German Tenses: Easily Explained

German Tenses: Easily Explained

The German language offers many tenses, luckily not all are playing the same importance.
The tenses that you should focus on at the beginning are present tense, perfect tense, and Future 1 tense. If you are confident in these 3 tenses then you can easily manage conversations in daily life. Unlike English, the perfect tense is much more important than the simple past.
 

Which German Tenses does the language have?

 
In this German grammar article, you can read about all German tenses. You can find information about the German present tense, the German future 1 tense, the German perfect tense, the German simple past, the German past perfect, and the German future perfect.
 

What are the 6 German tenses?

The six German tenses are present, perfect, past, future perfect, pluperfect and future. The present tense is used when talking about an action that is happening in the present or for habits and states. It is formed using the basic verb form in conjugation with personal pronouns. The perfect tense is used to refer to actions that have taken place in the past and can be translated as 'have done something'. It is formed using a conjugated form of haben or sein plus a past participle. The past tense is used to describe what happened in the past and can be translated as 'did something'. It is formed using a conjugated form of haben or sein plus a past participle. The future perfect tense is used for actions expected to take place before another action in the future, and it can be translated as 'will have done something'. It is formed using werden (or sein) plus a present participle. The pluperfect tense refers to events that happened before another event in the past, and it can be translated as 'had already done something'. It is formed using hatten or waren plus a past participle. Lastly, the future tense indicates events that will take place in the future, and it can be translated as 'will do something'. It is formed using werden (or sein) plus an infinitive form of a verb. All six German tenses are essential for speaking German fluently - understanding them will help you communicate effectively with native speakers!

How Do German Verbs work?

German verbs are an integral part of the German language and can be quite complex. The word order of the verb can change in the German language. For example, verbs in a main sentence are normally placed at the 2nd,  while verbs in a subordinate clause are at the last position of a sentence. There are some verbs that always have to be used with a dative or accusative case. 

What is the German Present Tense?

The German present tense is the most basic form of verb conjugation in the German language. It is used to express an action or a state that occurs in the present moment, and it is the most commonly used verb tense for everyday communication. The present tense can be formed by adding a suffix or prefix to the infinitive form of a verb, and some verbs require additional consonants or vowels to be added depending on the context. A

Präsens is used to express actions that happen regularly or that take place now or definitely in the near future. 

Conjugation of the German Present Tense

  • ich gehe = I go
  • du gehst = you go
  • er, sie, es geht = he, she it goes
  • wir gehen = we go
  • ihr geht = you go
  • sie/Sie gehen = they (you formal) go

German present tense conjugation is the way in which German verbs are modified to express person, number, gender, and time. Conjugating a verb involves changing the verb’s form depending on who is performing the action. In German, there are three persons (first, second, and third) as well as two numbers (singular and plural). Additionally, all verbs must be conjugated for both genders (masculine and feminine). For regular verbs in the present tense, the infinitive form of the verb is used as a base for conjugation. Depending on the person and number of the subject performing the action, different endings are added to this base form. For example, “machen” (to make) is conjugated as “mache” for first-person singular, “machst” for second-person singular, “macht” for third-person singular, “machen” for first-person plural, “macht” for second-person plural, and finally “machen” for third-person plural.

In the main sentence, the verb normally stands at the 2nd position and the subject often stands at the 1st position.

Example:

  • Der Junge geht in den Park. The boy goes in the park.

"Der Junge" is counted as the 1st position, and "geht" is the verb and at the 2nd position.

German Present Tense Free Quiz

It makes sense to practice the present tense in German regulary with Quizzes. You can find our latest quiz of the present tense: here.

German irregular verbs for the German Present Tense

There are some irregular verbs that are called "strong verbs". The most important ones for the German present tense are these:

