Talking about the Past
In this lesson you'll learn how to talk about events that happened in the past in German. In German the present perfect and past perfect tenses are usually used to talk about the past in the spoken language. The präteritum, or simple past tense, is also used to indicate that an action was completed in the past.
Flashcards and a quiz are included in the lesson to help you learn the present perfect, past perfect, and präteritum of some common German verbs.
The simple past tense is called the Imperfekt or Präteritum in German. This tense is used to indicate that an action was completed in the past.
This tense is used most often in the written language, such as novels and newspapers, and is used less often in the spoken language. The amount that this tense is used in the spoken language varies by region, and is used the least in in southern German speaking areas. The Präteritum form of some verbs however, such as sein, haben, wollen, and a few others, is very common in the spoken language and sometimes even required.
The following table shows the simple past tense for regular verbs, also called weak verbs.
|ich machte||I made|
|du machtest||you made|
|er/sie/es machte||he/she/it made|
|wir machten||we made|
|ihr machtet||you made (familiar plural)|
|sie machten||they made|
The verb sein is irregular in the simple past tense, and is also often used, even in conversational German. The conjugation of sein is shown in the following table.
|ich war||I was|
|du warst||you were (familiar singular)|
|er/sie/es war||he/she/it was|
|wir waren||we were|
|ihr wart||you were (familiar plural)|
|sie waren||they were|
The verb haben is irregular in the simple past tense, and is also often used, even in conversational German. The following table shows the conjugation for the verb haben.
|ich hatte||I had|
|du hattest||you had (familiar singular)|
|er/sie/es hatte||he/she/it had|
|wir hatten||we had|
|ihr hattet||you had (familiar plural)|
|sie hatten||they had|
The present perfect tense is called the Perfekt in German. An example is "Ich habe gespielt", which can mean "I have played", "I played", or "I used to play".
In conversational German the present perfect is often used instead of the simple past. This is especially true in southern German speaking areas.
The present perfect tense is formed by using the present tense of haben, along with the past participle of the verb. Verbs indicating motion, or change of state, use the past tense of sein instead of haben.
The past participle of regular verbs is formed by adding the prefix ge to the verb and t to the end of the verb. In German the past participle goes at the end of a clause or simple sentence.
The following table shows the perfect tense for regular verbs.
|ich habe gemacht||I have made|
|du hast gemacht||you have made|
|er/sie/es hat gemacht||he/she/it has made|
|wir haben gemacht||we have made|
|ihr habt gemacht||you have made|
|sie haben gemacht||they have made|
The past perfect tense is called the Plusquamperfekt in German. It is used to indicate that an action happened earlier than another action. An example is "Sie hatte gut gespielt, bis sie verletzt wurde", which means she had played well until she was injured.
The past perfect tense is formed by using the simple past tense of haben along with the past participle of the verb. Verbs indicating motion, or change of state, use the past tense of sein instead of haben.
As with the present perfect tense, the past participle goes at the end of a clause or simple sentence.
|Past Perfect Tense|
|ich hatte gemacht||I had made|
|du hattest gemacht||you had made|
|er/sie/es hatte gemacht||he/she/it has made|
|wir hatten gemacht||we had made|
|ihr hattet gemacht||you had made|
|sie haben gemacht||they had made|
Many very common German verbs change the vowel in the root of the verb in the simple past tense and past participle. These verbs are called strong verbs. Many of these verbs do not add te to the end of the verb in the simple past tense, and add en instead of t to the end of the past participle.
The following table lists some common German Strong verbs. Select the flashcards button at the end of the list to help you learn these verbs.
|fahren||fuhr||gefahren||drive, ride (bike)|
This section contains flashcards to help you learn the German verbs included in this lesson.
Here is an online quiz to help you learn the past tense of german verbs.