German sein conjugation - "to be"
The verb sein is one of the most important that we will learn to conjugate in German.
Not only is it important because of its meaning, but also because we use it as an auxiliary verb (a ‘helping verb’) when we form other tenses.
It’s also one of the most irregular verbs in German. This means that it doesn’t follow the rules for making a verb present tense.
With that in mind, it’s most helpful to just memorise the different conjugations of ‘sein.’
This article is a one-stop shop for the conjugation of ‘sein’ in all six German tenses, so you can use it as a handy reference until you have them all memorised.
Present Tense (Präsenz)
* This Sie (meaning formal ‘you’) always needs a capital letter. Remember that you are being formal and polite, so you’re going to be respectful and use a capital like you would with their name. The other versions of ‘sie’ only need capitals at the beginning of sentences.
Before we move onto some conversational examples, let’s talk about how we pronounce some of these words.
Ich is the pronoun I. There are two main ways of pronouncing ich depending on where in the German speaking world you are. The most common pronunciation is ‘ikh’ where the ‘ch’ is pronounced like the ‘ch’ in the Scottish word ‘loch’. However, in some parts of Germany it is pronounced with a softer ‘sh’ sound, as in the end of the English word ‘wish’. So don’t be surprised if you hear both.
A ‘w’ in German is pronounced like an English ‘v’ as in ‘van’ or ‘vacation’. So the pronoun ‘wir’ is pronounced ‘veer’.
As we saw with ‘ich’, the letter ‘i’ in German is pronounced as a short ‘i’ sound (as in the English word ‘it’ or ‘chin’). An ‘ih’ or an ‘ir’ together make that sound a longer ‘i:’ sound (as in the English word eat or sheep.) So the pronoun ‘ihr’ is pronounced like the English word ‘ear.’
An ‘s’ at the beginning of a German word is usually pronounced like a ‘z’ in English (as in zip or zebra.)
An ‘ie’ together makes the sound ‘ee’ like the English sheep.
(Though be careful, because an ‘ei’ makes the sound ‘eye’ like in…well…’eye’. A good way to remember this rule is that when you have an ‘e’ and an ‘i’ together, you ‘say’ the second letter.)
So the pronouns sie, sie and Sie are all pronounced ‘zee’. Meanwhile, the pronoun ‘seid’ is pronounced ‘zide’ to rhyme with ‘hide’.
A ‘d’ at the end of a German word is soft, more like an English ‘t’. So ‘sind’ rhymes with the English words ‘lint’ or ‘hint’ or ‘mint.’
Ich bin witzig. I am witty.
Du bist sportlich. You are sporty.
Er ist freundlich. He is friendly.
Sie ist begabt. She is talented.
Es ist gierig. It is greedy.
Wir sind klug. We are smart.
Ihr seid gesprächig. You are chatty.
Sie sind faul. They are lazy.
Sie sind froh. You are happy.
Bert: Hallo, Lena! Bist du Einzelkind?
Hi Lena. Are you an only child?
Lena: Nein. Ich habe einen Bruder.
No, I have a brother.
Er heisst Klaus. Klaus ist 23 Jahre alt.
He is called Klaus. Klaus is 23.
Er ist lustig und laut. Er ist nervig.
He is funny and loud. He is
Lena: Und du, Bert? Hast du Geschwister?
And you, Bert? Do you have
Bert: Ja. Ich habe eine Schwester.
Yes, I have a sister.
Sie ist nett.
She is nice.
Meine Eltern sind stolz auf meine Schwester.
My parents are proud of my sister.
Imperfect Tense (Imperfekt)
The imperfect tense is used far more often in writing than in speaking. Documents, novels and reports are all (usually) written in the imperfect tense. It is used to describe single, specific events that happened in the past.
Ich war witzig I was witty.
Du warst sportlich You were sporty.
Er war freundlich He was friendly.
Sie war begabt She was talented.
Es war gierig. It was greedy.
Wir waren klug We were smart.
Ihr wart gesprächig You were chatty.
Sie waren faul They were lazy.
Sie waren froh You were happy.
Perfect Tense (Perfekt)
The perfect tense is the version of the past that we use most often in speaking, and is the default past tense used in letters and emails. It is specifically used to describe something that you did, but have done often and will probably do again.
