German Modal Verbs: Conjugation of 'Duerfen,' 'Koennen,' and 'Moegen'

Tenses and Sample Sentences

Family swimming in lake
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Conjugating the German modal verbs is an important part of learning the language. The tables below show how to conjugate three modal verbs, dürfen, können, and mögen, including examples of how they are used in sample modal sentences and expressions. There are actually six modal verbs in German:

  • Dürfen> may, be permitted   
  • Können > can, be able
  • Mögen > like   
  • Müssen > must, have to
  • Sollen > should, ought to   
  • Wollen > want to

Modals derive their name from the fact that they always modify another verb. Additionally, they are always used in tandem with the infinitive form of another verb, as in, Ich muss morgen nach Frankfurt fahren (ich muss + fahren), which translates as "I have to go to Frankfurt tomorrow."

Conjugating the Modals

The modal verbs in the table are presented in all of their tenses. For all modals with umlauts, the simple past (preteriteImperfekt) has no umlaut, but the subjunctive form always has this diacritical mark.

Durfen - be allowed/permitted, may

(Pres. Perfect)
ich darf
I may (am permitted)
ich durfte
I was allowed
ich habe gedurft *
I was allowed
du darfst
you may
du durftest
you were allowed
du hast gedurft *
you were allowed
er/sie darf
he/she may
er/sie durfte
he/she was allowed
er/sie hat gedurft *
he/she was allowed
wir/Sie/sie dürfen
we/you/they may
wir/Sie/sie durften
we/you/they were allowed
wir/Sie/sie haben gedurft *
we/you/they were allowed
ihr dürft
you (pl.) may
ihr durftet
you (pl.) were allowed
ihr habt gedurft *
you (pl.) were allowed

* In the present perfect or past perfect tense with another verb, the double infinitive construction is used, as in the following examples:

ihr habt sprechen dürfen = you (pl.) were allowed to speak
ich hatte sprechen dürfen = I had been allowed to speak

Sample Modal Sentences for Dürfen

Present: Darf ich rauchen? May I smoke?
Past/Preterite: Er durfte das nicht. He wasn't permitted to do that.
Pres. Perfect/Perfekt: Er hat dort nicht parken dürfen. He was not permitted to park there.
Past Perfect/Plusquamperfekt: Wir hatten das damals machen dürfen. We had been allowed to do that back then.
Future/Futur: Wir werden das machen dürfen. We will be allowed to do that.
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Wenn ich dürfte... If I were permitted...

Sample Idiomatic Expressions for Dürfen

Was darf es sein? May I help you? (store clerk)
Wenn ich bitten darf. If you please.

Können–be able, can

(Pres. Perfect)
ich kann
I can, am able
ich konnte
I could
ich habe gekonnt *
I could
du kannst
you can
du konntest
you could
du hast gekonnt *
you could
er/sie kann
he/she can
er/sie konnte
he/she could
er/sie hat gekonnt *
he/she could
wir/Sie/sie können
we/you/they can
wir/Sie/sie konnten
we/you/they could
wir/Sie/sie haben gekonnt *
we/you/they could
ihr könnt
you (pl.) can
ihr konntet
you (pl.) could
ihr habt gekonnt *
you (pl.) could

* In the present perfect or past perfect tense with another verb, the double infinitive construction is used, as in the following examples:

Wir haben schwimmen können. = We were able to swim.
Ich hatte schwimmen können. = I had been able to swim.

Sample Modal Sentences for Können

Present: Er kann gut fahren. He can drive well.
Past/Preterite: Er konnte sie nicht leiden. He couldn't stand her.
Pres. Perfect/Perfekt: Er hat sie nicht leiden können. He couldn't stand her.
Past Perfect/Plusquamperfekt: Er hatte sie nicht leiden können. He had not been able to stand her.
Future/Futur: Er wird sie nicht leiden können. He won't be able to stand her.
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Wenn ich ihn nur leiden könnte... If I could only stand him...

Sample Idiomatic Expressions for Können

Sie könnten sich irren. You could be mistaken.
Das kann man wohl sagen. You can say that again.
Er kann Deutsch. He knows German. ("can German")
Er kann Sie jetzt sprechen. He can see you now. (doctor, dentist) 

Mögen - like, want, may

(Pres. Perfect)
ich mag
I like
ich mochte
I liked
ich habe gemocht *
I liked
du magst
you like
du mochtest
you liked
du hast gemocht *
you liked
er/sie mag
he/she likes
er/sie mochte
he/she liked
er/sie hat gemocht *
he/she liked
wir/Sie/sie mögen
we/you/they like
wir/Sie/sie mochten
we/you/they liked
wir/Sie/sie haben gemocht *
we/you/they liked
ihr mögt
you (pl.) like
ihr mochtet
you (pl.) could
ihr habt gemocht *
you (pl.) could

* In the present perfect or past perfect tense with another verb, the double infinitive construction is used, as in the following examples:

Wir haben schwimmen mögen. = We liked to swim
Ich hatte schwimmen mögen. = I had liked to swim

mögen is often used in its subjunctive (möchte) "would like" form:
Ich möchte lieber Kaffee (haben). = I would rather have coffee.
Wir möchten ins Kino. = We'd like to go to the movies.

Sample Modal Sentences for Mögen

Present: Er mag die Suppe. He likes the soup.
Past/Preterite: Er mochte die Stadt nicht. He didn't like the city.
Pres. Perfect/Perfekt: Er hat das Essen nicht gemocht. He didn't like the food.
Future/Futur: Er wird das schon mögen. He'll like that.
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Ja, er möchte Wein. Yes, he'd like (some) wine.
Subjunctive/Konjunktiv: Ich möchte... I would like...

Sample Idiomatic Expressions for Mögen:

Das mag wohl sein. That well may be. / That may be so.
Das mag der Himmel verhütten! Heaven forbid!
Er mag/mochte etwa 1,3 Meter groß sein. He must be/must have been about 1.3 meters tall.