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German Perfect Tense

(das Perfekt)


This page contains topics:

  1. "Das Perfekt" in German
  2. Construction of perfect tense in German
    1. Conjugation of verb “haben”
    2. Conjugation of verb "sein"
  3. When to use "haben" and "sein" in the perfect tense
    1. Verbs that take sein
    2. When to use haben?
  4. Perfect tense of sentences with regular verbs
  5. Perfect tense of German regular verbs with t, d, m, or n endings
  6. Perfect tense of German regular separable verbs
  7. Perfect tense of German regular verbs with the ending "-ieren"
  8. Perfect tense of German regular inseparable verbs
  9. Perfect tense of German irregular verbs
  10. Past participle of modal verbs in German
  11. Asking questions in the German perfect tense

1. "Das Perfekt" in German

The construction of the perfect tense in German are almost similar to English. However, the use of present perfect is a little different in both languages. Present perfect in German (das Perfekt) is also known as the "spoken past tense". It describes events and actions in the near past.

The expression of the near past is different in spoken German and written German. The perfect (das Perfekt) is used predominantly in the spoken language and informal writings. The preterite or past indefinite form (das Präteritum ) is mainly used in written texts. Newspapers, magazines, literature, etc use preterite (das Präteritum), also the news on television or the radio report past events in the preterite (das Präteritum), although these are spoken. Our goal in this lesson is to learn spoken past tense in German i.e. Das Perfekt (perfect). Depending on the situation, when translated into English, German perfect (das Perfekt) can give meanings of both past indefinite and past perfect.

2. Construction of perfect tense in German

The perfect in German (das Perfekt) consists of two main parts,

  1. the conjugated form of the auxiliary verb haben or sein
  2. and the past participle form of the main verb .

For example, the perfect of the sentence:
Ich arbeite. (I am working. / I work.) would be
Ich habe gearbeitet. (I have worked. / I worked.)

In German, past participle is called Partizip II .
The auxiliary verb ("haben" or "sein") is conjugated and displays the grammatical person. The past participle form is immutable and describes the type of action or activity in the sentence. Please see the following German perfect tense examples.
Ich habe gearbeitet. (I have worked. / I worked.)
Er hat gearbeitet. (He has worked. / He worked.)
Wir haben auch gestern gearbeitet. (We have also worked yesterday. / We also worked yesterday.)
Du hast gearbeitet. (You worked. / You have worked.)

The past participle form (Partizip II ) of the main verb is always the last part of the sentence.
Tobias und Andrea haben bis 9 Uhr gearbeitet. (Tobias and Andrea worked until 9 o'clock.)
Meine Eltern sind mit dem Auto nach Berlin gefahren. (My parents drove to Berlin by car.)

In level A1 we have already learned the conjugations of German verbs Haben (to have) and sein (to be). For revision, please see the following conjugation tables of "haben" and "sein".

2.1 Conjugation of verb “haben”

Singular Plural
1. person
ich habe (I have)
wir haben (we have)
2. person, familiar form
du hast (you have)
ihr habt (you have)
2. person, polite form
Sie haben (you have)
Sie haben (you have)
3. person
er hat (he has)

es hat (it has)

sie hat (she has)

sie haben (they have)

2.2 Conjugation of verb "sein"

Singular Plural
1. person
ich bin (I am)
wir sind (we are)
2. person, familiar form
du bist (you are)
ihr seid (you are)
2. person, polite form
Sie sind (you are)
Sie sind (you are)
3. person
er ist (he is)

es ist (it is)

sie ist (she is)

sie sind (they are)

3. When to use "haben" and "sein" in the perfect tense

There are certain verbs in German that take "sein" or "haben" as an auxiliary verb in perfect tense formation.

3.1 Verbs that take sein

"Sein" is used as an auxiliary verb when making perfects of "verbs of movement" i.e. verbs that show any kind of change in the state or change of place.
For example:
gehen (to go),
laufen (to walk, to run),
rennen (to run),
fallen (to fall),
springen (to jump),
ankommen (to arrive),
aufstehen (to getup),
sterben (to die),
einschlafen (to fall asleep),
wachsen (to grow),
fahren (to travel, to drive), etc.

Some verbs do not show any change in the state or place but take "sein" as an auxiliary verb to form their perfect. These are:
bleiben (to stay),
passieren (to stay),
werden (to beceom),
gelingen (to be successful ),
sein (to be) itself, and all transitive verbs.

