Basic Grammar Terminology

Basic Grammar Terminology (Verb Tenses etc.)

Unfortunately, no one ever agreed on a standard terminology for the German verb tenses. Each textbook has its own system, it seems, and all we can do is be sorry and make an explanatory handout. The terms used most frequently in this website appear in bold type below, together with various synonyms you may encounter elsewhere, and occasionally a brief explanation)

For more detailed verb reviews, click on some of the following overviews:

Categories of Verbs: Strong, Weak and Mixed Verbs Which verbs are regular, and which ones aren’t?  Which ones form their past participles with -t and which ones with -en etc.?

Verb Moods: Indicative vs. Subjunctive II (includes a brief summary of Subjunctive I)

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

Modal Verbs

Verb Position

(1) Verb Tenses (die Verbzeitformen)

Präsens, present, Gegenwart “Barney stirbt” (Barney dies)

Perfekt, perfect, present perfect, conversational past “Barney ist gestorben” (Barney died)

Präteritum, simple past, narrative past, written past, Imperfekt “Barney starb” (Barney died)

[Perfekt and Präteritum are both Vergangenheit (=past)]

Plusquamperfekt, past perfect “Barney war gestorben” (Barney had died)

Futur, future, Futur I “Barney wird sterben” (Barney will die)

Futur II, future perfect “Barney wird gestorben sein” (Barney will have died [ Monday])

(2) Moods (der Modus, Pl. Modi)

Konjunktiv I, subjunctive I, indirect discourse subjunctive

Präsens: Helmut Kohl sagt, daß Barney sterbe (Helmut Kohl says Barney is dying)

Vergangenheit: HK sagt, daß Barney gestorben sei (HK says Barney died)

Konjunktiv II, subjunctive II, conditional subjunctive, Möglichkeitsform

Präsens: Barney fräße/Barney würde fressen (Barney would eat)

Vergangenheit: Barney hätte gefressen (Barney would have eaten)

NOTE: There are only two tenses in the subjunctive moods: present and past, as in the above examples.

Indikativ, indicative, Wirklichkeitsform (This has the six different tenses listed above under (1)). It’s the “default” mood, i.e. normally you’re using the various tenses of the indicative mood, as opposed to the subjunctive mood with its two tenses. The other possible mood is the imperative, used for commands.

Imperativ, imperative, Befehlsform “Stirb, Barney!” (Die, Barney!)

(3) Other very basic grammatical terms

Substantiv, Hauptwort, noun: a word that names a person, place, thing, animal, or concept.  Examples: man, woman, cat, dog, truth, beauty, speed, Austria, Steffi Graf.  Occasionally, nouns can even be derived from verbs, e.g. “Swimming is fun” [here, “swimming” is used as a noun: “What’s fun? Swimming is!”].  Similarly, nouns can sometimes be derived from adjectives, e.g. “I devote my life to the beautiful and the good.”

Adjektiv, adjective: a word that describes a noun.  Examples: The green dog, the fast cat, the lovable German instructor.

Adverb, adverb: a word that describes a verb, or more generally any part of speech that is neither a noun, nor a verb, nor an adjective, nor an article, nor a conjunction, nor a preposition: The coyote is overly dependent on Acme products. Therefore, he will never catch the quickly running road runner. Adverbs are a vague category (e.g. in the previous example, some might call “therefore” a conjunction rather than an adverb); what you really need to know is that only adjectives (i.e. words that are describing nouns) take adjective endings.

Artikel, article: “the,” “a” or “an.”  “The” is called the “definite article” and corresponds to the forms of “der/die/das” in German; “A/An” is called the indefinite article, and corresponds to the forms of “ein” in German.

Modalverben, modal verbs, modal auxiliaries: these are just the six verbs können, dürfen, müssen, mögen, sollen, wollen. NEVER MAKE A MISTAKE WITH THESE VERBS!!

Hilfsverben, auxiliary verbs, helping verbs: these are haben, sein, and werden, and are referred to by these terms only when they are being used to help form other tenses.

Separable Verben, separable verbs, trennbare Verben: ankommen, fernsehen, mitgehenare separable; beschreiben, entdecken, verstehen are not.

Fall, case, Kasus: the four cases are Nominativ, Akkusativ, Dativ, Genitiv

Kompositum, compound word, zusammengesetztes Wort: z.B. Tischbein, Fingernagel, Barneypuppe, Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän

Hauptsatz, main clause, independent clause: verb in position TWO: Ich gehe nach Hause

Nebensatz, subordinate clause, dependent clause: verb at end: …, weil ich nach Hause gehe