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Irregular German verbs in the business environment

They are a challenge for almost every language learner: irregular German verbs. We give you tips on how to master this, explain to you which irregular verbs are important and give practical examples.

How to recognise irregular verbs

There are about 200 irregular verbs in the German language. Many of them are an important part of everyday language, and therefore in the business environment as well. Recognising such a word at first glance is almost impossible. To find out if a verb is irregular, you have to conjugate it. That means you have to put it into a tense and personal form.

Regular verbs – unlike irregular ones – are easy to learn in their different conjugations. With regular ones, no big change occurs: The verb "erledigen" ("do"), for example, becomes "erledigte" in the past tense. In the past participle, it becomes "erledigt". It remains the same in the root form and is easy to recognise in all tenses.

Irregular verbs, on the other hand, can be recognised by the fact that the verb stem changes during conjugation: The root vowel (a, e, i, o, u) often changes in the present tense in the 2nd and 3rd person singular, as well as in the past tense and present perfect.

➡️ An example: the verb "fahren" ("to drive")
In the past tense it becomes "fuhren". The root form of the verb has thus changed: "fahren" has become "fuhren". If we reform the verb again, this time into the past participle, we get "ge-fahren".

Learning irregular verbs

The verb "sein" ("to be")
Nothing remains of the root form in conjugation: In the past tense, "sein" becomes "war". In the past participle it becomes "gewesen". At first glance, there is no sign that it is the same verb in different tenses. 

❕ Tip: The best way to recognise and learn irregular verbs is to conjugate them in the 3rd person singular (he, she, it). 
So choose a verb and build a simple sentence beginning with "he", "she" or "it" and try out different tenses. In most cases, you will see whether a verb is irregular. In the example of "helfen" ("help"), this is already noticeable in the present tense: In the 3rd person singular, it becomes "er/sie/es hilft".

Another example: "trinken" ("drink")
"Er trinkt Kaffee." ("He drinks coffee.") – In the present tense, it is not yet obvious whether it is an irregular verb or not – "trinken" becomes "trinkt". Thus, no change in the verb stem is recognisable. In the past tense, however, it becomes clear: "Er trank Kaffee." The change in the verb stem is recognisable. In the past participle as well: "Er hat Kaffee getrunken." 
💡 Good to know: The vast majority of irregular verbs form the past participle on "-en" and not on "-t".

These irregular verbs are useful at work

Most verbs in the German language are regular. However, there are a few irregular verbs, which can be useful at work. Here are a few examples in the present tense, past tense and past participle:

😃 "heißen" ("to be called") ➔ "hieß" ➔ "geheißen" – "Der Höflichkeit halber stellen Sie sich neuen Kolleg*innen vor und sagen, wie sie heißen. Vielleicht erfahren Sie dabei auch, wie Ihr*e Vorgänger*in hieß." (To be polite, you should introduce yourself to new colleagues and tell them your name. You may also find out what your predecessor's name was.)

💬 "sprechen" ("talk") ➔ "sprach" ➔ "gesprochen" – "Um gut informiert zu sein, sprechen Sie auch mit den Kolleg*innen. Worüber Sie gesprochen haben, hilft Ihnen bei der Zusammenarbeit." (In order to be well informed, you should also talk to your colleagues. What you have talked about will help you to work together.)

📞 "anrufen" ("call") ➔ "anrief" ➔ "angerufen" – "Für den gegenseitigen Austausch rufen Sie auch jemanden an. Erinnern Sie sich noch daran, wer Sie zuletzt anrief?" (For mutual exchange, you also give someone a call. Do you still remember who called you last?)

🙏🏽 "bitten" ("ask", "beg") ➔ "bat" ➔ "gebeten" – "Wenn Sie eine Aufgabe nicht alleine schaffen, bitten Sie eine*n Kolleg*in um Hilfe. Andersherum werden auch Ihre Kolleg*innen Sie schon um Hilfe gebeten haben." (If you cannot manage a task alone, ask a colleague for help. On the other hand, your colleagues will have already asked you for help, too.)

👐 "helfen" ("help") ➔ "half" ➔ "geholfen" – "Wer, wie oben beschrieben, um Hilfe bittet, sollte auch selber helfen. Bestimmt hat Ihnen auch schon ein*e Kolleg*in bei etwas geholfen." (If you ask for help, as described above, you should also offer your help to others. For sure, a colleague has already helped you with something as well.)

✏️ "schreiben" ("write") ➔ "schrieb" ➔ "geschrieben" – "Für die Arbeit schreiben Sie auch Berichte. Worüber Sie geschrieben haben, ist relevant für das Unternehmen." (You also write reports for work. What you have written about is relevant to the company.)

👉 "bringen" ("bring") ➔ "brachte" ➔ "gebracht" – "Haben Sie eine Aufgabe abgeschlossen, bringen Sie das Ergebnis vielleicht dem oder der Chef*in. Möglicherweise hat Ihnen auch schon mal ein*e Kolleg*in einen Kaffee mitgebracht." (When you have completed a task, you may bring the result to the boss. Perhaps a colleague has already brought you a coffee.)

🗨️ “empfehlen” ("recommend") ➔ “empfahl” ➔ “empfohlen” – “Im Meeting empfehlen Sie eine bestimmte Arbeitsweise. Das, was Sie empfohlen haben, wird im Anschluss diskutiert.” (In meetings, you recommend a certain way of working. What you recommended is discussed afterwards.)

🤝 "entscheiden" ("decide") ➔ "entschied" ➔ "entschieden" – "Zusammen mit Ihrem Team entscheiden Sie über das Vorgehen. Schlussendlich sollten möglichst alle zufrieden sein, mit dem was sie entschieden haben." (Together with your team, you decide on the course of action. In the end, everyone should be happy with what they have decided.)

💡 "wissen" ("know") ➔ "wusste" ➔ "gewusst" – "Nicht nur Ihr Können ist wichtig, sondern auch, dass Sie etwas wissen. Denn wer was weiß, weiß auch, wie man das Wissen am Arbeitsplatz nutzt. – Beispielsweise das Wissen über unregelmäßige Verben, welches Sie gerade erlangt haben. Haben Sie einiges davon schon gewusst?" (Not only your ability is important, but also that you know something. Because if you know something, you also know how to use that knowledge at work. – For example, the knowledge about irregular German verbs that you have just acquired. Did you know some of this already?)

What have we learned?

There are "only" about 200 irregular verbs in the German language, but recognising them is not always easy at first glance. However, there is a trick you can use to master this challenge: If you conjugate the verb in the 3rd person singular, you'll find out.

Learn German online or at one of our language schools in Germany!

We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year! ✨

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