German Verb Conjugation

I am lead to believe that the key to learning a new language, once you have the foundations, is to find a topic that you are interested in and explore out from there reinforcing your existing language vocabulary, grammar etc.

German grammar has just a couple of rules 🙂  Fortunately, for me, one of the big topics that interests me about the language is the grammar; I should be very well placed to learn the language given this interest. The consistency of grammar rules is a good thing too, despite the incessant number of exceptions to the rule.

I am a software developer/architect. Rarely do I design or write software for myself, other than as an offline learning exercise. As part of my exploration of the German language however, I wanted a trivial Excel spreadsheet to record notes, lecture or study notes if you prefer, retaining details of German verb conjugation.

My requirements are:

  • I type in/enter the infinitive form of the verb
  • I enter the various verb conjugations
  • There will be a visual cue to indicate the stem/conjugation etc for weak and strong verbs as they are represented in typical German grammar textbooks [eg. the conjugation underlined, or where the verb is irregular the character(s) are highlighted, and so on]. For example, and for the verb essen, on-the-fly the verb should be visually formatted in Excel as esse (first person), isst (second person, informal), essen (second person formal), …..

If these user requirements were implemented in Excel, it would enable me show the verbs that follow the conjugation rules (ie. weak verbs/regular verbs) from those that break the general rule (ie. strong verbs/irregular verbs). For the purposes of studying with the aim of speaking and writing German with the correct grammar, this is demonstrably important.

I show an animated graphic below, demonstrating what I crudely implemented in Excel (note this is elementary grammar that comes naturally to the native German speaker, obviously; to a native English speaker like me, it does not come that naturally at all!).

As it turned out, writing an Excel VBA macro to achieve this type of visual cue formatting proved trivial. I show the pivotal piece of code logic below.

Private Sub Worksheet_Change(ByVal r As range)
 Dim verbStemSuffix As String
 verbStemSuffix = Replace(Cells(VERBSUFFIXROW, r.Column).Value, "-", "")

 If verbStemSuffix <> "" Then

   Dim enteredVerbInfinitive As String

   Dim enteredVerbInfinitiveStem As String
   enteredVerbInfinitiveStem = Left(enteredVerbInfinitive, Len(enteredVerbInfinitive) - Len(INFINITIVEFORMOFVERBSUFFIXNOMINATIVE))

   Dim enteredVerb As String
   enteredVerb = r.Value

   Dim enteredVerbDeclinedStem As String
   enteredVerbDeclinedStem = Left(enteredVerb, Len(enteredVerb) - Len(verbStemSuffix))

   Dim derivedVerb As String
   derivedVerb = enteredVerbInfinitiveStem & verbStemSuffix

   Call removeCellFormatting(r)

   ' If the verb has the expected conjugation, underline
   If Right(enteredVerb, Len(verbStemSuffix)) = verbStemSuffix Then
     Call underlineLetters(r, Len(enteredVerb) - Len(verbStemSuffix) + 1)
   End If

   If Len(derivedVerb) = Len(enteredVerb) Then

     If derivedVerb = enteredVerb Then
     ' Good, a regular verb/weak verb, do nothing more
     ' the strong verb and the entered verb have the same number of letters
     ' so likely just a vowel change or umlaut, in this scenario
     ' highlight the individual letters that are different
     Dim letter As Integer
     For letter = 1 To Len(enteredVerb) - Len(verbStemSuffix)
       If Mid(enteredVerb, letter, 1) <> Mid(derivedVerb, letter, 1) Then
         Call highlightLetter(r, letter)
       End If
     Next letter
   End If

     Call highlightCell(r) ' highlight the whole Excel cell
   End If
 End If
End Sub

Even though the code is trivial (and yes I know I didn’t adhere to normal coding standards and Hungarian notation and all that crap that obfuscated Visual Basic/VBA code decades ago – the code is for me, not production software for a client), it was extremely satisfying to write. The satisfaction stems from writing a piece of software that adheres to rules, and from proving to myself I understand the basics of German verb conjugation. And when I write basics, I mean it; take a look at the conjugation tables for just this one verb, sprechen. It is quite daunting. Note too that for the infinitive form of weak verbs ending in –ern & –eln, there’s an exception case not handled by the code where for the wir, Sie, and sie forms, only a n is added to a subtly different stem, not an en. There is I understand exceptions for where weak verbs end in a -d or -t, and -m or -n too. Collectively accommodating for all these exceptions would add unnecessary complexity to the code excerpt and detract from the point of this blog article. Put another way, I am aware of the common exceptions, but have consciously not accommodated for them just now. Perhaps this is a task for a rainy day.

For those that are interested, and wish to revise or learn German Verb Conjugations on-the-go rather than at a desk with books and a computer, there exists a very handy app in the iTunes store. I use this too.

Finally, I am currently working in an Oracle development role in Munich Germany. My interest in the German language is more than just passing.

— Published by Mike, 14:47:18 05 May 2017 (CET)

2 Responses to “German Verb Conjugation”

  1. I do not Angela however this information is already available in a structured format from many sources. For example, verb declension for bekommen is detailed in the paper/hardback version  of the Duden, their app dictionary, or online at  If you wanted the content in a file format, it wouldn’t be that hard to wget the required content, structure it in your required format with a bit of perl and a few regexes, and so on. Best of luck. 

  2. Hello thanks for this, would you consider sharing your excel document or parts of it at all? I can see the code but have never made something myself. No problem if not and thanks for the great post.

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