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Perfekt – past tense in German


There are three past tense forms in German. Today we analyze the most popular of them – Perfekt. Perfect is used colloquially.

Example: “Ich baue ein Haus” (“I am building a house”) – “Ich habe ein Haus gebaut” (“I built / built a house”).

To form such a tense form, we will need the auxiliary verbs “haben” or “sein” and a verb in the third form.

Since we conjugate the auxiliary verb “haben” or “sein”, it is the main one, and we place it in second place in the sentence. And the verb in the third form is sent to the end of the sentence.

All verbs are divided into weak and strong. The third form of weak verbs is formed with the prefix “ge-” and the suffix “-t” (“bauen” – “gebaut”). Please note that “-t” is a suffix, not an ending. We conjugate the verbs “haben” or “sein”, and the verb in the form Perfekt always remains the same (“ich habe … gebaut” – “I built”, “sie hat… gebaut” – “she built”). Strong verbs are conjugated in another way. The best way to learn them is to memorize all verb forms by heart as soon as you learn a new verb. The general principles of the formation of the third form of strong verbs are outlined in a separate article.

How to determine which of the two auxiliary verbs we need? This is the hardest part of this section (but not too complicated). Basically, we need the verb “haben”, and the verb “sein” is used with intransitive verbs that designate movement in space or a change of state. Now we will explain what it all means.

Transitional verbs convey the action performed by the subject and directed at the object: “ich esse eine Torte” – “I eat a cake” (in German, you cannot just say “I eat”, it does not tolerate understatement). An intransitive verb is a verb that does not require any additions: “ich lache” – “I laugh” (we do not say: “I laugh laugh” or something like that).


Ich bin gefahren – I was driving (traffic);
Er ist gegangen – I was going (movement);
Wir sind eingeschlafen – we fell asleep (state change);
Er ist gestorben – he died (state change).

If the verb is intransitive, but does not mean movement in space or a change of state, then it is used with “haben”: “ich habe gelacht” – “I laughed”.

At the same time, if the verb denotes movement or state change, but is transitive, then we, again, use haben: “Ich bin nach Hamburg gefahren” – “I went to Hamburg”, but “ich habe das Auto gefahren “-” I was driving a car “, because in this case the action is performed on the object – the car.

But, as always, there are exceptions. Verbs that are always used with “sein”: “passieren” (“happen”), “bleiben” (“stay”), “werden” (“become”), the verb “sein” (“be”) and others

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