Strong, Weak and Mixed Verbs

Strong, Weak and Mixed Verbs

Weak Verbs [Regular] Strong Verbs [Irregular]
Mixed Verbs [Irregular Weak Verbs] How Do I Know Which is Which?

There are two and a half types of verbs in German.  Each category of verbs takes characteristic endings for its past participles and its simple past forms.  Strong verbs are “irregular” (though not necessarily in all their forms), weak verbs are “regular,” and “mixed verbs” (which account for the “half” in “two and a half types of verbs”) are a small class of verbs that take weak verb endings but are nevertheless irregular.

1. Weak [regular] verbs

These are the verbs with no stem-vowel changes in any tense. They take -te endings in Simple Past and Subjunctive II, and -t endings for their past participles. Zum Beispiel:

  • sagen, sagte, (habe) gesagt
  • einkaufen, kaufte ein, (habe) eingekauft
  • wandern, wanderte, (bin) gewandert

2. Strong [irregular] verbs

These are the verbs that have stem-vowel changes in one or more of the tenses [possibly including the present tense]. In the Simple Past, they take the same endings as modal verbs (i.e. in particular no endings for 1st and 3rd person singular); their past participles end in -en. Zum Beispiel:

  • gehen, ging, (bin) gegangen
  • sehen, du siehst [stem-change in present tense], sah, (habe) gesehen

2a. Mixed verbs [a.k.a. irregular weak verbs]

These are verbs with weak verb endings [-te endings in Simple Past and Subjunctive II, and -t endings for their past participles], but which nevertheless are NOT regular, i.e. they do have vowel changes. Some common mixed verbs are:

  • haben, du hast, hatte, (habe) gehabt
  • kennen, kannte, gekannt (and e.g. erkennen)
  • wissen, wusste, gewusst
  • denken, dachte, gedacht (and e.g. nachdenken)
  • bringen, brachte, gebracht (and e.g. mitbringen, verbringen, umbringen etc.)
  • rennen, rannte, (bin) gerannt [to run] (and e.g. wegrennen)
  • nennen, nannte, genannt [to call (in the sense of naming)] (and e.g. ernennen)
  • brennen, brannte, gebrannt [to burn] (and e.g. verbrennen)

Also common are wenden, wandte, gewandt [to turn, turn around, turn to [sich wenden an]] and senden, sandte, gesandt [to send, to transmit]. These verbs also have regular weak forms (wendete, gewendet; sendete, gesendet), but their irregular forms are more common. Wenden is usually regular when it is used for reversing the direction of something (turning a pancake or making a U-turn), and its compounds “verwenden” [to use] and “entwenden” [to steal] are usually regular; senden is usually regular when it means “to transmit.”

How do I know which is which?

1a. If you have spent time learning special forms of a verb, it’s probably a strong verb, since weak verbs are regular.  Therefore in particular, if you see a new verb and it looks totally unfamiliar to you, chances are it’s a weak verb, and so if you’ve guessed correctly it will take -te endings in the simple past and a -t ending in its past participle , and it will not have any stem-vowel changes.

1b. Here is a great list for studying the strong verbs. Read through it once a day until you feel like you’ve developed a healthy instinct for the verb forms, as described above, i.e. until you feel fairly confident that when you see a verb, your instincts will tell you either “It’s on that list. I think I remember the form: it’s…” or “I don’t think this verb (or its stem) is on that list. So it must be a regular (weak) verb – so the form I need is….”

2. If the verb has an English cognate, then the German verb is usually strong (usually with similar vowel changes) if the English verb is strong, and weak if the English verb is weak.  Examples:

laugh, laughed, laughed (weak) lachen, lachte, gelacht (weak)
sing, sang, sung (strong) singen, sang, gesungen (strong)
love, loved, loved (weak) lieben, liebte, geliebt (weak)
stand, stood, stood (strong) stehen, stand, gestanden (strong)
live, lived, lived (weak) leben, lebte, gelebt (weak)
speak, spoke, spoken (strong) sprechen, sprach, gesprochen (strong)
cook, cooked, cooked (weak) kochen, kochte, gekocht (weak)
swim, swam, swum (strong) schwimmen, schwamm, geschwommen (strong)
bring, brought, brought (mixed) bringen, brachte, gebracht (mixed)

There are exceptions to this, however, so be careful:

run, ran, run (strong) rennen, rannte, gerannt (mixed)
help, helped, helped (weak) helfen, half, geholfen (strong)

3. Any of the verbs you learned in your first year of German that have a stem-change in the present tense are strong verbs, e.g.

sehen er/sie/es sieht sah gesehen
essen er/sie/es isst gegessen
fahren er/sie/es fährt fuhr gefahren

4. Any verbs in -ieren are weak.  Note that these verbs do not take a “ge-” when they form their past participle, e.g.:

studieren studierte hat studiert
explodieren explodierte ist explodiert
sich konzentrieren konzentrierte sich hat sich konzentriert