  1. dürfen = to be allowed to = ich darf, du darfst, er, sie es darf, wir dürfen, ihr dürft, sie dürfen
  2. empfehlen = to recommend = ich empfehle, du empfiehlst, er ,sie, es empfiehlt, wir empfehlen, ihr empfehlt, sie empfehlen.
  3. brechen = to break = ich breche, du brichst, er, sie, es bricht, wir brechen, ihr brecht, sie brechen
  4. essen = to eat = ich esse, du isst, er, sie, es isst, wir essen, ihr esst, sie essen.
  5. fahren = to drive = ich fahre, du fährst, er, sie, es fährt, wir fahren, ihr fahrt, sie fahren
  6. fallen = to fall = ich falle, du fällst, er, sie, es fällt, wir fallen, ihr fallt, sie fallen
  7. fangen = to catch = ich fange, du fängst, er, sie, es fängt, wir fangen, ihr fangt, sie fangen
  8. fressen = (to eat for animals) ich fresse, du frisst, er, sie, es frisst, wir fressen, ihr fresst, sie fressen
  9. haben = to have = ich habe, du hast, er, sie, es hat, wir haben, ihr habt, sie haben
  10. helfen = to help = ich helfe, du hilfst, er, sie, es hilft, wir helfen, ihr helft, sie helfen
  11. können = can, to be able to = ich kann, du kannst, er, sie, es kann, wir können, ihr könnt, sie können
  12. laufen = to run = ich laufe, du läufst, er, sie, es läuft, wir laufen, ihr lauft, sie laufen
  13. lesen = to read = ich lese, du liest, er, sie, es liest, wir lesen, ihr lest, sie lesen
  14. müssen = must, have to = ich muss, du musst, er, sie es muss, wir müssen, ihr müsst, sie müsseb
  15. nehmen = to take = ich nehme, du nimmst, er, sie, es nimmt, wir nehmen, ihr nehmt, sie nehmen
  16. raten = to advise, guess = ich rate, du rätst, er, sie, es rät, wir raten, ihr ratet, sie raten
  17. schlafen = to sleep = ich schlafe, du schläfst, er, sie, es schläft, wir schlafen, ihr schlaft, sie schlafen
  18. sehen = to see = ich sehe, du siehst, er, sie, es sieht, wir sehen, ihr seht, sie sehen
  19. sollen = should = ich soll, du sollst, er, sie, es soll, wir sollen, ihr sollt, sie sollen
  20. sprechen = to speak = ich spreche, du sprichst, er, sie, es spricht, wir sprechen, ihr sprecht, sie sprechen
  21. tragen = to wear = ich trage, du trägst, er, sie, es trägt, wir tragen, ihr tragt, sie tragen
  22. wissen = to know = ich weiß, du weißt, er, sie, es weiß, wir wissen, ihr wisst, sie wissen

You can find more detailed information about the German present tense: here

The German Future 1 Tense

The German future 1 tense is used for events that are expected or planned to happen in the future. It is formed by conjugating the verb werden and then adding the infinitive form of the main verb. This tense is used to indicate that something will happen but without any certainty as to when it will occur. For example, "Ich werde nach Hause gehen" (I will go home). The German future 1 tense can also be used to express a prediction or assumption about something that has not yet happened. For example, "Es wird regnen" (It will rain). The German future 1 tense is an important part of the language and is used for speaking about events that are likely or assumed to take place in the future.

The German future 1 tense is the easiest tense in German and is similar to English.

Conjugation of the German Future 1 Tense

= werden+infinitive at the end of the sentence

  • ich werde gehen = I will go
  • du wirst gehen = you go
  • er, sie, es wird gehen = he, she it goes
  • wir werden gehen = we go
  • ihr werdet gehen = you go
  • sie/Sie werden gehen = they (you formal) go

Example:

  • Wir werden in dem Seminar viel lernen. = We will learn a lot in the seminar.

You can see that the form of "werden" is placed at the 2nd position and the infinitive is at the end.

The German language does not provide a going to future tense, so instead the present tense (very near future e.g. today, in a bit, soon) or future 1 (near and far away and unclear future, e.g: tomorrow, in a few days, next year) is used.

If you would like to read more about the German future 1 tense in detail, you can find more information here

The German Perfect Tense

The German perfect tense called German Perfekt is a past tense that we use to speak about completed actions in the recent past. The German perfect tense is used to express a recently completed action in the past with a focus on the outcome of the action.

In the spoken German language, the present perfect tense is more often used instead of the simple past because conjugating the verbs for the German perfect usually is more straightforward than for the German simple past named „Präteritum“.

Additionally, the German simple past has more irregular verbs than the German perfect tense. Even though there are some keywords by which you should officially use the German simple past e.g. the word yesterday, which is called in German „gestern“. But this rule only applies to formal German which is needed in the written language and when you have to deal with authorities.
 

