In this lesson, I’ll briefly explain what a modal verb is, I’ll talk about how we use a modal verb in Luxembourgish and I will introduce you to 3 out of 6 modal verbs.
What is a Modal Verb?
Modal verbs give us the ability to speak about another verb, in a way that shows a relationship. For example, if I say Ech kann danzen “I can dance“, I use the verb kënnen “can,” which implies an ability. Now, what if I say, Ech wëll danzen “I want to dance”?
Wanting to do something is different from being able to. That’s the magic of a modal verb: rather than simply stating an action, modal verbs give you the ability to speak about an action.
You can watch this lesson on youtube!
How do you use a Modal Verb in Luxembourgish?
The modal verbs function like helping verbs, just like sinn (be) and hunn (have) because they work together (but not always) with another verb:
We place modal verbs in the second position of the sentence and conjugate it according to the subject. Then, if there’s a verb attached to the modal, we place it at the infinitive form at the very end of the sentence.
Ech muss an d’Bäckerei goen. – I must go to the bakery. (Literally: “I must to the bakery go.”)
Remember: The modal verb is conjugated and the infinitive of the second verb comes at the end of the sentence.
A note about ze
Phrases like “in order to buy milk,” or “in order to speak Luxembourgish” are translated into Luxembourgish using ze:
fir Mëllech ze kafen. – to buy milk
fir Lëtzebuergesch ze schwätzen. – to speak Luxembourgish
Modals do not require this ze. This is an important fact to remember when building phrases with modal verbs.
3 Luxembourgish Modal Verbs
Luxembourgish has six modal verbs: däerfen, kënnen, wëllen, sollen, mussen and wäerten. Let’s concentrate in this lesson on kënnen, mussen, and wäerten to really understand what each one means—and how to properly use it. Learn in this lesson how to conjugate each modal in the present.
Kënnen — can
Used as the more colloquial term for an ability, kënnen means “to be able to” or “can.”
Hatt ka(nn) mech net verstoen. – She can’t understand me. (Literally: She can me not understand.)
Mir kënnen e bësse Lëtzebuergesch schwätzen. – We can speak a little bit of Luxembourgish. (Literally: We can a little bit Luxembourgish speak.)
Meng Mamm kann d’Kanner ofhuelen. – My mumm can pick up the children.
Mussen — must
If there’s one thing you learn as you grow up, it’s that there are things you are permitted to do, things you should do, things you want to do and, of course, things you must do. For all those “musts,” use mussen:
De Puppelche kräischt. Hie muss hongreg sinn. – The baby’s crying. He must be hungry.
Hatt muss de Bus verpasst hunn, soss wier hatt schonn hei. – She must have missed the bus, otherwise she would be already here.
Mir hu keng Mëllech méi. Mir mussen onbedéngt akafe goen. – We don’t have any milk left. We absolutely have to go shopping.
We use as well ‘mussen‘ in the sense of should in English to say that something is likely or probable. We’re not a hundred percent certain but we believe it to be true:
Si si virun enger Stonn gaang, si mussen elo doheem sinn. – They left an hour ago, they should be here by now.
Meng Mamm ass kuerz akafe gaang. Si muss all Allbléck heemkommen. – My mother went briefly shopping. She should be back home every moment.
Wäerten — will
This verb is very special as it has many important uses in Luxembourgish. Here are the most important uses of wäerten:
1 To express a certainty about the future or an assertion, use wäerten plus the infinitive form of a verb.
Am August wäert ech a Schottland an d’Vakanz goen. – In August, I will go to Scotland for a vacation.
D’Wieder wäert sech bestëmmt änneren. – The weather is definitely going to change.
Hatt wäert sécher krank sinn. – She is surely sick.
2 To talk about probabilities, hopes or fears
Hie wäert doheem sinn. – He will probably be at home.
Meng Mamm wäert jo net krank ginn. – I hope, my mother will not get sick.
Et wäert jo net wéi doen, oder? – It will not be painful, or?
Here are a few Luxembourgish idioms that use modals. Memorize these phrases to sound more like a native Luxembourgish!
Do war näischt méi ze wëllen. There was nothing elso to do.
Do kanns du Gëft drop huelen. – You can bet your life on that. (Literally: “You can take poison on that.”)
Hei ass näischt ze mussen. – You can’t force anyone to do something. (Literally: “Here is nothing to must.”)
There you have it!
Learn more about the modal verbs däerfen, wëllen and sollen in this lesson.