Lesson 18. Ablaut Patterns

Last week we have discussed a very specific and complex grammar topic – German regular and irregular verbs. Today we are going to continue our talk about irregular verbs  and cover one of the most important topics – Ablaut patterns.

What is Ablaut? Definitely, a German word.

Some verbs systematically change vowels In their root to some different vowels. There are certain shift patterns. This variation of vowels is called Ablaut.

The same phenomenon exists in English too. For example, drink – drank – drunk. You see how the vowel is changed. The difference in German is only that there are way more verbs that change their vowels in the root, so more that it has become necessary to associate groups of verbs with certain classes, the so called Ablaut classes.

The Ablaut classes are called Ablautreihen in German. There are 7 Ablautreihen in German. I don’t think I should mention that these verbs have to be memorized.

die 1. Ablautreihe

Infinitiv Imperfekt Partizip II
a) ei ie ie
bleiben blieb geblieben
leihen lieh geliehen
b) ei i i
beissen biss gebissen
schreiten schritt geschritten

die 2. Ablautreihe

Infinitiv Imperfekt Partizip II
a) ie о (long) о (long)
bieten bot geboten
frieren froh gefrohren
b) ie о (short) о (short)
gießen goß gegossen
schießen schoß geschossen

die 3. Ablautreihe

Infinitiv Imperfekt Partizip II
a) e a o
helfen half geholfen
sterben starb gestorben
b) i a u
finden fand gefunden
binden band gebunden
c) i a o
beginnen begann begonnen
gewinnen gewann gewonnen

die 4. Ablautreihe

Infinitiv Imperfekt Partizip II
a) е (long) а (long) о (long)
empfehlen empfahl empfohlen
stehlen stahl gestohlen
b) е (short) а (long) о (long)
sprechen sprach gesprochen

die 5. Ablautreihe

Infinitiv Imperfekt Partizip II
a) e a e
geben gab gegeben
lesen las gelesen
sehen sah gesehen
b) i a e
bitten bat gebeten
liegen lag gelegen
sitzen saß gesessen

die 6. Ablautteihe

Infinitiv Imperfekt Partizip II
а u a
fahren fuhr gefahren
laden lud geladen
tragen trug getragen

die 7. Ablautreihe

Infinitiv Imperfekt Partizip II
а ie a
fallen fiel gefallen
schlafen schlief geschlafen
lassen ließ gelassen

Of course, there are exceptions even to these patterns, verbs that don’t belong to any of the groups because they have their own, often unpredictable, vowel shifts. However, if you memorize these ones you are all set and will not have any difficulties in building different forms using German verbs.

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2 Responses to Lesson 18. Ablaut Patterns

  1. Erik says:

    Hey…

    Fantastic information. I’ve been studying German now for over two years and have never been introduced to the Ablaut verb categorisation. It’s going to really help me with learning verb conjugation and remembering those verbs that I MUST memorise as vowel changing. I find verbs one of the more difficult areas of learning German. Thanks again for the help. Good stuff!

  2. ANTHONY BUKYANAGANDI ISABIRYE says:

    Yes, I studied some German sometime back, but this one I am learning now is more interesting than the first time. Those things that I failed to understand the first time are now becoming clearer and clearer. I am also interested in the spoken German. My biggest challenge are the vocabulary and pronouns.

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