Deutsch 101-326 an der Universität Michigan

German on the Web
Learning Strategies

German Dept.
Max Kade House
German Club
L.E.O. online dict.



How do I find the past participle of a verb I want to use? 

In general, we highly recommend that you read through the table of strong and mixed verbs in the appendix of Vorsprung (pages R-9 - R-11) just before the German-English vocabulary. If a verb is not listed there, you can generally assume it is a weak (i.e. regular) verb, and will form its past participle by adding a "ge-" (unless it's an inseparable prefix verb or an -ieren verb) and a "-t" ending. Even if you don't memorize the forms in the table, reading through this table quickly once a day for a while will give you a feeling for the forms of the strong verbs, and a sense for which verbs you haven't seen in the table, and which you can hence assume are likely to be weak verbs, and this feeling for the verb forms will be invaluable as you continue your study of German.

Of course we also highly recommend that you look carefully at the various tables of conversational past verb forms in Kapitel 5.


1. For verbs with prefixes, if you don't find the verb listed in the verb table at the end of the book, see if the "base" form of the verb without the prefix is listed in the table.  E.g. for "ankommen" or "bekommen"  you will find "kommen" in the table, so you know the past participles will be "angekommen" and "bekommen" respectively.

2. As mentioned above, the sooner you can familiarize yourself with this table, the better.  I'd recommend looking at it for 5-10 minutes a day, or at least once or twice every week, until it becomes familiar.  Then you can gradually build up an instinct so that you will "feel" when you come across a new verb either that "I've seen something like this before: it's a strong verb and I think this is its past participle" or "I've never seen anything like this.  Chances are it's a regular weak verb with an -(e)t ending for its past participle.


If you are looking up a verb in the dictionary, the dictionary should give you some information about its past participle.  Most dictionaries mark all irregular verbs as "irreg" (or some similar notation) and then include a verb table somewhere like the one at the end of our book (but more comprehensive) where you can look up the participles under the "base" form of the verb.  Be sure to check your dictionary to be sure you know how it does this, because this will save you a lot of time in the future!

Other notations you'll find with verbs in most dictionaries:

sep: for separable verbs like fern•sehen, an•kommen, mit•bringen

insep: for inseparable verbs like bedeuten, bekommen, gefallen, verstehen

vt: for transitive verbs, i.e. the verb can take a direct (accusative) object: "see" is a transitive verb in English, because I can see you or a dog or a house; "sleep" is intransitive because I can't sleep you or a dog or a house.  "Breathe" is transitive because although I can't breathe you or a dog or a house, I can breathe the air or a poisonous gas, i.e. the verb "breathe" can still have a direct object.  Most verbs are transitive.  

vi: for intransitive verbs, i.e. verbs that can't take a direct object. Examples in English are "sleep," "agree," "die," "disintegrate."  German has more intransitive verbs than English for two reasons:

  • English lets you expand the fundamental meanings of verbs so they can take objects: "walking" should be an intransitive verb (it's something you do, not something you do to someone), but in English you can "walk the dog."  In German, you can walk WITH the dog, but you can't "walk the dog."  Similarly, "collapsing" should be intransitive, but in English you can do that to e.g. concepts: "She collapsed the two ideas into a brilliant new theory."  In German, "zusammenfallen" and "zusammenstürzen" (which both mean "collapse") are intransitive, and you would use a different verb like "kombinieren" or "verschmelzen" for combining ideas.
  • In German there are a few verbs which can only take indirect (Dative) objects.  This is something we'll learn about in Kapitel 6 of Vorsprung, but for now, just be aware that such verbs exist and are called "dative verbs."  Some dictionaries mark such verbs as "dat" (others just include them in the "vi" category, unfortunately).  Thus, you'll see a "vi" after verbs like "helfen" [to help] which, judging from English, should certainly be able to take a direct object ("I help you"), but which in German can only take an indirect object ("Ich helfe dir," not "Ich helfe dich").


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