Strong, Weak, and Mixed Verbs in German

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Why do We Need this Distinction?

We distinguish between strong, weak, and mixed verbs because each group of verbs shares certain features in the simple past tense (ging - went) and the past participle (gegangen - gone).

Weak verbs do not change that much.


Example:

infinitive - simple past - past participle

folgen - folgte - gefolgt (follow - followed - followed)


Strong verbs are obstinate and always do what they want. Therefore, the changes are more articulate.


Example:

infinitive - simple past - past participle

brechen - brach - gebrochen (break - broke - broke)


Mixed verbs follow the rules in some ways but are obstinate in others.


Example:

infinitive - simple past - past participle

wissen - wusste - gewusst (know - knew - known)


The best thing is to simply memorize what group each verb belongs to as you study the different tenses in German. Unfortunately, you will not get around memorization here, but read on to get some useful pointers.

Strong Verbs

Strong verbs are flexible and go with the time. Therefore "gehen" (to go) is a strong verb.


Example:

gehen - ging - gegangen


The vowel in the stem of the verb (in this case, the e in gehen) changes

- in the simple past - (ging)
- and sometimes - as in this case - also in the past participle (gegangen)

The simple past is a past tense used in literature and fairy tales:


Examples:

Es war einmal ein Bauer, der ging jeden Tag auf den Markt und bot dort seine saftigen Sommergurken feil. - Once upon a time there was a farmer who went to the market every day to sell his juicy summer cucumbers.


The past tense of strong verbs is shorter than the infinitive.


Examples:

sitzen - saß (sit - sat)
gehen - ging (go - went)
bieten - bot (offer - offered)


The past participle is mainly used as part of the present perfect tense - the tense we use to tell our friends about our day.


Example:

Gestern bin ich mit Sebastian in den Park gegangen . Wir sind Seil gesprungen und haben gelesen. - Yesteday I went to the park with Sebastian. We did some rope skipping and some reading.


The past participle (or present perfect tense) of strong verbs is at least as long as the infinitice, often even longer, and has the ending "-en".


Example:

erschrecken - erschrocken (terrify - terrified)
gehen - gegangen (go - gone)
springen - gesprungen (jump - jumped)
lesen - gelesen (read - read)


Other Strong Verbs:
infinitive - simple past - past participle

behalten - behielt - behalten (keep - kept - kept)
empfehlen - empfahl - empfohlen (recommend - recommended - recommended)
sprechen - sprach - gesprochen (speak - spoke - spoken)
essen - aß - gegessen (eat - ate - eaten)
geben - gab - gegeben (give - gave - given)
fahren - fuhr - gefahren (drive - drove - driven)


Weak Verbs

Weak verbs are not strong enough to change a whole lot, so for the most part, they stay the same.


Example:

spielen - spielte - gespielt (play - played - played)


The vowel in the stem of the verb (in this case, the ie in spielen) stays the same in the simple past and in the past participle.

Also, the simple past of weak verbs always has the ending "-te" (spielte), and the past participle always has the ending "-t" (gespielt).


Other Weak Verbs:

infinitive - simple past - past participle

kaufen - kaufte - gekauft (buy - bought - bought)
sagen - sagte - gesagt (say - said - said)
meistern - meisterte - gemeistert (master - mastered - mastered)
fragen - fragte - gefragt (ask - asked - asked)
hinken - hinkte - gehinkt (limp - limped - limped)


Mixed Verbs

As the name suggests, mixed verbs are a mixture of strong and weak verbs.
They resemble strong verbs because the vowel in their stem changes.

Example:
kennen - kannte - gekannt (know - knew - known)


They resemble weak verbs because their past tense always has the ending "-te" (kannte), and their past participle always has the ending "-t" (gekannt).

Other Mixed Verbs:

infinitive - simple past - past participle

bringen - brachte - gebracht (bring - brought - brought)
wissen - wusste - gewusst (know - knew - known)
mögen - mochte - gemocht (like - liked - liked)
können - konnte - gekonnt (can - could - could)
rennen - rannte - gerannt (run - ran - run)