Past

The Past Tense

This page is about all three German past tense forms:

It also contains a table about the different names used for each tense and a table about when to use each tense (including the present tense and the future tense). You can download the transcript of the Past Tense podcasts here:

Click here for the pdf version of the podcast about how to use the perfect tense.
Or click here for the transcript in a Word document.

Click here for the pdf version of the podcast about when to use the perfect tense.
Or click here for the transcript in a Word document.

Click here for the pdf version of the podcast about the simple past.
Or click here for the transcript in a Word document.

Click here for the pdf version of the podcast about the pluperfect.
Or click here for the transcript in a Word document.

Different Names Used for Each of the Past Tenses

ich habe es getan ich tat es ich hatte es getan
English perfect tense imperfect tense pluperfect
German Perfekt Imperfekt Plusquamperfekt
English present perfect tense simple past past perfect
English conversational past narrative past past anterior
German Präteritum Vorvergangenheit
English preterite
German vollendete Vergangenheit

Which Tense To Use

Situation Pluperfect
(Ich hatte es getan)
Simple Past
(Ich tat es)
Perfect Tense
(Ich habe es getan)
Present tense
(Ich tue es)
Future Tense
(Ich werde es tun)
Present tense N N N Y N
Future tense N N N Y Y
Past tenses in spoken German Restricted to certain situations Mainly only certain verbs or in certain situations Y (except certain verbs and/or situations) See below N
Past tenses in written German Restricted to certain situations Y In certain situations See below N
The pluperfect (the I had done tense) Y Sometimes N N N
The past in the future, e.g. I will have done my homework by tomorrow N N Y N Sort of - you can add in a werden to the perfect tense form.
Past events that still have an impact on the present, e.g. My gran has arrived (and she's still staying with us) N Headlines & relative clauses only Y - Preferred N N
Events that started in the past, but are still continuing at the moment of speaking, e.g. I've been living in London for 7 years N N N Y N
Events that started in the distant past, but are still continuing in the more recent past being described, e.g. Since I had lived in Munich I had been visiting him a lot N Y N N N
Most negative sentences about events that started in the past, but are still continuing at the moment of speaking, e.g. The parcel hasn't arrived yet N N Y N N
Most negative sentences about events that started in the distant past, but are still continuing in the moment being described, e.g. He hadn't been told about her Y N N N N
Negative sentences about events that started in the past, but are still continuing at the moment of speaking, where there is sense of an ongoing event, e.g. He's been unemployed since Christmas N N N Y N
Sentences about repeated (not continuous) events in the past, e.g. He's been ill several times since Christmas N N Y N N

The Perfect Tense

How to build a regular past particple

Instructions Example 1 Example 2
1. Take your infinitive kaufen warten
Add a ge- on the front ge+kaufen ge+warten
Switch the n or en on the end for a t gekauft gewartet

Some common German past participles

German Infinitive German Past Participle English Infinitive
machen gemacht to make/to do
sagen gesagt to say/to tell
kaufen gekauft to buy
warten gewartet to wait
kommen gekommen to come
sehen gesehen to see
schlafen geschlafen to sleep
tun getan to do
gehen gegangen to go
essen gegessen to eat
trinken getrunken to drink
bleiben geblieben to stay
schreiben geschrieben to write
denken gedacht to think
werden geworden to become
werden worden the verb you use to form the perfect tense in a passive sentence

Verb types that take sein instead of haben in the perfect tense

intransitive verbs of motion (plus some transitive verbs ending in gehen)
verbs of positon (south of Frankfurt only)
intransitive change-of-state verbs
verbs meaning to succeed, to fail, to happen, to be and to stay

The Simple Past Tense

Verbs that you don't usually use the perfect for, even in spoken German

Infinitive ich/er/sie/es du wir/Sie/sie ihr Translatation (Infinitive) Where?
Auxiliary Verbs:
haben hatte hattest hatten hattet to have All
sein war warst waren wart to be All
werden wurde wurdest wurden wurdet become/passive auxiliary C&N Germany
Modal Verbs:
können konnte konntest konnten konntet can All
dürfen durfte durftest durften durftet may All
müssen musste musstest mussten musstet must All
sollen sollte solltest sollten solltet should All
wollen wollte wolltest wollten wolltet to want All
mögen mochte mochtest mochten mochtet to like All
Other Common Verbs:
bleiben blieb bliebst blieben bliebt to stay C&N Germany
gehen ging gingst gingen gingt to go C&N Germany
kommen kam kamst kamen kamt to come C&N Germany
stehen stand standst standen standet to stand C&N Germany
Verbs of Saying, Thinking & Feeling:
sagen sagte sagtest sagten sagtet to say C&N Germany
denken dachte dachtest dachten dachtet to think C&N Germany
fühlen fühlte fühltest fühlten fühltet to feel C&N Germany

The Pluperfect Tense

You create the pluperfect by taking the perfect tense and turning the auxiliary verb into the simple past version of itself. Here are examples for a verb that takes haben and for a verb that takes sein:

Haben Verb Translation Sein Verb Translation
ich hatte ihn gesehen I had seen him ich war gesprungen I had jumped
du hattest ihn gesehen you (informal singular) had seen him du warst gesprungen you (informal singular) had jumped
er hatte ihn gesehen he had seen him er war gesprungen he had jumped
sie hatte ihn gesehen she had seen him sie war gesprungen she had jumped
es hatte ihn gesehen it had seen him es war gesprungen we had jumped
wir hatten ihn gesehen we had seen him wir waren gesprungen we had jumped
ihr hattet ihn gesehen you (informal plural) had seen him ihr wart gesprungen you (informal plural) had jumped
sie hatten ihn gesehen they had seen him sie waren gesprungen they had jumped
Sie hatten ihn gesehen you (formal singular or plural) had seen him Sie waren gesprungen you (formal singular or plural) had jumped

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PastTense1.doc
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German GrammarPod,
20 Jul 2009, 13:18
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PastTense2.doc
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PastTense3.doc
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PastTense4.doc
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German GrammarPod,
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German GrammarPod,
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German GrammarPod,
20 Jul 2009, 13:17
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German GrammarPod,
20 Jul 2009, 13:18
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German GrammarPod,
20 Jul 2009, 13:17
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