Simple past: irregular verbs

Simple past with irregular verbs

You also already know the irregular verbs. When you learned the present perfect tense, you learned that the past participle of irregular verbs ends in -en and that there is often a vowel change in the verb root.

The root vowel of these verbs also changes in the simple past:

schreiben: Johann Wolfgang Goethe schrieb viele Gedichte und Theaterstücke.

Unlike regular verbs, with irregular verbs, there is no -(e)te- inserted between the root and the personal ending. In the first- and third-person singular, there is no personal ending.

The verb is conjugated like this:

1st person ich schrieb
2nd person du schriebst
3rd person er/sie/es schrieb
1st person wir schrieben
2nd person ihr schriebt
3rd person sie schrieben
Formal: Sie schrieben

Be aware that the verb root of irregular verbs in the simple past and in the past participle can be the same, but are often different: schreiben – schrieb – geschrieben, but: finden – fand – gefunden. These so-called root forms have to be memorized for each irregular verb.

In a few cases, one or more consonants may also change:

kommen: Nach seiner Italienreise kam Goethe 1778 zurück nach Weimar.

gehen: Goethe ging gerne spazieren, weil er sich für die Natur interessierte.

essen: Goethe liebte gutes Essen und gerne Fleisch.


Grammatical terms in German:

regelmäßig: A grammatical form is regular when it follows a pattern that can be applied to other words.

unregelmäßig: Irregular forms must be memorized because there is no general rule to help us work out the correct form. Irregular forms are different from the majority of forms and/or have characteristics that do not follow the rule.