German is my work language. I was trying to think today of any verbs that lack an infinitive, like "can", "shall" ... and other modal verbs in English. "zu können" is absolutely everyday. I don't believe i can think of any at all.

More generally: are there any verbs that lack parts, tenses or persons.

Or perhaps there are verbs that only exist in passive or active voices.

I am interested in any of the above phenomena.

One could argue "regnen" lacks all but the third person, but i don't find the idea of saying something like "wir regnen" or "sie regnet" poetically or metaphorically particularly weird. Like, it would sound unusual and immediately evoke a poetic image, but it wouldn't sound like a syntax "error" to me. Or am i wrong?


Wiktionary has a category for defective verbs, but at the moment only five are listed and those aren't very common. If you're looking for something similar to English "can", modals/auxiliaries which don't have independent meanings, then German does not have them. German does have one or two verbs along the lines of English "quoth", which were once full verbs but all but a few inflections have fallen out of use. Wikipedia mentions erkiesen which is only available in past participle and past tense. As with "quoth", I don't think it's a verb you need to worry about as a learner; you might hear it occasionally in a historical/sci-fi/fantasy TV show or movie, but you'd get odd looks if you started using it amongst your friends. The Wiktionary category also lists verbs which, because of their meaning, are only usable in the third person, but you said you don't want to count those. I agree that Ich bin eine Wolke und ich regne is metaphorical but still grammatically correct.

  • Thanks for that. As i suspected there are very, very few examples in German. "erkiesen" is quite fascinating considering it's cognate with O.E. "cesan" which became "choose", a nondefective verb in English! Thanks for a most fascinating example. – Selene Routley Jan 16 at 19:11

The only verb I know which comes close to a defective verb is erkiesen (to choose). Only the perfect participle erkoren is still (rarely) used today. I think most Germans will not know what it means if they come across the infinitive (if they can't guess it from context).

  • Erkeisen is most fascinating indeed, considering it's cognate with O.E. "cesan" which became "choose", a nondefective verb in English! – Selene Routley Jan 16 at 19:12

Not sure if it counts, but:

The Konjunktiv II "möchten" of the verb "mögen" has acquired a meaning of its own ("to want"), while the original verb has nearly lost this meaning, and is mostly used with the meaning "to like".

So, one could argue that "möchten" has become a defective verb.

  • Whilst i wouldn't count this as quite an example, it is indeed fascinating because it shows how verbs can become defective with evolving usage. Rather cool! – Selene Routley Jan 17 at 23:14

"sein" doesn`t have a passive voice, same goes for reflexive verbs.

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    No German verb requires a "zu" to form an infinitive. The infinitive and zu + Infinitive are two different forms. – RHa Jan 14 at 19:53
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    The second part of the answer seems to refer to a construct called Ersatzinfinitiv, see this answer to a related question. While you raise a valid point concerning reflexive verbs, I consider werden as passive form of sein. – guidot Jan 14 at 20:08
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    I agree with both comments. But I'd say that one cannot blame the response if the answer was not timely closed (it's confusing due to "zu können"). Wenn man eine Frage beantwortet, geht man manchmal davon aus, dass die Frage gut gestellt ist. – c.p. Jan 14 at 21:23
  • @guidot One really wouldn`t use werden as a passive voice of sein, at least not in any regular way. – bukarest01 Jan 15 at 16:56
  • Actually, you're right about the reflexives having no passive voice when they exist only as a reflexive verb. The same goes for most intransitives like gehen - they can't have a passive form, but the past participle, which is how passive is formed, exists, so one could say that all the inflexions of gehen nonetheless exist. – Selene Routley Jan 17 at 23:17

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