Handout: Stem-Changing Verbs

A number of German verbs undergo a change in the stem vowel in the present tense. This only affects the second-person singular (DU) form and the third-person singular (ER, SIE, ES) forms. The other forms (ich, wir, ihr, Sie) act just like regular verbs, and in every person, the endings remain the same as for regular verbs. You cannot automatically know by seeing an infinitive (e.g. ‘sehen’) that a verb will stem-change; you’ll need to memorize which verbs belong to this class.

1. Vowel change from e › i
  geben (to give)   nehmen (to take) 
ich  gebe        wir  geben                ich  nehme        wir  nehmen        
du  gibst        ihr  gebt                du  nimmst        ihr  nehmt        
er/sie/es  gibt        sie/Sie  geben                er/sie/es  nimmt        sie/Sie  nehmen        

Verbs you need to know that follow this pattern (e › i) are:
essen, geben, nehmen, sprechen, treffen, and vergessen.

Other verbs that you may encounter include:
brechen (to break), helfen (to help), sterben (to die), werfen (to throw).

2. Vowel change from e › ie
  geben (to give)   sehen (to see) 
ich  sehe        wir  sehen                ich  lese        wir  lesen        
du  siehst        ihr  seht                du  liest        ihr  lest        
er/sie/es  sieht        sie/Sie  sehen                er/sie/es  liest        sie/Sie  lesen        

Verbs you need to know that follow this pattern (e › ie) are:
lesen and sehen (and its associated forms aussehen and fernsehen).

Other verbs that you may encounter include:
empfehlen (to recommend), geschehen (to happen), stehlen (to steal).

3. Vowel change from a › ä
  fahren (to drive)   laufen (to run, walk) 
ich  fahre        wir  fahren                ich  laufe        wir  laufen        
du  fährst        ihr  fahrt                du  läufst        ihr  lauft        
er/sie/es  fährt        sie/Sie  fahren                er/sie/es  läuft        sie/Sie  laufen        

Verbs you need to know that follow this pattern (a › ä) are:
anfangen, einladen, fahren, halten, laufen, schlafen (and its relative einschlafen), and tragen.

Other verbs that you may encounter include:
backen (to bake), fallen (to fall), lassen (to leave, to let), schlagen (to hit), waschen (to wash).

Now it’s up to you. First, make sure you understand the patterns of stem-changing verbs. Fill in the three conjugation tables below.

ich  __________________              ich  __________________              ich  __________________           
du  __________________              du  __________________              du  __________________           
er/sie/es  __________________              er/sie/es  __________________              er/sie/es  __________________           
wir  __________________              wir  __________________              wir  __________________           
ihr  __________________              ihr  __________________              ihr  __________________           
sie/Sie  __________________              sie/Sie  __________________              sie/Sie  __________________           

Now try some ‘dehydrated’ sentences: combine the elements below to make complete sentences.

1.Maria / tragen / heute / einen Hut .____________________________________________________
2.Peter / essen / jeden Tag / Pizza .____________________________________________________
3.du / sehen / den Tisch / dort ?____________________________________________________
4.ich / einschlafen / normalerweise / um 11 Uhr .____________________________________________________
5.mein Vater / lesen / abends / die Zeitung____________________________________________________
6.Fahren / du / abends/ zur Uni ?____________________________________________________
7.Sie (formal) / sprechen / Deutsch ?____________________________________________________
8.Ihr / nehmen / dieses Jahr / zu viele Klassen !____________________________________________________
9.Wann / treffen / du / deine Freunde ?____________________________________________________
10.Wann / anfangen / die Klasse ?____________________________________________________

Now try to translate these sentences. Just follow the same patterns we’ve been using!

1.I’m inviting my girlfriend to the party (=zur Party).
2.Do you guys read a lot of books?
3.My brother watches TV in the evenings.
4.Let’s eat spaghetti tonight!
5.Anna is running very fast.
6.Lisa looks very nice today!
7.Matthias rides his bike to school (=zur Uni) on Wednesdays.
8.I always (=immer) forget your telephone number.

Note: we probably won’t be doing a lot with the verbs einladen and halten, because they’re unusual. Here’s the full conjugation for those two verbs. What do you notice doesn’t fit the normal verb pattern, besides the stem-vowel change?

  einladen (to invite)   halten (to hold, stop) 
ich  lade ein        wir  laden ein                ich  halte        wir  halten        
du  lädst ein        ihr  ladet ein                du  hältst        ihr  haltet        
er/sie/es  lädt ein        sie/Sie  laden                er/sie/es  hält        sie/Sie  halten        

Don’t worry -- all the other verbs listed on the first page are quite normal apart from the stem change (except of course for nehmen, which loses its ‘h’ and gets a double ‘m’ instead).