How is the German perfect tense conjugated?

= form of haben/sein + past particple 

  • ich habe gelacht = I have laughed
  • du hast gelacht = you have laughed
  • er, sie, es hat gelacht = he, she, it laughed
  • wir haben gelacht = we laughed
  • ihr habt gelacht = you laughed
  • sie, Sie haben gelacht = they (you formal) laughed

The German perfect is conjugated by using a form of „haben“ (to have) or form of „sein“ (to be) plus a past participle at the end of the sentence.

Examples:

  1. Der Junge hat über den Witz gelacht. The boy has laughed at the joke.
  2. Das Mädchen ist nach Hause gegangen. The girl has gone home.

How is the Past Participle conjugated?

Regular verbs which are also named weak verbs are built with „ge“ plus „t“. „ge“ is added at the beginning of the verb and „t“ at the end of the word stem.

Examples:

  • gemacht, gelacht. The infinitives of these verbs are „machen“ and „lachen“
  • To create the past participle, the „ge“ and „t“ are placed before and after the verb stem which are „mach“ and „lach“.
  • Irregular verbs are formed with a „ge“ plus „en“ for the strong verbs or „ge“ plus „t“ for a mixed verbs. Example „gebacken“ backen (bake). „gedacht“ denken (think).

When do we use the form of haben and sein in the German perfect?

  • The form of sein is used when the verb expresses locomotion. So when you can move from A to B. This applies for example to these verbs: schwimmen (swim),gehen (go),wandern (hike),rennen (run),springen (jump).
  • To be is also needed for the 2 verbs of happen: “passieren” and “geschehen”
  • A form of German sein is also used when the verb expresses a change in a condition.
  • Example: Das Eis ist geschmolzen. The ice is melted. It shows a change of a condition, there was ice and now the ice became water.
  • All other verbs are used with haben. E.g like all reflexive Verbs: Sie hat sich gekümmert. She has taken care.

How are the verbs haben and sein conjugated?

= form of haben/sein + past particple at the end of the sentence

  • Ich bin nach Hause gefahren. I have driven home. 
  • Du hast bis 20 Uhr gearbeitet. You have worked until 8 pm. 
  • Wir sind nach Spanien geflogen. We have flown to Spain. 
You can find a detailed blog article about the Perfekt: here. To master the perfect tense successfully it makes sense to learn many irregular verbs. You can find a good list of irregular German perfect verbs by Lingolia.
 

German Perfect Tense: Free Excercises

It is helpful to practice what you have learnt about the Perfekt with quizzes or excercises. You can find the newest excercises for the Perfekt: here.
 

What is the German Simple Past?

 
The German simple past called Präteritum describes a completed event in the past.
  • Gestern ging ich in den Park. Yesterday I went to the park.
The German simple past tense is named "Präteritum" or "Imperfekt".Normally the simple past is used in stories and past events for the formal German language. For the spoken informal German language the simple past is rarely used and instead people are using the present perfect. The main reason for this is that that there are more irregular verbs in the simple past tense.
You can find a detailed blog article about the Präteritum: here
 

How is the Simple Past Conjugated?

Regular verbs:

Regular verbs that are also named weak verbs add a "t" or "te" to the word steam. When you have the infinitive "fragen" (to ask),a “te” is added in case the word steam end with a d or t. 
  • Ich fragte = I asked
  • du fragtest = You asked
  • er, sie, es fragte = he, she, it asked
  • wir fragten = we asked
  • ihr fragtet = You asked
  • sie fragten = they asked

German Irregular Verbs for the Simple Past 

There are many irregular verbs and often the word stem gets changed. It makes sense to learn as many irregular verbs as possible. Here you have some of the most important irregular verbs:
  • gehen, ging = go, went
  • schwimmen, schwam = swim, swam
  • baken, buk = bake, baked
  • fahren, fuhr = drive, drove
  • rennen, rannte = run, run
  • essen, aß = eat, ate
  • trinken, trank, drink, drank
  • laufen, lief = run, run
  • sein, waren = be, was
  • haben, hatten = have, had
  • werden, wurden = become, became
  • wissen, wussten = know, knew
  • denken, dachten = think, thought
Here is a list of more important irregular German verbshere.

 

What is the German Past Perfect?

