German Modal Verbs

How to conjugate modal verbs in German, with pronunciation

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German Modal Verbs

German has six modal verbs that you should memorize. They express an attitude about an action or condition described by the main verb.  The modal auxiliary is conjugated and placed in the second position of the sentence.  The main verb is in the infinitive form and placed at the end of the clause or sentence.

Ich kann eine Fahrkarte kaufen. (I can buy a ticket.)  Kann is the conjugated auxiliary verb and kaufen is the main verb in infinitive form.

können - to be able to, can
ich kann wir können
du kannst ihr könnt
er/sie/es kann sie/Sie können

 

müssen - to have to, must
ich muß wir müssen
du mußt ihr müsst
er/sie/es muß sie/Sie müssen

 

dürfen - to be allowed/permitted to
ich darf wir dürfen
du darfst ihr dürft
er/sie/es darf sie/Sie dürfen

 

Nicht müssen translates to do not have to or do not need to.  Nicht dürfen translates to must not.  Du mußt es nicht machen is you don't have to do it.  Du darfst es nicht machen is you must not (or are not allowed) to do it.

sollen - to be supposed to
ich soll wir sollen
du sollst ihr sollt
er/sie/es soll sie/Sie sollen

wollen - to want (to)
ich will wir wollen
du willst ihr wollt
er/sie/es will sie/Sie wollen

 

mögen - to like
ich mag wir mögen
du magst ihr mögt
er/sie/es mag sie/Sie mögen

 

Subjunctive of mögen - would like
ich möchte wir möchten
du möchtest ihr möchtet
er/sie/es möchte sie/Sie möchten

This subjunctive of mögen expresses would like to and is used more often than the indicative of mögen.  Ich möchte eine Fahrkarte kaufen means I would like to buy a ticket.

Sometimes the infinitive is not required with modal verbs, if the meaning is clear enough without them. For example, you can often omit sprechen and tun after können and you can omit verbs of motion if there is an adverb of place.

Ich kann Spanisch. I can/know how to speak Spanish.
Er will nach Hause. He wants to go home.

 


 

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