If in doubt between the imperfect and perfect tenses, use the perfect. It is far more common in German and will sound less strange if you’ve chosen the wrong one.
Notice that all of these conjugations are actually the present tense of ‘sein’ and then the past participle ‘gewesen’ (which stays the same for every person.) That makes this quite easy to remember.
In the translations above, we have worked with the English ‘have/has been’ to help you remember the difference between Perfekt and Imperfekt. However, you can also use ‘was’ to translate the Imperfekt into English. Use whichever translation seems most natural.
Ich bin witzig gewesen. I have been witty.
Du bist sportlich gewesen. You have been sporty.
Er ist freundlich gewesen. He has been friendly.
Sie ist begabt gewesen. She has been talented.
Es ist gierig gewesen. It has been greedy.
Wir sind klug gewesen. We have been smart.
Ihr seid gesprächig gewesen. You have been chatty.
Sie sind faul gewesen. They have been lazy.
Sie sind froh gewesen. You have been happy.
In these examples, we have split the ‘bin gewesen’ up and put the adjective in the middle. This is because a German past participle always comes at the end of the clause.
Pluperfect Tense (Plusquamperfekt)
Notice that all of these conjugations are actually the imperfect tense of ‘sein’ and then the past participle ‘gewesen’ (which stays the same for every person.)
The pluperfect is used to describe an event that happened before another event in the past. It’s one step further back in time than the perfect and imperfect tenses. An example in English would be:
I had studied (pluperfect) German for three years before I moved (perfect) to Switzerland.
An example using ‘sein’:
Ich war Stolz gewesen auf mein gutes Aussehen.
I had been proud of my good looks.
Ich war witzig gewesen. I had been witty.
Du warst sportlich gewesen. You had been sporty.
Er war freundlich gewesen. He had been friendly.
Sie war begabt gewesen. She had been talented.
Es war gierig gewesen. It had been greedy.
Wir waren klug gewesen. We had been smart.
Ihr wart gesprächig gewesen. You had been chatty.
Sie waren faul gewesen. They had been lazy.
Sie waren froh gewesen. You had been happy.
Future Tense (Futur)
Ich werde witzig sein. I will be witty.
Du wirst sportlich sein. You will be sporty.
Er wird freundlich sein. He will be friendly.
Sie wird begabt sein. She will be talented.
Es wird gierig sein. It will be greedy.
Wir werden klug sein. We will be smart.
Ihr werdet gesprächig sein. You will be chatty.
Sie werden faul sein. They will be lazy.
Sie werden froh sein. You will be happy.
Future Perfect Tense (Futur II)
Just like the English future perfect, the German ‘Futur II’ is a neat mash-up of all the forms we’ve looked at so far. While that can make it intimidating to use at first (because it feels like there’s a lot to remember) it also makes it one of the easiest tenses to remember, because we’ve already learned the different parts.
We use the future perfect to describe an action that will have been completed some time in the future. German always uses a time expression when using the future tense in this way. An example of this in English might be:
I will have studied German for three years, before I move to Switzerland.
An example using ‘sein’:
Wer werde ich gewesen sein?
Who will I have been?
Ich werde witzig gewesen sein. I will have been witty.
Du wirst sportlich gewesen sein. You will have been sporty.
Er wird freundlich gewesen sein. He will have been friendly.
Sie wird begabt gewesen sein. She will have been talented.
Es wird gierig gewesen sein. It will have been greedy.
Wir werden klug gewesen sein. We will have been smart.
Ihr werdet gesprächig gewesen sein. You will have been chatty.
Sie werden faul gewesen sein. They will have been lazy.
Sie werden froh gewesen sein. You will have been happy.
And there we have it - all six conjunctions of the verb ‘sein.’
We aren’t done with our ‘sein’ journey, there are forms such as the subjunctive (I would be) and the imperative (be!) which we still need to look at. But for now, we can use it in all six tenses, for all people. And that’s a win as far as we’re concerned!
Darren has been a language teacher for sixteen years, and has taught all ages from pre-school to adults. He has been a German speaker since he was 12 years old.