Classification of German verbs varies slightly depending on the context in which they are being described. For the most part they can be divided into the two categories of “weak” and “strong”. Both of these are considered systems of regular conjugation, though there are some variations in the subgroups present in each system. Most consider the verb for “to be” (sein) to be the only truly irregular verb as its conjugation pattern does not follow the regular pattern. Some linguists and most textbooks created for foreign students of the language classify all verbs within the strong category as irregular. There are fewer than 200 of these verbs in the entirety of the German language.
The simple infinitives of German verbs consist of the verb root with the suffix –en. If the verb root ends in –er or –el, the “e” of the suffix is omitted.
Verbs in German are modified by adding prefixes. These prefixes change the grammatical context and functioning of the verb to fit with the meaning of the sentence. There are many such prefixes that imbibe meaning to words. There are also some that have what are known as “inseparable prefixes” which essentially means that there is no form of the word without the prefix attached. Separable prefixes are those that can appear apart from the verb that they are changing depending on the sentence structure in which they are used. Generally a verb will appear in either the second or final position with the German sentence structure. If it is placed in the second position only the root verb will be placed in that position, with the prefix appearing at the end. If the verb appears in the final position of the sentence structure the two will appear together.
Some German verbs have complex infinitives that are comprised of more than one infinitive. The components of such an infinitive include predicative nouns, objects, and adverbial information.
Other Forms of Infinitives
There are several other forms of German verbs in the infinitive form. These include:
• Passive Infinitives—including static passive and dynamic passive
• Perfect Infinitives—constructed by attaching an auxiliary verb to the passive participle form of the infinitive
• Future Infinitives—a more theoretical form used only in the finite form
• Infinitives with Modal Verbs—modal verbs modify other verbs and cannot exist independently
German verbs are conjugated into three persons, four moods, and two numbers. There are also four compound tenses that are not conjugated but relayed through contextual clues.