Modal verbs – to describe your MOOD

Silhouette figureIn English we often use two verbs in one sentence to express our feelings, abilities or obligations:

•I can write German quite well.
•I would like to look cool.
•I must do my homework.

The first sentence expresses what you can do, the second what you would like to do and the third what you must do.

Since these verbs are used with an infinitive verb in the same sentence, they are sometimes called auxiliary verbs, that is, supporting, helping verbs that allow you to express a more complex idea. Often you are expressing a mood, a wish, an obligation or an interpretation of a situation. That’s why these verbs are also called modal verbs; they express a mood. For instance, your mood would be quite different in the three sentences below:

• I can do my homework. (mood: optimism, self-confidence)
• I would like to do my homework. (mood: keenness, eagerness, an expressed wish)
• I must do my homework. (mood: a sense of obligation, necessity; damn it, I have to!)

Being able to use the corresponding verbs in German will allow you to express hopes, dreams, confidence, obligation and many other moods or emotions, including negative ones. You can use these verbs to enter the world of thought and emotion in a foreign language. These words are power verbs. They express powerful ideas and emotions,  such as disappointment, hope and longing. Just think what you’ll be able to say!

  • To say you can in German: können
  • To say you would like to: möchten (the conditional form of mögen – to like)
  • To say you must: müssen

CONJUGATION OF möchten (conditional of mögen)




1st person

ich möchte

wir  möchten

2nd person

du  möchtest

ihr  möchtet

3rd person

er/sie/es  möchte

sie  möchten

Here is some good news: all the grammar rules that apply to möchten apply to all the other modal verbs as well, for example, können and müssen. Once you’ve learned how one verb works, you’ll be able to use them all. Yay.

Patterns to notice:

•The first person and third person singular are the same. This pattern is repeated with all modal verbs.
•The first and third person plural are also the same. This pattern is repeated with all German verbs.

An encouraging word:

Although the grammar of German is sometimes daunting, the patterns of the language are a thing of beauty. Try to notice them, because they will save you from mindless memorising and give you faith that there is reason, logic and cohesion in what you are learning. 

Simple sentences with möchten, können and müssen:möchten pic

In full sentences with a modal verb and an infinitive verb, the modal verb is placed second, while the infinitive goes to the end of the sentence.

  • Ich möchte Limonade trinken. – I’d like to drink lemonade.
  • Darüber möchte ich nicht reden. – I don’t want to talk about that.
  • Ich möchte ihn sehen. – I’d like to see him.
  • Ich kann es machen. – I can do it.
  • Ich kann es nicht machen. – I can’t do it.
  • Ich muss jetzt gehen. – I must go now.
  • Ich muss mit dir sprechen. – I must speak with you.

In the little quiz below, you need to choose the correct option for filling the blanks in each sentence. Remember that the modal verb (möchten, können or müssen) should be conjugated and placed second in a full German sentence, while the infinitive should be placed at the end of the sentence.

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