Finding Past Participles
Strong (“irregular”), Weak (“regular”) and Mixed Verbs
Very roughly half the verbs you are likely to use will be strong (==> past participle ends in -en), and half will be weak (==> past participle ends in -t).
Weak (“regular”) verbs are easy:
- Basically, the past participle is formed by adding the prefix “ge” and changing the ending to “-t”: sagen ==> gesagt, machen ==> gemacht, lachen ==> gelacht
- Separable verbs put the “ge” in the middle: aufwachen ==> aufgewacht, einkaufen ==> eingekauft
- Inseparable Prefix verbs do not add “ge”: besuchen ==> besucht, erleben [=to experience] ==> erlebt; entdecken [=to discover] ==> entdeckt
- Verbs ending in -ieren are always weak, and omit the “ge”: studieren ==> studiert, explodieren ==> explodiert, dekorieren ==> dekoriert
- Click here for more details about past participles, and a chart!
Strong verbs follow the same patterns, but use -en endings. In addition, strong verbs may or may not have stem-changes.
- sehen ==> gesehen, singen ==> gesungen, mitgehen ==> mitgegangen, verstehen ==> verstanden
Mixed verbs have stem-changes, but use -t endings. There are only a handful of them (but many more can be formed by adding prefixes).
- kennen ==> gekannt, wissen ==> gewusst, denken ==> gedacht, bringen ==> gebracht, nennen ==> genannt, rennen ==> gerannt, brennen ==> gebrannt [haben is also technically a mixed verb]
- erkennen ==> erkannt, verbrennen ==> verbrannt, mitbringen ==> mitgebracht, wegrennen ==>weggerannt, etc.
Advice for learning the past participles:
- Try to gradually build up an instinct by following the advice below. Trying to memorize lists of verb forms is NOT practical: there are too many verbs to learn. When you need a verb’s past participle, you will “feel” either (a) “I’ve noticed the forms of this verb before: it’s
a strong verb and I think this is its past participle” or (b) “This verb doesn’t ring any bells. Chances are it’s a regular weak verb with a -t
ending for its past participle.” Developing this instinct takes time, but is a realistic goal, and will help you a LOT.
- Look over the patterns and examples given above. Do this a few times, until they feel natural.
- Look over the various tables of conversational past verb forms in Kapitel 5, to get a feel for the above patterns.
- For the Kapitel 5 test, look over this alphabetical list of strong verbs AND this list of verb forms arranged by patterns of vowel changes.
- After Kapitel 5, set aside 3-5 minutes once a day for a week or two, then every other day, then twice a week, then once a week, to read through (not memorize) the table of strong and mixed verbs in the Reference section of Vorsprung (pages 494-6), until the forms feel familiar. [Ignore the “Narrative Past” column until we get to chapter 10!]
- If a verb is not listed there, assume it is a weak (regular) verb, and forms its past participle with a -t ending, as described above.
- Using verb tables for verbs with prefixes: Verb tables will include only the “base forms” of verbs (no prefixes). They may also include a few particularly common forms with prefixes (e.g. verstehen in addition to stehen). ==> If a verb has a separable or inseparable prefix, you need to look up the “base form” of the verb, and then use the above rules. Examples:
- To find the past participle of ankommen, bekommen, or mitkommen, look for kommen in the table. You will find the past participle gekommen ==> By the above rules the past participles are: angekommen, bekommen (not a typo!), mitgekommen.
- For fernsehen, look up sehen. You will find the participle gesehen ==> The past participle is ferngesehen.
- For besuchen, look up suchen. You will find suchen is not on the list ==> it must be a weak verb ==> By the above rules, the past participle is besucht.
- Each time you look up a past participle (e.g. for an essay), take a moment to use this as a learning opportunity. Note how the participle you found fits the patterns described above: was this a weak or a strong verb? Did it have a separable or inseparable prefix? If it was a strong verb, did it have a vowel change? (etc.)
- There are many options for looking up past participles. In German 101/102/103, you may learn the most from using the reference chart in Vorsprung as described above. Most online dictionaries will list the “principal parts” of verbs (see examples in the next bullet point), or provide a link to a verb table. Make a note of how this information is displayed in the one(s) you use.
- The “principal parts” of a verb are the infinitive, the one-word past tense form (the Narrative past, which we will learn in Kapitel 10), and the past participle. Some examples, with the infinitives and past participles boldfaced:
- sagen, sagte, gesagt
- suchen, suchte, gesucht
- besuchen, besuchte, besucht
- schwimmen, schwamm, geschwommen
- fernsehen, sah fern, ferngesehen
- stehen, stand, gestanden
- aufstehen, stand auf, aufgestanden
- verstehen, verstand, verstanden