How to Conjugate the German Verb 'Sein'

'Sein' is one of the first verbs you need to learn in German

Man and woman with illustrated jumble of letters
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Even if you never wanted to quote Hamlet's famous soliloquy in German ("Sein oder nicht sein"), the verb sein is one of the first verbs you should learn and one of the most useful. Think of how often you use the phrase "I am" in English, and you'll get the idea.

As in most languages, the verb "to be" is one of the oldest verbs in German, and therefore one of the most irregular. 

Here's the scoop on the verb sein and how to conjugate it in all the different ways. 

Present Tense (Präsens) of 'Sein' in German and English 

Notice how similar the German and English forms are in the third person (ist/is).

DEUTSCH ENGLISH
ich bin I am
du bist you (familiar) are
er ist
sie ist
es ist
he is
she is
it is
wir sind we are
ihr seid you (plural) are
sie sind they are
Sie sind you (formal) are

Examples:

  • Sind Sie Herr Meier? Are you Mr. Meier?
  • Er ist nicht da. He's not here.

Past Tense (Vergangenheit) of 'Sein' in German and English 

Simple past tense - Imperfekt

DEUTSCH ENGLISH
ich war I was
du warst you (familiar) were
er war
sie war
es war
he was
she was
it was
wir waren we were
ihr wart you (plural) were
sie waren they were
Sie waren you (formal) were

Compound past tense (present perfect)  - Perfekt

DEUTSCH ENGLISH
ich bin gewesen I was/have been
du bist gewesen you (familiar) were
have been
er ist gewesen
sie ist gewesen
es ist gewesen
he was/has been
she was/has been
it was/has been
wir sind gewesen we were/have been
ihr seid gewesen you (plural) were
have been
sie sind gewesen they were/have been
Sie sind gewesen you (formal) were/have been

Past perfect tense  - Plusquamperfekt

DEUTSCH ENGLISH
ich war gewesen I had been
du warst gewesen you (familiar) had been
er war gewesen
sie war gewesen
es war gewesen
he had been
she had been
it had been
wir waren gewesen we had been
ihr wart gewesen you (plural) had been
sie waren gewesen they had been
Sie waren gewesen you (formal) had been

Future Tense (Futur)

Note: The future tense, especially with "sein," is used much less in German than in English. Very often the present tense is used with an adverb instead.

For example:

Er kommt am Dienstag. (He'll arrive on Tuesday.)

DEUTSCH ENGLISH
ich werde sein I will be
du wirst sein you (familiar) will be
er wird sein
sie wird sein
es wird sein
he will be
she will be
it will be
wir werden sein we will be
ihr werdet sein you (plural) will be
sie werden sein they will be
Sie werden sein you (formal) will be

Future Perfect - Futur II

DEUTSCH ENGLISH
ich werde gewesen sein I will have been
du wirst gewesen sein you (familiar) will have been
er wird gewesen sein
sie wird gewesen sein
es wird gewesen sein
he will have been
she will have been
it will have been
wir werden gewesen sein we will have been
ihr werdet gewesen sein you (guys) will have been
sie werden gewesen sein they will have been
Sie werden gewesen sein you will have been

Commands (Imperativ)

There are three command (imperative) forms, one for each German "you" word. In addition, the "let's" form is used with wir (we).

DEUTSCH ENGLISH
(du) sei be
(ihr) seid be
seien Sie be
seien wir let's be

Examples:

  • Sei brav! | Be good!/Behave yourself! 
  • Seien Sie still! | Be quiet!/No talking!

Subjunctive I - Konjunktiv I

The subjunctive is a mood, not a tense. The Subjunctive I (Konjunktiv I) is based on the infinitive form of the verb. It is most often used to express indirect quotation (indirekte Rede). Note: This verb form is most often found in newspaper reports or magazine articles.

DEUTSCH ENGLISH
ich sei I am (said to be)
du sei(e)st you are (said to be)
er sei
sie sei
es sei
he is (said to be)
she is (said to be)
it is (said to be)
wir seien we are (said to be)
ihr seiet you (pl.) are (said to be)
sie seien they are (said to be)
Sie seien you (formal) are (said to be)

Subjunctive II - Konjunktiv II

The Subjunctive II (Konjunktiv II) expresses wishful thinking and contrary-to-reality situations. It is also used to express politeness. The Subjunctive II is based on the simple past tense (Imperfekt). This "sein" form resembles English examples, such as "If I were you, I wouldn't do that."

DEUTSCH ENGLISH
ich wäre I would be
du wärest you would be
er wäre
sie wäre
es wäre
he would be
she would be
it would be
wir wären we would be
ihr wäret you (pl.) would be
sie wären they would be
Sie wären you (formal) would be

Since the Subjunctive is a mood and not a tense, it can also be used in various tenses. Below are several examples.

ich sei gewesen I am said to have been
ich wäre gewesen I would have been
wäre er hier, würde er... if he were here, he would ...
sie wären gewesen they would have been