3.2 When to use haben?

The use of "haben" is more common in perfect formation than "sein". All accusative verbs, reflexive verbs, modal verbs, and most of the other verbs take "haben" as an auxiliary verb to form perfect.

4. Perfect tense of sentences with regular verbs

To build the past participle (Partizip 2) of a regular verb, we take the verb stem add a prefix "ge-" and suffix "t" to it.

Verb Verb stem Past participle
(Partizip 2)
haben (to have)
hab gehabt
bauen (to build)
bau gebaut
machen (to do somthing)
mach gemacht
kaufen (to buy)
kauf gekauft
lachen (to laugh)
lach gelacht

Please see the following German perfect tense examples with regular verbs.

Letztes Jahr habe ich zwei Hunde gehabt. (Last year I had two dogs.)
Die Kinder haben eine Sandburg gebaut. (The children have built a sandcastle.)
Ich habe zwei Jacken im Supermarkt gekauft. (I bought two jackets in the supermarket.)
Ich mache kein Spaß. Warum hast du gelacht? (I'm not kidding. Why did you laugh?)
das Jahr (year) plural: die Jahre, Letztes Jahr (Last year), der Hund (dog) plural: die Hunde, die Sandburg (sandcastle) plural: die Sandburgen, die Burg (castle) plural: die Burgen, die Jacke (jacket) plural: die Jacken, der Supermarkt (supermarket) plural: die Supermärkte, der Markt (market) plural: die Märkte, der Marktplatz (marketplace), der Marktpreis (market price), Spaß (fun)

5. Perfect tense of German regular verbs with t, d, m, or n endings

If the stem of a regular German verb ends in the letter t, d, m, or n, adding just the suffix "-t" can cause a pronunciation problem. Therefore, in the past participle (Partizip 2), an "e" is inserted between the verb stem and "-t". Please see the below table for an explanation.

Verb Verb stem Past participle
arbeiten (to work)
arbeit gearbeitet
anworten (to answer)
anwort geantwortet
regnen (to rain)
regn geregnet

Example sentences:

Ich habe heute viel gearbeitet. (I worked a lot today.)
Warum hast du meine Frage nicht geantwortet? (Why didn't you answer my question?)
Gestern hat es viel geregnet. (Yesterday it rained a lot.)
heute (today), Gestern (yesterday), morgen (tomorrow), der Morgen (morning) plural: die Morgen, viel (a lot, many), die Frage (question) plural: die Fragen

6. Perfect tense of German regular separable verbs

Regular verbs with separable prefixes (regular separable verbs) follow the following pattern to form their past participle (Partizip II).
prefix-ge-verb stem-t
ein-ge-kauf-t

Verb Verb stem Partizip II
einkaufen (to shop)
kauf eingekauft
anmachen (to turn sth. on)
mach angemacht
mitmachen (to participate)
mach mitgemacht

Examples sentence:

Einkaufen: Was hast du heute eingekauft? (What did you buy today?)
Anmachen: Bitte machen Sie die Heizung an. (Please turn on the heater.)
Anmachen: Ich habe die schon angemacht. (I've already turned it on.)
Mitmachen: Beim Schwimmen mache ich nicht mit. (I don't participate in swimming.)
Mitmachen: Alle Studenten haben im Wettbewerb mitgemacht. (All students participated in the competition.)
die Heizung (heating, heater) plural: die Heizungen, schon (already), der Wettbewerb (competition, contest) plural: die Wettbewerbe

7. Perfect tense of German regular verbs with the ending "-ieren"

The past participle (Partizip II) of German verbs that end in letters "-ieren" is formed without adding the prefix "-ge".

Verb Verb stem Partizip 2
studieren (to study)
studier studiert
informieren (to inform)
informier informiert
spazieren (to walk)
spazier spaziert
passieren (to happen)
passier passiert

Examples sentence:

Was hast du in Berlin studiert? (What did you study in Berlin?)
Ich habe in Berlin Biologie studiert. (I studied biology in Berlin.)
Haben Sie schon alle Studenten informiert? (Have you already informed all students?)
Die Patienten sind gestern zwei Stunden spaziert. (The patients walked two hours yesterday.)
Was ist mit ihm passiert? (What happened to him?)

8. Perfect tense of German regular inseparable verbs

Regular verbs with inseparable prefixes also form their past participle (Partizip II) without adding "ge-" in the beginning.

