Modal Verbs in German Grammar

How to learn German modal verbs


The modal verbs in German are dürfen (be allowed to/may), können (be able to/can), mögen (to like/may), müssen (to have to/must), sollen (to ought to/should) and wollen (to want to). Modal verbs express the ability, necessity, commitment, permission or opportunity.


Modal verbs are generally used with the infinitive of the full verb. The modal verb changes the meaning of the sentence.

Example: Max will/darf/soll Bäcker werden. Max wants to/may/should become a baker.

If the full verb is obvious from the context, it is often omitted in colloquial speech.
Kannst du Englisch (sprechen)? Can you (speak) English?
Willst du eine Cola (trinken)? Do you want to (drink) a Coke?
Ich kann das (machen). I can (do) that.

For the conjugation of modal verbs in the present and simple past, we conjugate the modal verb.


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For the conjugation of modal verbs in the perfect tense, we use the infinitive form of the modal verb and the full verb and the finite form of the auxiliary verb.

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Table of Conjugation

This table shows the conjugation of the modal verbs in the present and in the simple past, as well as the conjugation of the participle and the subjunctive II.

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Mögen is nowadays mostly used without a full verb - I like you.

Mögen is actually the subjunctive form of mögen, but is nowadays used in the present tense as an independent modal verb (for the past tense forms we use wollen).

Mixed exercises with modal verbs. Fill in the gaps with the correct modal verbs in the present tense and simple past. These exercises apply what has been learned.