The Present Tense in English Versus German
In the English language, there are a few different forms of the present tense that we have to learn, and this is one of the reasons why learning English as a second language can be pretty difficult for some people. You have:
- the simple present tense (I learn German)
- the present perfect (I have learned German)
- the present continuous (I am learning German)
- the present perfect continuous (I have been learning German)
That’s a lot, don’t you think? For the most part—in fact, almost always—in German, you can use just one form (das Präsens) of the present tense!
Now, the Germans do have a couple of different words that make certain cases a little more understandable. I’ll show you what I mean.
If I wanted to simply say, “Ich lerne Deutsch” (I study German), that’s perfect! However, if I wanted to make it a bit clearer that I’m studying German at this very moment, I could say:
“Ich lerne gerade Deutsch.” (I am studying German.)
The word gerade (just) after the correctly-conjugated verb says that I’m performing the action at that particular moment in time.
If I also wanted to say that I’m doing something now that I’ve been doing for some time in the past, I can say:
“Ich lerne seit zwei Jahren Deutsch.” (I have been learning German for two years.)
The word seit (since) tells you that I’ve done it in the past and I continue to do it now.
Notice, however, that the verb form stays the exact same. That’s what I meant by using das Präsens for pretty much anything. How convenient is that?
In German, the Future Is Now
One of the coolest things about das Präsens, is that you can even use it when talking about the future.
That’s right—you probably went back to read that again—but it’s true. You can use the present tense for the future!
How is that possible, you ask?
Well… it just is! The beautiful part about learning a foreign language is discovering their many differences with your native tongue, and this one just happens to have a cool perk.
For example, if I wanted to let you know when I’ll be studying German, all I’d have to do is put in a time element after the verb:
“Ich lerne morgen Deutsch.” (I’m studying German tomorrow.)
Now you not only know the German present tense, but you also know how to talk about the future!
How to Learn the German Present Tense in All Its Simple Beauty
I mentioned before about using “the correctly conjugated verb.” Don’t worry about that weird, complicated-looking word, “conjugated.”
All it means is to use the correct version of your verb based on who and how many people you’re talking about.
Conjugating Verbs in das Präsens
As you may already know, all verbs have a stem and an ending. For now, I’ll just go over the easy ones, which are called regular (or weak) verbs.
Don’t worry about what makes a verb regular or irregular yet, just focus on being able to use das Präsens.
A few examples of some regular verbs are lernen (to study), spielen (to play) and kaufen (to buy), so we’ll use these in our conjugation examples below.
Conjugating verbs all depends on which pronoun is used. In this case, each pronoun is going to correspond to its own verb ending.
Here’s a little chart with examples to help break it down for you:
When studying how to conjugate different verbs, the old adage “practice makes perfect” certainly holds true.
You won’t learn this kind of thing overnight—no one will—so just keep at it and soon you’ll be a pro conjugator!
Practicing the German Present Tense in 4 Easy Ways
1. Think in German!
When you’re going about your day, try to think about what you’re doing in German. If you’re going for a jog or writing for a class, try to say the German version in your head.
“Ich laufe mit meinem Hund.“ (I run with my dog.)
“Ich schreibe gerade einen Aufsatz.“ (I am writing an essay.)
This is a perfect way not only to get used to das Präsens, but also to help you get some practice with the verbs you’ve learned!
2. Phone a Friend
When learning a language, it’s always important to network with people outside of the classroom.
Working with a friend and studying together is an essential part of practice. It gets you talking with someone else and you get to actually use the stuff you’ve learned in a practical way.
Talking on the phone with your friend is a great way to practice das Präsens in particular. Try calling your study buddy to see what they’re up to and try to keep it auf Deutsch! (In German!)
A phone conversation could go like this:
“Hallo, Trevor! Möchtest du Deutsch lernen?” (Hello, Trevor! Would you like to study German?)
“Ja, natürlich! Ich habe heute Freizeit.” (Yes, of course! I have free time today.)
“Super! Was machst du?” (Super! What are you doing?)
“Ich spiele gerade ein Videospiel. Und du?” (I’m playing a video game. And you?)
“Wunderbar! Ich laufe gerade mit meinem Hund.” (Wonderful! I’m walking with my dog.)
You get the idea. I do this all the time with my friends that take German courses with me. It’s a perfect way to practice, and the best part is, you’re doing it with a friend who’s at the same level as you, so it’s a lot less awkward!
If you don’t have a designated speaking buddy to go to, then you can look to Verbling where hundreds upon hundreds of native speakers, tutors and teachers are available to chat with you in German online. You’ll even get the bonus of additional German instruction.
3. Make a List of Your Favorite Things to Do
Creating a list of your hobbies and other favorite activities is also a good way of practicing the simple present tense.
Breaking out the good old pen and paper to write a list is great for developing your skills with das Präsens. It’s also going to help you out when you have to think of something on the spot when someone asks you about yourself:
“Was machst du gern am Wochenende?” (What do you like to do on the weekends?)
“Ich spiele gern Tennis.” (I like to play tennis.)
4. Increase Your Vocab Palette
It’s no secret that increasing your vocabulary is essential to learning any language.
When you stumble across a new verb, you should learn the present tense of that verb first. (Language courses will almost always teach you this tense before any others.)
Make sure to look up a chart of the conjugations for any verbs you don’t know in the present tense, and construct sentences either out loud to yourself or on a piece of paper.
If you want to get super fancy, you can try writing a short narrative using the present tense of the new verbs you’ve learned. (Writing narratives is perfect if you’re like me and you enjoy talking about yourself.) This is one of the best and most fun ways of practicing das Präsens because you learn to construct your own stories.
Also, if you’re just going about your day, doing something in the moment and wonder what the Germans call it, or you come across a verb you don’t know in your reading, look it up.
Take a little time to search for things that interest you, or that you think might be useful in your own day-to-day conversations with other German speakers.
Doing all of the above will put you ahead of those at your language learning level.
Mastering the present will make you an overall better speaker—right this very minute!
So, go ahead and get started now.
After all, there’s no time like the present.