Modal verbs

Modal verbs

Modal verbs are extremely useful because you can combine them with other verbs, and then you can use these
other verbs in the basic form (called infinitive) that you would find in the dictionary. Consider an example:
Ich will leben.
I want to* live.

(*Notice that in German we don‘t translate the English to. That‘s actually special about modal verbs in German.)

The first verb will is a so-called modal verb, used in the ich form (i.e. first person singular, if you prefer grammatical terms). The second verb leben is in the infinitive.
Now the good thing is that when you are talking about other people you do not have to change the leben. You
just change the will. Look:
ich will leben
du willst leben
er will leben
sie will leben
es will leben
wir wollen leben
ihr wollt leben
sie wollen leben

The not-so-good thing is that you have to learn the forms for the modal verbs by heart. But since these are used so frequently it’s a really good investment. You’ll find some of them on the right side of this page. Again, learn the
combinations like a poem. If it helps, make sentences out of them. For example:
Ich kann singen.
Du kannst tanzen ...

wollen (want)
ich will_
du willst
er will_
es will_
sie will_

wir wollen
ihr wollt
sie wollen

müssen (must, have to)
ich muss_
du musst
er muss_
sie muss_
es muss_

wir müssen
ihr müsst
sie müssen

können (can, be able to)
ich kann_
du kannst
er kann_
sie kann_
es kann_

wir können
ihr könnt
sie können

Meaning of the modal verbs

• du willst singen = you want to sing (wish, desire)
• du musst singen = you must/have to sing (obligation)
• du kannst singen = you can/are able to sing (ability, also: allowance)

Complete and Continue