The Modal Verbs in German Grammar

The Modal Verbs in German Grammar

Modal verbs in German are very important because they help to form or assist another verb in a sentence. There are some simple rules for using them depending on what you want to say and their conjugated forms

With the help of simple examples and detailed explanations, we will see how to understand them. Let’s go!

There are 6 principal modal verbs in German:

könnento have the ability of, the possibility of, or the know-how of
müssenmust, to be obligated to
dürfento have the permission to, to have the right to
sollento be supposed to, should
mögento like to
wollento want to

These verbs have a particular conjugation according to the time period in which it will be used. Moreover, they are very often used with an infinitive verb group.

Example: Ich kann fahren. ( I can drive ); Willst du mit mir essen gehen ? ( Do you want to go eat with me ? ); Soll ich zu Hause bleiben ? ( Should I stay home )

Good to know: They have a particular form to the perfect when associated with an infinitive.

Example: Ich habe zu Hause bleiben sollen. ( I should have stayed home )

An overview of their conjugated forms has provided you in this table:

Partizip II
Konjunktiv II

Application of modal verbs in a sentence


Dürfen is mainly used to express authorization and/or Interdiction :

Du darfst deine Freunde treffen sobald du deine Hausaufgaben gemacht hast. ( You are allowed to meet your friends as soon as you have done your homework )


Können is used to express the possibility, the ability :

Wir können unsere Klausuren dieses Semester bestehen. ( We can pass our exams this semester )

Ich kann Deutsch. ( I know/can speak German )

The subjunctive forms dürfte and könnte are used:

• To express permission or ask something in a courteous way.

Dürfte ich meine Freunde treffen sobald ich meine Hausaufgaben gemacht habe? ( May I meet my friends as soon as I finish my homework? )

Könnten Sie mir bitte helfen? ( Would you please help me? )

• To express a probability :

Das dürfte einen Monat dauern. ( It should require a month )

Es könnte wohl reichen. ( It could probably be enough )


Müssen serves to express a necessity, an obligation imposed by the circumstances or by someone

Ich muss mein Zimmer aufräumen. ( I must clean up my room )

Ich muss operiert werden. ( I must have an operation )

Alle Menschen müssen glücklich Leben. ( All people must live happily )


Sollen is used to express an obligation imposed by a third party.

Ich soll mein Zimmer aufräumen. ( I am supposed to clean up my room )

Ich soll operiert werden. ( I’m going to have an operation )

In the subjunctive, müsste and sollte are used to express an unfulfilled wish or advice:

Ich müsste Ingenieur werden. ( I should be an engineer )

Man sollte nie etwas Schlechtes über die anderen sagen, wenn sie nicht da sind. ( You should never say anything bad about the others when they’re not around )

Note: Sollen is used to qualify an allegation made by another

Deine Lehrerin soll wirklich nett sein. ( Your teacher should be really nice )

Idiomatic expressions:

Was soll das?! ( What’s the point of that!? )

Was soll das bedeuten?! ( What’s that supposed to mean?! )

Was soll denn das?! ( What the hell is this?! )


Wollen is used to express an intention, a desire:

Ich will nächstes Semester in den USA studieren. ( I want to study in the USA next semester )

Ich will nicht, dass du traurig wirst. ( I don’t want you to get sad )

Reminder: Wollen is also used to nuance a statement.

Sie will ihn letzte Woche gesehen haben. ( She claims she saw him last week )


Mögen works to express the idea of like :

Ich mag deutsche Autos. ( I like German cars )

Ich mag keinen Wein. ( I don’t like wine )

Ich mag dich. ( I like you )

The verb mögen is frequently used in the subjunctive II:

• with a present value:

Möchtest du hier essen oder mitnehmen? ( Would you like to eat here or take away? )

• in expressions like:

Ich möchte gehen. ( I would like to go )

Ich möchte Rice. ( I would like Rice )

Reminder: Mögen is used to nuance

• The interrogation : Wie jung mag er wohl sein? ( How young he may be? )

• The affirmation : Er mag gelacht haben. ( he may have laughed )

It is also used to express:

• The wish : Es möge nur schneien. ( May it only snow )

• The concession : Wie auch seine Laune sein mag. ( However his mood may be )


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