German Perfect Tense

The German Perfect Tense is arguably the most important German past tense. This post explains what it is and how to form it.

In English it is equivalent to the situation where in English we say have –ed (or has -ed) or simply –ed, for example:

  • Ich habe gearbeitet = I have worked/I worked

This one past tense in German is often therefore used to cover two past tenses in English.

How to form the perfect tense

Stage one

During the first stage you use the appropriate form of haben (to have) or sein (to  be) as follows:

  • ich habe = I have
  • du hast = You have (informal & singular)
  • er/sie/es hat = He/She/It has
  • wir haben = We have
  • ihr habt = You have (informal & plural)
  • sie/Sie haben = They have/You have (formal)

OR

  • ich bin = I am
  • du bist = You are (informal & singular)
  • er/sie/es ist = He/She/It is
  • wir sind = We are
  • ihr seid = You are (informal & plural)
  • sie/Sie sind = They are/You are (formal)

Generally (but not always!) movement verbs require you to use sein and non-movement verbs require you to use haben.

Stage two

The second stage: During the second stage you work out what the past participle is. You do this with most –en ending verbs by:

  1. removing the en and replacing this with a t (BUT ‘den’ and ‘ten’ verbs add et after ‘en’ is removed)

  2. add a ge to the beginning of the verb (unless using an inseparable verb with ‘be’, ‘ent’, ‘er’, ‘ge’, ‘miß’, ‘ver’ or ‘zer’ at the start (or the verb ends in ‘ieren’))

Examples:

  • machen (to make/to do) becomes gemacht (made/done)

  • glauben (to believe) becomes geglaubt (believed)

Stage three

During the third stage you put the appropriate part of haben (usually for non-movement verbs) or sein (usually for movement verbs) with the appropriate past participle. Some examples are as follows:

  • Machen = To make
  • Ich habe gemacht = I have made/I made
  • Du hast gemacht = You have made/You made
  • Note: Machen (To make/To do) is a non-movement verb, so uses ‘haben’ in the German Perfect Tense.
  • Reisen = To travel
  • Ich bin gereist = I have travelled/I travelled
  • Du bist gereist = You have travelled/You travelled
  • Note: Reisen (To travel) is a movement verb, so uses sein in the German Perfect Tense.

Irregular Past Participles

Unfortunately there are some irregular past participles which need to be learned. (Like in English our past participles do not always end in –ed e.g. read NOT readed, etc.).

Irregular Past Participles that use ‘haben’

These are some of the main irregular haben past participles:

  • bekommen (to receive) – bekommen (received)
  • brechen (to break) – gebrochen (broken)
  • bringen (to bring) – gebracht (brought)
  • denken (to think) – gedacht (thought)
  • essen (to eat) – gegessen (eaten)
  • geben (to give) – gegeben (given)
  • nehmen (to take) – genommen (taken)
  • schlafen (to sleep) – geschlafen (slept)
  • sehen (to see) – gesehen (seen)
  • singen (to sing) – gesungen (sung)
  • trinken (to drink) – getrunken (drunk)
  • vergessen (to forget) – vergessen (forgotten)
  • verstehen (to understand) – verstanden (understood)
  • wissen (to know) – gewusst (known)

Irregular Past Participles that use ‘sein’

These are some of the main irregular sein past participles:

  • bleiben (to stay) – geblieben (stayed)
  • fahren (to travel/go/drive) – gefahren (travelled/gone/driven)
  • fliegen (to fly) – geflogen (flown)
  • folgen (to follow) – gefolgt (followed)
  • gehen (to go) – gegangen (gone)
  • geschehen (to happen) – geschehen (happened)
  • kommen (to come) – gekommen (came)
  • laufen (to run) – gelaufen (ran)
  • passieren (to happen) – passiert (happened)
  • sein (to be) – gewesen (been)
  • steigen (to climb/rise) – gestiegen (climbed/risen)

I hope that the above has helped you to understand how to form the German Perfect Tense. If this post has been helpful to you, please share it on Social Media using the icons below.

You may be interested to know that the Imperfect Tense is another important German past tense. A further post on that tense will be added to this blog shortly.

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