprachcaffe, it certainly takes you even less time!

Learn German on language trip

Improve your German on your language study trip to Frankfurt or Munich.

Learn German now

Language courses

Learn foreign languages effectively and in the comfort of your own home with real teachers!

To the online courses

Get a 5% loyalty discount on your next language study trip!

List of strong verbs in German

Now that you know all the characteristics that distinguish these verbs, all you have to do is learn them all... by heart! You don't need to know the whole conjugation by heart, of course, also because it's always the same and you just need to learn it once. However, we recommend that you memorize what the main strong verbs are, so that you can recognize them when you come across them in a text.

Here, then, is a list of the most useful, common and used strong verbs in German:

  • sein - to be
  • haben - to have
  • werden - to become
  • können - power, know-how
  • dürfen - power (permission)
  • müssen - duty
  • sollen - duty (recommendation)
  • wollen - to want
  • fahren - to drive, travel
  • gehen - to go
  • stehen - to stand (stand)
  • kommen - come
  • sehen - to see
  • geben - to give
  • wissen - to know
  • nehmen - take
  • halten - to hold, to stop
  • lassen - to let, to do
  • schlafen - to sleep
  • sprechen - to speak
  • laufen - walk, run
  • fallen - to fall
  • trinken - to drink
  • singen - to sing
  • klingen - to play, to play (like)
  • empfinden - perceive, feel
  • schwimmen - to swim
  • schreiben - to write
  • lesen - to read
  • brechen - to break
  • helfen - to help
  • fressen - to eat (of animals)
  • stehlen - to steal
  • treffen - to meet, to hit
  • ziehen - pull, move
  • fliegen - to fly
  • schneiden - to cut
  • gelten - to be valid, to be valid
  • rufen - to call
  • bergen - recover, save
  • essen - to eat
  • befehlen - to order, to command
  • erschrecken - to frighten, to be frightened
  • stoßen - to bump, to push
  • passieren - to happen, to happen
  • beginnen - to begin, to begin
  • bleiben - to stay
  • gewinnen - to win, to earn
  • laden - to load, load (with goods)
  • riechen - to smell, to smell

Learn carefully the characteristics of these strong verbs in German, how they behave in the various conjugations and, you will see, learning this language will suddenly become a breeze.

In summary, strong verbs in German serve as vital components, imbuing language with energy and vividness. Their unique conjugational patterns and historical significance enrich both prose and poetry, enabling writers to convey precise nuances and captivate audiences. Mastering these verbs enhances language proficiency, empowering learners to craft compelling narratives with clarity and precision, thus elevating the artistry and impact of communication in German.