Modal verbs in German

Modals are verbs which express a permission or intention in a sentence (you can do, should do or must do). The modal verbs are:
  • dürfen (English: to be allowed to)
  • können (English: to be able to)
  • mögen (English: like to )
  • müssen (English: must have to)
  • sollen (English: should do)
  • wollen (English: want to

Usage of Modal verbs

  • The german modal verb “dürfen” is used to express a permission. When you use this modal verb in a question it adds a sense of politeness and corresponds to the English “may”.
  • The modal verb “können” means “can” or “to be able to” in English
  • The modal verb “müssen” means “must” or “to have to” in English
  • The modal verb “sollen” means “to be supposed to” or “should” in English
  • The modal verb “wollen” expresses an intention and means “to want to” in English

Verb formation

All modal verbs are irregular and often have a stem vowel change in the formation.

  • Modal verbs in the present form

Modalverbs in German - Present Form

  • Modal verbs in the past form

Modalverbs in German - Past Form

Modal verbs used in a sentence

In German, the modal and the main verb are separated. The modal verb is second and the main verb goes to the end of the sentence. The modal verb takes the verb endings while the main verb remains in the infinitive.

English: I would like to go to the theatre.
Modal verb: would like to – mögen
Main verb: to go -> gehen
German: Ich möchte ins Theater gehen.
This is a statement, so word order is: subject “Ich”, second a form of the modal verb “möchte”, followed by the object (“Theater”) and at the end of the sentence the main verb in the inifinitve form (“gehen”):

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Autor: , Letzte Aktualisierung: 07. Januar 2023