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German Tenses


What is the best way to learn German Tenses?

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 these: present tense, perfect tense and Future 1 tense. If you are confident in these 3 tenses then you can easily manage conversations in the daily life. Unlike English the perfect tense is much more important than the simple past.


Which German Tenses does the language have?

 

In this 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. 



The German Present Tense

The German present tense is conjugated for regular verbs as shown in the picture above. When you take the infinitive "gehen" (to go) you add the endings to the word stem (in this case geh-). 


German Present Tense Chart



  • So the present tense is conjugated like this: 
  1. ich gehe =  I go 

  2. du gehst = you go

  3. er, sie, es geht = he, she it goes

  4. wir gehen = we go 

  5. ihr geht = you go 

  6. sie gehen = they go 

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

 

For 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 irregular verbs for the German Present Tense


There are some irregular verbs which are called "strong verbs". The most import 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 müssen

  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

 

 

The German Future 1 Tense

 

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

To create a sentence in German future  you build a form of "werden" (will) and add at the the end of the sentence the infinite of the verb. This is a bit different compared to English but should be no problem after practicing it a bit.

 

The German future 1 tense chart


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.


The German Perfect Tense 


The German perfect tense called German Perfekt is a past tense which we use to speak about completed actions in the recent past. The German perfect tense is used to express a recent 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 is normally easier 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. like the word yesterday, which is called in German „gestern“. But this rule only applies for the formal German which is needed in the written language and when you have to deal with authorities.


 

German perfect tense



How is the German perfect tense conjugated?

 

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.


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

 

  • A form of sein is used when the verb expresses a 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).

  • A form of German sein is also used when the verb expresses a change of a condition.

    Example: Das Eis ist geschmolzen. The ice is melted. It shows a change of a condition, before 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?

 

German verbs haben and sein

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 veb           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 verb. Example „gebacken“ backen (bake). „gedacht“ denken (think).

To master the perfect tense successfully it makes sense to learn many irregular verbs. You can find a good list for the irregular German perfect verbs by Lingolia.

 

 

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 is named "Präteritum" or "Imperfekt".

Normally the simple past is used in stories and past events for the 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.



How is the Simple Past Conjugated?


Regular verbs

Regular verbs which are also named weak verbs add a "t" or "te" to the word steam. When you have the infinitive "fragen" (to ask),you add "t" or "te" to the word stem "frag". 

  • 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 

  

You can find a list of the more important irregular German verbs here.

 

What is the German Past Perfect?


The German past perfect describes the past before the simple past. The past perfect is formed with a the simple past form of haben (to have) or sein (to be) plus a past participle.


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



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

 

The same rules like 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 that 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:

  • Der Junge hat im Park gespielt. The boy has played in the park. 
  • Der Junge hatte im Park gespielt. The boy had played in the park.
  • Die Frau ist nach Hamburg gefahren. 
  • Die Frau war nach Hamburg gefahren. 



How is the Past Perfect Conjugated?


You add a form of hatten or waren plus the past participle. The past participle is formed in the same way like 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



What is the German Future Perfect Tense?

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.

 

 

How is the German future perfect tense formed?


To create a future perfect sentence, 1sta 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:

  1. Der Junge wird am Freitag die Klausur geschrieben haben. The boy will have written the exam on Friday.


  2. 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.

     

    Examples:


    • 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.