How to conjugate the German verb ‘dürfen’

by Jakob Straub
April 06, 2021
man learning Learn to conjugate the German verb ‘dürfen’

In German, you can use the verb ‘dürfen’ to give or deny permission to do something. Its equivalent in English is therefore “may” or “allowed to”. We’ll give you an overview of the conjugation and show you a few other expressions for which you can use the German modal verb ‘dürfen’.

How to conjugate the German modal verb dürfen’

The verb ‘dürfen’ is among German’s irregular verbs with the forms “darf”, “durfte” and “gedurft”, using the auxiliary verb ‘haben’, as in “Wir haben gedurft” (We have been allowed). As in English, “dürfen” has an active flection and no passive voice. You can learn how to conjugate the verb ‘dürfen’ with the following overview.

10 ways that German and English are similar

Indicative

PERSONPRESENTPASTPERFECT
1st sing.ich darfich durfteich habe gedurft
2nd sing.du darfstdu durftestdu hast gedurft
3rd sing.er/sie/es darfer/sie/es durfteer/sie/es hat gedurft
1st pl.wir dürfenwir durftenwir haben gedurft
2nd. pl.ihr dürftihr durftetihr habt gedurft
3rd. plsie dürfensie durftensie haben gedurft

Indicative with the past perfect, future and future perfect

PERSONPAST PERFECTFUTUREFUTURE PERFECT
1st sing.ich hatte gedurftich werde dürfenich werde gedurft haben
2nd sing.du hattest gedurftdu wirst dürfendu wirst gedurft haben
3rd sing.er/sie/es hatte gedurfter/sie/es wird dürfener/sie/es wird gedurft haben
1st pl.wir hatten gedurftwir werden dürfenwir werden gedurft haben
2nd. pl.ihr hattet gedurftihr werdet dürfenihr werdet gedurft haben
3rd. plsie hatten gedurftsie werden dürfensie werden gedurft haben

Basic German verbs and conjugation

Subjunctive

PERSONPRESENT SUBJ.PAST SUBJ.PERFECT SUBJ.
1st sing.ich dürfeich dürfteich habe gedurft
2nd sing.du düfestdu dürftestdu habest gedurft
3rd sing.er/sie/es dürfeer/sie/es dürfteer/sie/es habe gedurft
1st pl.wir dürfenwir dürftenwir haben gedurft
2nd. pl.ihr dürfetihr dürftetihr habet gedurft
3rd. plsie dürfensie dürftensie haben gedurft

Subjunctive with the past perfect, future and future perfect

PERSONPAST PERFECT SUBJ.FUTURE SUBJ.FUTURE PERFECT SUBJ.
1st sing.ich hätte gedurftich würde könnenich würde gedurft haben
2nd sing.du hättest gedurftdu würdest könnendu würdest gedurft haben
3rd sing.er/sie/es hätte gedurfter/sie/es würde könnener/sie/es würde gedurft haben
1st pl.wir hätten gedurftwir würden könnenwir würden gedurft haben
2nd. pl.ihr hättet gedurftihr würdet könnenihr würdet gedurft haben
3rd. plsie hätten gedurftsie würden könnensie würden gedurft haben

How to form basic German sentences

Infinitive, participle and imperative

The infinitive forms of the verb in the present and perfect tense are “dürfen” and “gedurft haben”. The infinitive with ‘to’ is formed as “zu dürfen” and “gedurft zu haben”. The participle forms are “dürfend” in the present and “gedurft” in the perfect tense.

Since ‘dürfen’ is mainly used for giving or denying permission, there is no difference between the present tense and the imperative in conjugation:

  • 1st person singular: “Ich darf!”
  • 2nd person singular: “Du darfst!”
  • 3rd person singular: “Er darf!”
  • 1st person plural: “Wir dürfen!”
  • 2nd person plural: “Ihr dürft!”
  • 3rd person plural: “Sie dürfen!”

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Usage of ‘dürfen’ as a modal verb

In German, you’ll use ‘dürfen’ a lot to give permission or deny it through negation: 

  • “Die Tochter darf die ganze Nacht fernsehen.” = The daughter is allowed to watch TV all night.
  • “Du darfst im Museum nicht fotografieren.” = “You may not take pictures in the museum.”
  • “Die Schüler dürfen eine Stunde früher gehen.” = “The pupils may leave an hour early.”
  • “Ihr dürft nicht so laut reden!” = “You must not talk so loudly!”

As with all German modal verbs, you can construct these phrases by using the conjugated form of ‘dürfen’ followed by another verb in the infinitive. If you want to deny permission, “nicht” for ‘not’ is placed directly after the conjugated modal verb.

You can also use ‘dürfen’ to voice a suspicion or belief. In this case, ‘dürfen’ expresses a high probability of something being right, correct or true.

  • “Der Baum dürfte 30 Meter hoch sein.” = The tree is likely to be 30 meters tall.
  • “Das dürfte Maria an der Tür sein.” = “That should be Maria at the door.”
  • “Sie dürften falsch liegen.” = They might be wrong.

The verb ‘dürfen’ is also a way of politely asking for permission to do something. The indicative form is already polite, while using the subjunctive is very formal:

  • “Darf ich Sie um etwas bitten?” = May I ask you for something?
  • “Dürfte ich Sie etwas fragen?” = Might I ask you something?

Do you want to learn more about German modal verbs? We’ll show you how to use and conjugate modal verbs in German!

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