no one ever agreed on a standard terminology for the German
verb tenses. Each textbook has its own system, it seems, and
all we can do is be sorry and make an explanatory handout. The
terms used most frequently in this website appear in bold type
below, together with various synonyms you may encounter elsewhere,
and occasionally a brief explanation)
more detailed verb reviews, click on some of the following
of Verbs: Strong, Weak and Mixed Verbs Which verbs are
regular, and which ones aren't? Which ones form their
participles with -t and which ones with -en etc.?
Moods: Indicative vs. Subjunctive II (includes a brief
summary of Subjunctive I)
Voice vs. Passive Voice
Verb Tenses (die Verbzeitformen)
present, Gegenwart "Barney stirbt" (Barney dies)
perfect, present perfect, conversational past
"Barney ist gestorben" (Barney died)
simple past, narrative past, written past, Imperfekt
"Barney starb" (Barney died)
and Präteritum are both Vergangenheit (=past)]
past perfect "Barney war gestorben" (Barney had died)
future, Futur I "Barney wird sterben" (Barney will
II, future perfect "Barney wird gestorben sein"
(Barney will have died [e.g.by Monday])
Moods (der Modus, Pl. Modi)
I, subjunctive I, indirect discourse subjunctive
Helmut Kohl sagt, daß Barney sterbe (Helmut Kohl says
Barney is dying)
II, subjunctive II, conditional subjunctive, Möglichkeitsform
HK sagt, daß Barney gestorben sei (HK says Barney
Barney fräße/Barney würde fressen (Barney
There are only two tenses in the subjunctive moods: present
and past, as in the above examples.
Barney hätte gefressen (Barney would have eaten)
indicative, Wirklichkeitsform (This has the six different
tenses listed above under (1)). It's the "default" mood, i.e.
normally you're using the various tenses of the indicative
mood, as opposed to the subjunctive mood with its two tenses.
The other possible mood is the imperative, used for commands.
imperative, Befehlsform "Stirb, Barney!" (Die, Barney!)
Other very basic grammatical terms
Hauptwort, noun: a word that names a person, place, thing,
animal, or concept. Examples: man, woman, cat, dog,
truth, beauty, speed, Austria, Steffi Graf. Occasionally,
nouns can even be derived from verbs, e.g. "Swimming
is fun" [here, "swimming" is used as a noun: "What's fun?
Swimming is!"]. Similarly, nouns can sometimes be derived
from adjectives, e.g. "I devote my life to the beautiful
and the good."
adjective: a word that describes a noun. Examples:
The green dog, the fast cat, the lovable
adverb: a word that describes a verb, or more generally
any part of speech that is neither a noun, nor a verb, nor
an adjective, nor an article, nor a conjunction, nor a preposition:
The coyote is overly dependent on Acme products.
Therefore, he will never catch the quickly
running road runner. Adverbs are a vague category (e.g. in
the previous example, some might call "therefore" a conjunction
rather than an adverb); what you really need to know is that
only adjectives (i.e. words that are describing nouns) take
article: "the," "a" or "an." "The" is called
the "definite article" and corresponds to the forms of "der/die/das"
in German; "A/An" is called the indefinite article, and corresponds
to the forms of "ein" in German.
modal verbs, modal auxiliaries: these are just the
six verbs können, dürfen, müssen,
mögen, sollen, wollen. NEVER MAKE
A MISTAKE WITH THESE VERBS!!
auxiliary verbs, helping verbs: these are haben,
sein, and werden, and are referred to by these
terms only when they are being used to help form other
Verben, separable verbs, trennbare Verben: ankommen,
fernsehen, mitgehen are separable; beschreiben, entdecken,
verstehen are not.
case, Kasus: the four cases are Nominativ, Akkusativ,
compound word, zusammengesetztes Wort: z.B.
Tischbein, Fingernagel, Barneypuppe, Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän
main clause, independent clause: verb in position TWO:
Ich gehe nach Hause
subordinate clause, dependent clause: verb at end:
..., weil ich nach Hause gehe