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German Conjugation of Sein

Instructor: Penelope Heinigk

Penelope holds a doctorate degree in German and a professional teaching license in the state of Colorado. She has taught middle school through university, online and live.

In this lesson, we will learn how to conjugate one of the most important verbs you can learn: to be. It is a highly irregular verb and should be memorized. Let's explore learn the present tense and imperfect tense conjugations.

Sein (To Be)

'To be or not to be, that is the question.' So opens the famous soliloquy in Shakespeare's Hamlet, further solidifying the verb 'to be' as one of the most import in any language. In German, sein is important not just for its meaning, but it is also used as an auxiliary verb for other tenses. As if to elevate its importance, it is one of the most irregular verbs you will find in German. It is best to memorize the conjugation of sein straight away.

Conjugation: Present Tense

The present tense is used to describe actions and events going on now. Let's look at the present tense conjugation of sein for each pronoun:

Pronoun Conjugation Pronunciation Meaning
ich bin ish bin I am
du bist doo bist you are (singular, familiar)
er ist air ist he is
sie ist zee ist she is
es ist es ist it is
wir sind vear zind we are
ihr seid ear zeyd you are (plural, familiar)
sie sind zee zind they are
Sie sind zee zind you are (formal)

Translation: We are twins.
twins

Conversation

Meet Hans and Sabine, who are getting to know each other. Listen in as Sabine asks Hans about his family using the verb sein in the present tense:

Sabine: Wie ist deine Familie? (How is your family?)

Hans: Meine Mutter ist lustig und sehr nett. (My mother is fun and very nice.)

Mein Vater ist ernst und ruhig. (My father is serious and quiet.)

Sabine: Bist du Einzelkind? (Are you an only child?)

Hans: Nein. Ich habe zwei Schwestern. Sie sind Zwillinge. (No, I have two sisters. They are twins.)

Sabine: Sind sie jünger oder älter als du? (Are they younger or older than you?)

Hans: Sie sind jünger als ich. (They are younger than me.)

Sabine: Seid ihr glücklich zusammen? (Are you happy together?)

Hans: Ja, wir verstehen uns gut. (Yes, we get along well.)

Conjugation: Imperfect (Simple Past)

The imperfect (also referred to as the simple past) is used for completed actions and events that took place in the past.

Pronoun Conjugation Pronunciation Meaning
ich war ish vahr I was
du warst doo vahrst you were (singular, familiar)
er war vahr ist he was
sie war zee vahr she was
es war es vahr it was
wir waren vear VAHR-in we were
ihr wart ear vahrt you were (plural, familiar)
sie waren zee VAHR-in they were
Sie waren zee VAHR-in you were (formal)

Translation: My brother was very imaginative.
boy in costume

Conversation

Hans and Sabine are now discussing their childhood. Notice how the verb sein is used in the imperfect tense:

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