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Past tense form in German


Good day to all. We have already talked about the past tense form Perfekt, and also mentioned that this is only one of the forms. The second form of past tense in German, which we have not yet considered, is Präteritum.

For its formation, we use the second form of the verb and that’s it. The second form of the verb for weak verbs is the suffix “-t-“.

Ich sage – ich sagte (I say – I said).

But in the third person singular (he, she, it) the standard ending “-t” is not added. As with modal verbs, the verb in the third person singular is the same as the verb in the first person. For all other individuals, standard endings are added.

Ich sagte – er sagte (I said, he said).

In addition to weak verbs, there are strong verbs. These are verbs, the second form of which (Präteritum) is not formed by simply adding the suffix “-t-”. Consider this on the example of the strong verb “gehen”. Past tense form The preteritium will be “ging”. We do not add any endings to the first and third person singular:

Ich – ging;
Du – gingst;
Er, sie, es – ging;
Wir – gingen;
Ihr – gingt;
Sie, Sie – gingen.

There is a certain logic in declaring strong verbs, but the best strategy is to memorize all three verb forms as soon as you learn it. It is better to write them in the dictionary immediately. We have devoted separate material on grammar to three forms of strong verbs, pay attention to it.

Well, the key question: why do we need this form of past tense at all, if we have Perfect? Even many German speakers ask this question. We will explain:

Almost always verbally used Perfect. Präteritum in speech would sound too formal. Präteritum, in turn, is often found in the news; it is also used with modal verbs: “ich wollte das machen” and not “ich habe das machen gewollt” (“I wanted to do this”); and with the verbs “sein” and “haben”: “ich war dort”, and not “ich bin dort gewesen” (“I was there”). But this is more a language habit than a rule.

Perfect is necessarily used if we are talking in the present about events that happened in the recent past and are still relevant:

Entschuldigung, ich habe meine Hausaufgaben nicht gemacht – I apologize, I have not done my homework.

Präteritum is used in narration. When we talk about events that are no longer relevant. Therefore, it is not strange that it is more often used in writing and sounds very literary:

Ja, damals machte ich nie die Hausaufgaben … – yes, then I did not do my homework … (one might say, recalling the school year).

Here we use Präteritum, because it was a long time ago and no longer relevant.

Although Präteritum is used less often than Perfect, it is necessary to know this form in order to build a competent speech and to understand what others are saying.

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