Modal Verbs

Yesterday, in the subway train station there was a dad with a young kid in a stroller wanting to go down the stairs but the escalator was not working. I asked him if I could help and hold the other end of the stroller. In a situation like this, a modal verb comes in handy and so I thought I would introduce this to you today.

Can I help you? ‘can’ being the modal verb and ‘help’ being the other verb.

A modal verb is a helping verb used in association with another verb in the sentence. The second verb is not conjugated and is usually at the end of the clause in German.

The 6 Modal verbs in German are:

können implies Ability and Possibility to do something.

dürfen implies Permission.

müssen implies Compulsion and/or Necessity.

mögen implies Liking.

wollen implies Intention.

sollen implies Obligation.

In the situation I was in yesterday, I said “Kann ich Ihnen helfen?” If you go back to the personal pronouns from week 4, Ihnen is used in the formal sense, usually if you don’t know the person. If it is someone you are familiar with, you would say “Kann ich dir helfen?”

Other examples using modal verbs:

Ich will in diesem Jahr nach Italien fahren. I want to drive to Italy this year.

Du darfst hier nicht rauchen. You are not allowed to smoke here.

Ich mag dieses Auto. I like this car.

Wir müssen heute zu Hause bleiben. We must stay home today.

Dieser Film soll sehr gut sein. This film is supposed to be really good.

The conjugation of each of these modal verbs is below.

The PDF of these can be accessed here.

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