Easy Learning German

Modal verbs - Easy Learning Grammar German

What are modal verbs?
Modal verbs
are used to modify or change other verbs to show such things as ability, permission or necessity. For example, he can swim; may I come?; we ought to go.

1 Using modal verbs

  • In German, the modal verbs are dürfen, können, mögen, müssen, sollen and wollen.
  • Modal verbs are different from other verbs in their conjugation, which is shown in the Verb Tables.
  • Here are the main uses of dürfen:
  • Meaning to be allowed to or may
Darfst du mit ins Kino kommen?Are you allowed to/Can you come to the cinema with us?
  • Meaning must not or may not
Ich darf keine Schokolade essen.I mustn’t eat any chocolate.
  • Expressing politeness
Darf ich?May I?
  • Here are the main uses of können:
  • Meaning to be able to or can
Wir können es nicht schaffen.We can’t make it.
  • Meaning would be able to or could
Könntest du morgen hinfahren?Could you go there tomorrow?
  • As a more common, informal alternative to dürfen, with the meaning to be allowed to or can
Kann ich/darf ich einen Kaffee haben?Can I/may I have a coffee?
  • Expressing possibility
Das kann sein.That may be so.
Das kann nicht sein.That can’t be true.
  • Here are the main uses of mögen:
  • Meaning to like, when expressing likes and dislikes
Magst du Schokolade?Do you like chocolate?
Sie mögen es nicht.They don’t like it.
  • Meaning would like to, when expressing wishes and polite requests
Möchtest du sie besuchen?Would you like to visit her?
Möchten Sie etwas trinken?Would you like something to drink?
  • Expressing possibility or probability
Es mag sein, dass es falsch war.It may well be that it was wrong.
  • Here are the main uses of müssen:
  • Meaning to have to or must or need to
Sie musste jeden Tag um sechs aufstehen.She had to get up at six o’clock every day.
  • Certain common, informal uses
Muss das sein?Is that really necessary?
Den Film muss man gesehen haben.That film is worth seeing.
  • Note that you can use a negative form of brauchen (meaning to need) instead of müssen for don’t have to or need not
Das brauchst du nicht zu sagen.You don’t have to say that.
  • Here are the main uses of sollen:
  • Meaning ought to or should
Das sollten Sie sofort machen.You ought to do that straight away.
Sie wusste nicht, was sie tun sollte.She didn’t know what to do. (what she should do)
  • Meaning to be supposed to where someone else has asked you to do something
Du sollst deine Freundin anrufen.You are supposed to/should phone your girlfriend. (she has left a message asking you to ring)
  • Meaning to be said to be
Sie soll sehr reich sein.I’ve heard she’s very rich/
She is said to be very rich.
  • Here are the main uses of wollen:
  • Meaning to want or to want to
Sie will Lkw-Fahrerin werden.She wants to be a lorry driver.
  • As a common, informal alternative to mögen, meaning to want or to wish
Willst du eins?Do you want one?
Willst du/möchtest du etwas trinken?Do you want/would you like something to drink?
  • Meaning to be willing to
Er will nichts sagen.He refuses to say anything.
  • Expressing something you previously intended to do
Ich wollte gerade anrufen.I was just about to phone.

2 Modal verb forms

  • Modal verbs have unusual present tenses:
ich darfich kannich mag
du darfstdu kannstdu magst
er/sie/es/man darfer/sie/es/man kanner/sie/es/man mag
wir dürfenwir könnenwir mögen
ihr dürftihr könntihr mögt
sie/Sie dürfensie/Sie könnensie/Sie mögen
ich mussich sollich will
du musstdu sollstdu willst
er/sie/es/man musser/sie/es/man soller/sie/es/man will
wir müssenwir sollenwir wollen
ihr müsstihr solltihr wollt
sie/Sie müssensie/Sie sollensie/Sie wollen
  • In tenses consisting of one verb part, the infinitive of the verb used with the modal comes at the end of the sentence or clause.
Sie kann sehr gut schwimmen.She is a very good swimmer.
Grammar Extra!In sentences with modal verbs where the other verb expresses movement, it can be dropped if there is an adverb or adverbial phrase to show movement instead.
Ich muss nach Hause.I must go home.
Die Kinder sollen jetzt ins Bett.The children have to go to bed now.
  • For more information on Adverbs, see .
Key points
  • Modal verbs are used to modify the meaning of other verbs.
  • In German, the modal verbs are dürfen, können, mögen, müssen, sollen and wollen.
  • Modal verbs are different from other verbs in their conjugation.

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