Modal Verbs

What are Modal Verbs?

There are 6 modal verbs in German: "können," "wollen," "möchten," "sollen," "müssen," "dürfen."

Modal verbs express whether you can, want to, must, should, or are allowed to do something.

Modal verbs are usually combined with a second verb ("main verb") and must be conjugated.

Examples:

  • „Ich kann kein Englisch sprechen.“
  • „Ich darf keinen Alkohol trinken.“
  • „Ich muss heute nicht lernen.“
  • „Ich will heute lernen.“
  • „Wir sollen in die Schule gehen.“

Word Order

In main clauses, the modal verb goes in position 2 (unless it's a yes/no-question). The main verb goes at the end.

Special Features:

In spoken language, if the main verb is obvious (based on the context), the main verb is often left out.

  • Kannst du Englisch (sprechen)?“
  • „Ich will ein Bier (trinken)!“

In the perfect tense, modal verbs don't take the past participle form. Instead, they remain in the infinitive form.

  • „Er hat Englisch sprechen können.“
  • „Sie haben auf dich warten müssen.“

Exception: When the modal verb is the main verb (this is very rare, since normally the simple past would be used).

  • „Er hat Englisch gekonnt!“

What does each modal verb mean?

More specific info about what each modal verb actually means and how to use it is on the modal verb's individual page:

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