How to conjugate the German verb ‘sollen’

by Jakob Straub
March 30, 2021
woman googling How to conjugate the German verb ‘sollen’

The German language has six modal verbs and the equivalent of the English ‘should’ or ‘shall’ is “sollen”. You can use the verb “sollen” to make direct requests or indirectly report demands. It’s also possible to express a task, purpose, intent, goal, plan or function with the modal verb. We’ll teach you how to conjugate the German verb “sollen”.

Learn to conjugate the German modal verb ‘sollen’

“Sollen” is a regular German verb with the basic conjugation forms “soll”, “sollte” and “gesollt”. “Haben” is the auxiliary verb: “Wir haben gesollt” (We should have had).

The modal verb “sollen” has an active flection with no passive voice. Learn how to conjugate “sollen” for all tenses in the indicative and subjunctive with the following overview.

Basic German verbs and conjugation

Indicative

PERSONPRESENTPASTPERFECT
1st sing.ich sollich sollteich habe gesollt
2nd sing.du sollstdu solltestdu hast gesollt
3rd sing.er/sie/es soller/sie/es sollteer/sie/es hat gesollt
1st pl.wir sollenwir solltenwir haben gesollt
2nd. pl.ihr solltihr solltetihr habt gesollt
3rd. plsie sollensie solltensie haben gesollt

PERSONPAST PERFECTFUTUREFUTURE PERFECT
1st sing.ich hatte gesolltich werde sollenich werde gesollt haben
2nd sing.du hattest gesolltdu wirst sollendu wirst gesollt haben
3rd sing.er/sie/es hatte gesollter/sie/es wird sollener/sie/es wird gesollt haben
1st pl.wir hatten gesolltwir werden sollenwir werden gesollt haben
2nd. pl.ihr hattet gesolltihr werdet sollenihr werdet gesollt haben
3rd. plsie hatten gesolltsie werden sollensie werden gesollt haben

Subjunctive

PERSONPRESENT SUBJ.PAST SUBJ.PERFECT SUBJ.
1st sing.ich solleich sollteich habe gesollt
2nd sing.du sollestdu solltestdu habest gesollt
3rd sing.er/sie/es sollemer/sie/es sollteer/sie/es habe gesollt
1st pl.wir sollenwir solltenwir haben gesollt
2nd. pl.ihr solletihr solltetihr habet gesollt
3rd. plsie sollensie solltensie haben gesollt

PERSONPAST PERFECT SUBJ.FUTURE SUBJ.FUTURE PERFECT SUBJ.
1st sing.ich hätte gesolltich würde sollenich würde gesollt haben
2nd sing.du hättest gesolltdu würdest sollendu würdest gesollt haben
3rd sing.er/sie/es hätte gesollter/sie/es würde sollener/sie/es würde gesollt haben
1st pl.wir hätten gesolltwir würden sollenwir würden gesollt haben
2nd. pl.ihr hättet gesolltihr würdet sollenihr würdet gesollt haben
3rd. plsie hätten gesolltsie würden sollensie würden gesollt haben

The difference between accusative and dative in German

Infinitive, participle and imperative in German

“Sollen” is the infinitive of the verb in the present tense, while “gesollt haben” is the perfect form of the infinitive. “Zu sollen” and “gesollt zu haben” is in the infinitive with ‘to’. The participles are “sollen” in the present tense and “gesollt” in the perfect tense.

Because “sollen” is a modal verb similar to “should” or “shall”, you can use the present tense to express wishes, commands, or expectations which can take the form of an imperative:

  • 1st person singular: “Ich soll das tun!” – I should do that!
  • 2nd person singular: “Du sollst das tun” – You should do that! 
  • 3rd person singular: “Er/sie/es soll das tun!” – “He/she/it should do that!”
  • 1st person plural: “Wir sollten das tun!” – We should do that!
  • 2nd person plural: “Ihr sollt das tun!” – You should do that!
  • 3rd person plural: “Sie sollen das tun!” – They should do that!

Modal verb usage of ‘sollen’ in German

In German, you use the modal verb “sollen” to express a necessity, but one which results from a request, either from another person or from an abstract rule or concept.

  • “Ich soll duschen.” – I should shower (someone has told me so).
  • “Wir sollen leise sein.” – We should be quiet (because it’s late).
  • “Du sollst nicht lügen.” – You shall not lie (it’s immoral).

How to form basic German sentences

More expressions with “sollen”

You can express a task, a purpose, a goal, a plan or intention as well as a function with “sollen”:

  • “Du sollst den Boden wischen.” – You shall mop the floor (request).
  • “Diese Schuhe sollen zu diesem Anzug passen.” – These shoes should match this suit.
  • “Hier soll ein Haus gebaut werden.” – A new house shall be be built here.
  • “Das Schild soll warnen.” – The sign shall warn people.
  • “Der zweite Teil soll folgen.” – The second part should still come.

Using “sollen” with a question, you can ask for advice. Questions can be in the indicative or subjunctive, while the latter shows your less decisive or less likely to act:

  • “Sollen wir Essen gehen?” – Shall we go out to eat?
  • “Warum sollte ich das tun?” – Why should I do that?

When you use the subjunctive for a statement, you’re making a recommendation or are giving advice rather than a request or order:

  • “Du solltest auf dich aufpassen.” – You should take care of yourself.
  • “Sie sollten besser zuhören.” – They should listen more carefully.

You can insert “sollen” into a conditional sentence to emphasise the condition:

  • “Solltest du Hunger haben, gibt es Essen im Kühlschrank.” – Should you be hungry, there is food in the fridge.
  • “Wenn wir ihn sehen sollten, sprechen wir mit ihm.” – If we should see him, we’ll talk to him.

The best tips and tricks to learn German articles (der, die, das)

You can use “sollen” for indirect speech and report or repeat a request in the subjunctive:

  • “Er hat gesagt, ich solle ihn anrufen.” – He said I should call him.
  • “Wir haben euch gesagt, ihr sollet leise sein.” – We told you you should be quiet.

“Sollen” can refer to the future from the point of view of the past in a conditional sense. Note that English uses ‘would’ instead of ‘should’ in the same sense:

  • “Entgegen aller Erwartungen sollte sich das als falsch herausstellen.” – Against all expectations, it would turn out to be false.
  • “Er malte ein Bild, das später viel wert sein sollte.” – He painted a picture, which would later be worth a lot.

How do Germans talk about the past?

The difference between “sollen” and “müssen”

“Müssen” is a German modal verb expressing a general necessity, whereas the necessity of “sollen” arises from a request or expectation.

  • “Ich soll morgen arbeiten.” – I should work tomorrow (I have been asked to do so).
  • “Ich muss morgen arbeiten.” – I have to work tomorrow (because I need the money, I have to finish a job, I cannot stay home etc.)

Note that “müssen” generally expresses a greater necessity or even urgency than “sollen”:

  • “Wir sollen etwas essen.” – We should eat something (we’ve been asked to do so).
  • “Wir müssen etwas essen.” – We must eat something (we’re really hungry).

“Sollen” and “müssen” behave differently in their negation. “You must not do this” in English is a prohibition or denial of permission, whereas the German “Du musst das nicht tun” expresses a denial of necessity: it’s not necessary to do that. To phrase a prohibition in German, you can use “nicht sollen”: “Du sollst nicht stehlen!” – You shall not steal!

Do you need more conjugation help? We’ll show you how to conjugate verbs in German!

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