Verb Verb stem Partizip 2
benutzen (to use sth.)
nutz benutzt
bezahlen (to pay)
zahl bezahlt
besuchen (to visit)
such besucht
gehören (to belong to)
hör gehört

Examples sentence:

Ich habe immer dieses Auto benutzt. (I have always used this car.)
Ich habe ihm hundert Euro bezahlt. (I paid him hundred euros.)
Hast du deine Eltern am Wochenende besucht? (Did you visit your parents on the weekend?)
Wem gehört dieses Auto? (Who owns this car? Whose car is this?)
Dieses Auto gehört mir. (This car belongs to me.)
Dieses Auto hat mir gehört. (This car was mine.)
Dieses Auto war mein. (This car was mine.)
Dieses Auto ist mein. (This car is mine.)

9. Perfect tense of German irregular verbs

The ending of the past participle (Partizip II) of the irregular verbs is "-en". Besides, there is often a vowel change in the verb stem. Therefore, there is no hard and fast rule to define the formation of Partizip II from irregular verbs.

Verb Verb stem Partizip II
lesen (to read)
les gelesen
fahren (to drive, to travel)
fahr gefahren
kommen (to come)
komm gekommen
fallen (to drop, to fall)
fall gefallen

Examples sentence:

Hast du die Zeitung gelesen? (Have you read the newspaper?)
Gestern haben wir nach Berlin gefahren. (Yesterday we drove to Berlin.)
Wann bist du gekommen? (When did you come?)
Ich bin heute Morgen gekommen. (I came this morning.)
Etwas ist aus deiner Tasche gefallen. Ich habe gerade selber gesehen. (Something has fallen out of your bag. I have just seen myself.)
die Tasche (pocket, bag, pouch) plural: die Taschen

10. Past participle of modal verbs in German

If the only verb in a sentence is modal, the perfect of modal verbs in such a sentence is rarely used in practice. Instead, the Präteritum (past indefinite form) is used to show the past of modal verbs. However, the rule of forming past participle (Partizip 2) is the same:
wollen -> gewollt
müssen -> gemusst
mögen -> gemocht
dürfen -> gedurft
können -> gekonnt

Examples sentences:

Ich habe dieses Auto nicht gewollt. (I did not want this car.)
Ich habe die Arbeit nicht gedurft. (I was not allowed to work.)

If a sentence has a modal verb with another main verb, the formation of the past participle (Partizip 2) is a little different. It follows the rule:
haben + infinitive form of main verb + infinitive of modal verb

For example, we take a sentence, he wants to come. We know in German it would be, Er will kommen. The past of this sentence, "he wanted to come" would be:

Object Verb Partizip 2
Er hat kommen wollen.

Examples sentences: Er will nicht nach Hause gehen. (Er will nicht nach Hause gehen.)
Er hat nicht nach Hause gehen wollen. (He did not want to go home.)

Ich möchte dieses Auto fahren. (I want to drive this car.)
Ich habe dieses Auto fahren möchten. (I wanted to drive this car.)

Die Studenten wollen nicht kommen. (The students do not want to come.)
Die Studenten haben nicht kommen wollen. (The students did not want to come.)

11. Asking questions in the German perfect tense

If the perfect tense question is without an interrogative pronoun, the conjugated form of the auxiliary verb (haben or sein) occupies first place in the perfect interrogative sentence. The past participle (Partizip 2) of the main verb remains the last element in the interrogative pronoun.


Haben Sie schon gearbeitet? (Have you already worked?)
Haben Sie schon die Arbeit fertiggemacht? (Have you already finished the work?)
Sind Ihre Eltern mit dem Auto nach Berlin gefahren? (Did your parents drive to Berlin?)
etwas fertigmachen or fertig machen (to finish something, to complete somthing, to prepare something)
When written as separate words i.e. fertig machen, the past participle would also be separated, i.e. fertig gemacht.

If the perfect tense question is with an interrogative pronoun (W-Frage in German), the conjugated form of the auxiliary verb (haben or sein) comes after the interrogative pronoun. The past participle (Partizip 2) of the main verb remains the last element in the interrogative pronoun.


Wann haben Sie gearbeitet? (When did you work?)
Wie haben Sie die Arbeit fertiggemacht? (How have you completed the work?)
Warum sind Ihre Eltern mit dem Auto nach Berlin gefahren? (Why did your parents drive by car to Berlin?)

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