Unit 1: Basics

4. The Verbs Haben and Sein

The verbs sein (to be) and haben (to have) are two of the most common verbs in German and therefore you must memorize their forms. Sein and haben are the infinitive forms of the verbs. “Infinitive forms” are important to know since dictionaries list verbs in that form.

Present Tense Forms

The verb sein is highly irregular in its forms, just as is its English counterpart “to be.” In the present tense it is conjugated as follows:


ich bin (I am)
du bist (you are)
er ist (he is)
sie ist (she is)
es ist (it is)


wir sind (we are)
ihr seid (you are)
sie sind (they are)
Sie sind (you are)


  1. du and ihr are the informal pronouns for “you” and are used only with family and friends. Sie (always capitalized) is the formal “you” and is used for both the singular and plural meanings of formal “you.” Be sure to clarify in your translation that you understood which “you” meaning was conveyed in the German original in terms of both number and social level.
  2. Unlike English, which always uses the pronoun “it” for objects that are not equivalent to people, in German the third person singular pronouns, er, sie and es, are also used to refer to masculine, feminine, or neuter nouns. For example: der Tisch (table) would be referred to as er, or die Wand (wall) as sie.
  3. It is helpful to remember that ist is always singular. And sind is always plural, although remember that the pronoun Sie can refer to one or more people. These rules let you quickly identify whether the subject of the sentence is singular or plural, simply by looking at the verb conjugation.

In the present tense, the verb haben is conjugated as follows:


ich habe (I have)
du hast (you have)
er hat (he has)
sie hat (she has)
es hat (it has)


wir haben (we have)
ihr habt (you have)
sie haben (they have)
Sie haben (you have)

Note: Verb forms ending in –en are always plural (although Sie sometimes refers to a single person). This applies for all verbs except sein, so it is useful to memorize this right away.

Simple Past Forms

sein (to be)


ich war (was)
du warst
er war
sie war
es war


wir waren (were)
ihr wart
sie waren

Sie waren

haben (to have)


ich hatte (had)
du hattest
er hatte
sie hatte
es hatte


wir hatten
ihr hattet
sie hatten
Sie hatten


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A Foundation Course in Reading German Copyright © 2014 by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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