The German past perfect is a verb form used to express actions that were completed prior to another action in the past. The German past perfect is formed by using the verb “hatten” (had) or “waren” (were) followed by the past participle of the main verb.

This tense is most commonly used to describe events that happened before other events in the past or to provide context for a past event. For example, if someone said “Ich hatte schon gegessen” (I had already eaten),they would be using the German Past Perfect tense.

You can read a more detailed article about the Plusquamperfekt: here

Example:

  • Er hatte viel gelernt, bevor er die Klausur schrieb. He had learned a lot before he wrote the exam.

How is the Past Perfect Conjugated?

= form of hatten/waren+ past particple 

  • ich hatte gelacht = I have laughed
  • du hattest gelacht = you have laughed
  • er, sie, es hatte gelacht = he, she, it laughed
  • wir hatten gelacht = we laughed
  • ihr hattet gelacht = you laughed
  • sie, Sie hatten gelacht = they (you formal) laughed
You add a form of hatten or waren plus the past participle. The past participle is formed in the same way as the simple perfect.
 
Sein = to be
  • ich war = I was
  • du warst = you were
  • er, sie, es war = he, she, it was
  • wir waren = we were
  • ihr ward = you were
  • sie waren = they were
 
haben = to have
  • ich hatte = I had
  • du hattest = you had
  • er, sie, es hatte = he, she, it had
  • wir hatten = we had
  • ihr hattet = you had
  • sie hatten = you had

When do we use a form of hatten and of  waren?

The same rules as for the German simple perfect are applied which means that you build a sentence with "waren" in the same way like in the simple perfect tense with "sein".
In case you have to form a sentence with "haben" in the German perfect then you have to use "hatten" if you would like to transform this sentence to the German past perfect.
 
Examples:
  1. Der Junge hat im Park gespielt. The boy has played in the park. (Perfect) = Der Junge hatte im Park gespielt. The boy had played in the park. (Past Perfect)
  2. Die Frau ist nach Hamburg gefahren. The woman has gone to Hamburg. (Perfect) = Die Frau war nach Hamburg gefahren. The woman had travelled to Hamburg. (Past Perfect)

German Past Perfect Tense Quiz

You can check your knowledge about the German past perfect with out newest quiz: here

What is the German Future Perfect Tense?

The German Future perfect tense is a verb tense used to express actions that will have been completed in the future. It is formed using the auxiliary verb “werden” (will) combined with the past participle of a main verb. This tense is mostly used when talking about events that will occur before some other event in the future. The Future perfect tense can also be used to express an assumption.

  • “Ich werde meine Prüfungen bestanden haben, bevor ich nach Spanien gehe.” I will have passed my exams before I go to Spain.

The structure of this tense follows the pattern of “werden + past participle” and can be used to express actions that are expected to happen at some point in the future. The German future perfect tense is needed to express a past event in the future. The German future perfect combines the German Future 1, and the German simple perfect tense. The German future perfect tense is only rarely needed.

 

Conjugation of the German Future Perfect Tense

= werden+past participle+ infinitive of sein/haben at the end of the sentence

  • ich werde gemacht haben= I will have done
  • du wirst gemacht haben= you will have done
  • er, sie, es wird gemacht haben= he, she it will have done
  • wir werden gemacht haben= we will have done
  • ihr werdet gemacht haben= you will have done
  • sie/Sie werden gemacht haben= they (you formal) will have done

To create a future perfect sentence, 1st a form of „werden“ (Future form) is built and at the end of the sentence, a past participle plus the infinitive of haben or sein is added.

Examples:

  • Der Junge wird am Freitag die Klausur geschrieben haben. The boy will have written the exam on Friday.
  • Das Mädchen wird am Donnerstag zu ihren Großeltern gefahren sein. The girl will have gone to see her grandparents on Thursday.

The infinitive of haben is used when you use a form of haben in the perfect tense and the form of sein is needed when you use sein in the German perfect tense.

  • Die Kinder haben Fußball gespielt. Die Kinder werden Fußball gespielt haben. The children have played football. The children will have played football.
  • Der Koch hat ein leckeres Essen gekocht. Der Koch wird ein leckeres Essen gekocht haben. The chef has cooked a delicious meal. The chef will have cooked a delicious meal.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
Niko

Article by Niko

Published 03 Aug 2023
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