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 ...
müssen (must, have to)
können (can, be able to)
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)