This course is designed in a step by step progress. It is recommended not to move to the next lesson until you have completed the goal of the previous lesson.

Lesson 25

Perfect tense in German

(Spoken past tense)

Goal of this lesson

The goal of this lesson is to understand the past tense in German. It is usually the perfect tense.

Perfect tense in German is the most common way to express something in the past. The expression of past in German has two stages of time. The perfect (das Perfekt) and the preterite (das Präteritum) form one time step. The difference lies only in their use. The perfect is used predominantly in the spoken language and in 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 on 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 indefinate and past perfect.

Formation of perfect

The perfect consists of two parts,

  1. the auxiliary verb "haben" or "sein"
  2. and the participle form of the verb (Partizip II).

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

The auxiliary verb ("haben" or "sein") is conjugated and displays the person. The past participle form is immutable and completes the sentence. For example:
Ich habe gearbeitet. (I have worked. / I worked.)
Er hat gearbeitet. (He has worked. / He worked.)
Tobias und Andrea haben bis 9 Uhr gearbeitet. (Tobias and Andrea worked until 9 o'clock.)
Wir haben auch gestern gearbeitet. (We have also worked yesterday. / We also worked yesterday.)
Du hast gearbeitet. (You worked. / You have worked.)
Meine Eltern sind mit meinem Auto nach Berlin gefahren. (My parents drove my car to Berlin.)

Conjugations of verb “haben”

In Lesson 8 we have learned the 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)

Conjugations of verb sein (present)

In Lesson 6 we have learned the 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)

When to use "sein"?

"Sein" is used as 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 that do not show any change in state or place but take "sein" as 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.

When to use "haben"?

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 auxiliary verb to form perfect.

Formation of the Partizip II of regular verbs

To build a Partizip II of a regular verb, we take the verb stem add a prefix "ge-" and suffix "t" to it.

Verb Verb stem Partizip II
haben hab gehabt
bauen bau gebaut
machen mach gemacht
kaufen kauf gekauft
lachen lach gelacht

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 gekauft. (I bought two jackets.)
Ich mache kein Spaß. Warum hast du gelacht? (I'm not kidding Why did you laugh?)

Formation of the Partizip II of regular verbs with t, d, m or n endings

If the verb stem ends in letter t, d, m or n, adding just the suffix "-t" can cause a pronunciation problem. Therefore, in the Partizip II, an "e" is inserted between verb stem and "-t". For example,

Verb Verb stem Partizip II
arbeiten arbeit gearbeitet
anworten anwort geantwortet
regnen regn geregnet

Warum hast du meine Frage nicht geantwortet? (Why didn't you answer my question?)
Gestern hat es viel geregnet. (Yesterday it rained a lot.)

Formation of the Partizip II of regular separable verbs

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

Verb Verb stem Partizip II
einkaufen kauf eingekauft
anmachen mach angemacht
mitmachen mach mitgemacht

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

Formation of the Partizip II of regular verbs with ending "-ieren"

The Partizip II of the verbs that end with "-ieren" is formed without adding prefix "-ge".

Verb Verb stem Partizip II
studieren studier studiert
informieren informier informiert
spazieren spazier spaziert
passieren passier passiert

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?)
Was ist mit ihm passiert? (What happened to him?)

Formation of the Partizip II of regular unseparable verbs

Regular verbs with unseparable prefixes also form their Partizip II without adding "ge-" in the begining.

Verb Verb stem Partizip II
benutzen nutz benutzt
bezahlen zahl bezahlt
besuchen such besucht
gehören hör gehört

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.)

Formation of the Partizip II of irregular verbs

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

Verb Verb stem Partizip II
lesen les gelesen
fahren fahr gefahren
kommen komm gekommen
fallen fall gefallen

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.)

Partizip II of modal verbs

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

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 the modal verb is with an another full verb, the formation of Partizip II is a little different. It follows the rule:
haben + infinitive full verb + infinitive 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 II
Er hat kommen wollen.


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.)