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German Modal Verbs

die Modalverben

This lesson contains topics:

  1. What is a modal verb?
  2. Sentence structure with modal verbs
  3. German modal verbs conjugation
    1. Conjugation of modal verbs in present tense
  4. Questions with modal verbs in german
    1. Questions without interrogative pronouns
    2. Questions with interrogative pronouns

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What is a modal verb?

A modal verb is an auxiliary verb that expresses necessity, possibility, ability, permission, request, capacity, suggestions, order, or obligation.

Examples of English modal verbs are: must, shall, will, should, would, can, could, may, and might.

Sentence structure with modal verbs

When a sentence has a modal verb, the modal verb occupies second place in the sentence and pushes its dependent verb to the final position in the infinitive form.

German language has the following six modal verbs.

German modal verbs conjugation

Modal verbs are irregular verbs i.e. modal verbs are irregular in the present tense singular but act like any other verb in the plural. Model verbs follow the conjugation pattern of the irregular verb “wissen”.

Please see lesson 8 (Present Tense) to learn more about regular and irregular verbs.

Conjugation of modal verbs in the present tense

Please note that “Sie” (with the capital S) is used in second person polite form singular and plural pronouns (you in English), while “sie” (with the small s) is used in third person singular feminine pronoun (she in English) and in third person plural pronoun (they in English).

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dürfen können müssen mögen sollen wollen
(you singular)
(you plural)
(you polite)

Questions with modal verbs in german

Questions without interrogative pronouns

If the question is without an interrogative pronoun,

  1. the modal verb occupies first place in the question sentence.
  2. The second element is the subject and
  3. the dependent verb is the last element.

Dürfen wir gehen?
(May we go? / Are we allowed to go?)

Dürfen wir gehen oder nicht?
(May we go or not? / Are we allowed to go or not?)

Können wir gehen?
(Can we go?)

Mögen Sie die Kunst?
(Do you like the art?)
Please note the capitalized "Sie", which means you in the polite form.

Mögen sie die Kunst?
(Do they like art?)

Mag sie die Kunst?
(Does she like the art?)

Questions with interrogative pronouns

If the question is with an interrogative pronoun,

  1. the first place is reserved for the interrogative pronoun
  2. and the modal verb comes after the interrogative pronoun as a second element in the sentence. The rest of the sentence structure remains the same.

Wann dürfen wir gehen?
(When are we allowed to go?)

Wann können wir gehen? (When can we go?)

Vocabulary building

mein-auto Car illustration

person illustration Guten Tag. Darf ich reinkommen? (Good day. May I come inside?)

person illustration Guten Tag Herr Schäfer. Ja bitte, Sie dürfen immer reinkommen. Was kann ich für Sie tun? (Good day Mr. Schäfer. Yes please, you are always allowed to come in. What can I do for you?)

person illustration Ich brauche Ihre Hilfe. (I need your help)

person illustration Was wollen Sie, Herr Schäfer? Wie kann ich helfen? (What do you want, Mr. Schäfer? How can I help?)

person illustration Ich will ein paar Medikamente kaufen. (I want to buy some medicines.)

person illustration Ja, aber ich verkaufe keine Medikamente (Yes, but I don't sell medicines.)

person illustration Ich möchte Ihr Auto fahren. (I want to drive your car.)

person illustration Warum möchten Sie mein Auto fahren? Wo ist Ihr Auto? (Why do you want to drive my car? Where is your car?)

person illustration Mein Auto hat kein Benzin. (My car has no petrol.)

person illustration Wie bitte? Na ja, Sie können gern mein Auto fahren, aber warum wollen Sie die Medikamente kaufen? Darf ich das Rezept sehen? (Excuse me? Well, you can drive my car, but why do you want to buy the medicines? May I see the prescription?)

person illustration Ja klar, hier ist es. (Sure, here it is.)

person illustration Das Rezept ist zwei Jahre alt. Sie sollen sowas nicht kaufen. Sie müssen aufpassen. Sowas kann gefährlich sein. Sehen Sie das Datum? (The prescription is five years old. You should not buy something like that. You must pay attention. This can be dangerous. Do you see the date?)

person illustration Seltsam, das Stimmt. Das rezept ist sehr alt. Genau, Ich muss aufpassen. Alles klar Herr Jager, ich muss jetzt gehen. (Strange, that's right. The recipe is very old. Exactly, I have to be careful. Well, I have to go now.)

person illustration Wie Sie wollen. (As you wish / As you like.)

person illustration Und ja, vielen Dank für die Hilfe. Auf Wiedersehen. (And yes, thank you for the help. Goodbye.)

person illustration Bitte. Auf Wiedersehen. (You're welcome. Goodbye)

Wortschatz (vocabulary) und Erklärungen (explanations)

reinkommen (to come in)

für (for) (preposition)

tun (to do something)
Conjugation of "tun" is : ich tue, du tust, er/es/sie tut, wir tun, ihr tut, sie tun.
The verb "tun" has rare usage in German. Only frequent use is in the sentence, "Was kann ich für Sie tun?" (What can I do for you?). Though we can use the verb "machen" (to do) here i.e. "Was kann ich für Sie machen?" but it's more polite to use "tun".

helfen (to help) (verb)
die Hilfe (help) (noun)

ein paar (a few / some)

das Medikament (medicine / drug)
die Medikamente (medicines / drugs)
"die Medikamente" in used in sence of medical drugs. Illegal drugs are "Drogen".

kaufen (to buy) (verb)
einkaufen (to do the shopping / to buy) (verb)
das Einkaufen (shopping)(noun)
Warum kaufen Sie so viele Medikamente? (Why do you buy so many medicines?)
Wir gehen einkaufen. (We are going shopping. / We go shopping.)
das Einkaufszentrum (shopping mall, shopping center)

na ja (well, oh well)

stehen (to stand / also used to point something. In this dialog verb “stehen” is used to show the name of the medicine.)
Das steht hier (here it is. In this dialog we have used “Hier steht das” to point the place where the name of medicine is written)

das Jahr (year)
Das Kind ist fünf Jahre alt. (The child is five years old.)

Das Rezept (prescription [PHARM.], recipe)

sowas (like this)

gefährlich (dangerous) (adjective)
die Gefahr (danger) (noun)

aufpassen (to pay attention / to be careful)

seltsam (strange)

stimmen (to be right / to vote)
nicht (not)
Etwas stimmt nicht. (Something is not correct.)
Ich denke, etwas stimmt nicht. (I think something is wrong.)
Alles stimmt. (All is right/ All is ok.)

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