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After kicking off your German learning experience, you will soon find out that the language does not have many present tenses. Instead, German makes it a bit more complicated when talking about the past, as there are so many to choose from. Do not get discouraged here! German has got a tense for any conversation you may need. At the early stages of your learning process, make sure you take your time and master Perfekt – the German Perfect tense.

What is the German Perfect Tense?

After grasping the basics of sentence structures, learners usually take a look at Perfekt. Perfekt is the Present Perfect tense in English. Both German Perfect tense and English Present Perfect tense reflect an action that took place in the past and goes on until the ‘now’. Moreover, the German Perfect tense functions similarly to the English Simple Past tense in telling what you did. The tense is more common in spoken German compared to Präteritum – the so-called German Simple Past tense. Because it is simple and easy to conjugate.

Let’s practice it!

Below you will find the structure of a sentence in the German Perfect tense:

German perfect tense_general rule

What confuses you here? Is it “haben or sein”? Most sentences go with the auxiliary verb haben. Only when there is a movement or a change in location, we will replace haben with sein. For example, we will say “Ich bin um 7:00 Uhr zur Schule gefahren” meaning “I drove to school at 7:00.” These verbs, fahren included, show a movement and require sein to conjugate them correctly in the German Perfect tense: gehen (to go), kommen (to come), laufen (to run), ankommen (to arrive), etc.

The use of sein also applies to a change in status. A good instance is getting up, through which you change from sleeping to being awake. Thus, you make a sentence as “Er ist früh aufgestanden.”

Conjugating Participle II

Equally important, you should pay attention to the conjugation of Partizip II. This will save you from mixing with other tenses and structures. There are five points you should go through in order to master the conjugation of Partizip II.

1. Regular verbs: we apply the general format to most of the verbs which we call regular. The participle II starts with taking out -en from the infinitive of the verb, then adds ge- prefix and -t suffix.

German perfect tense_regular verb

2. Irregular verbs: irregular verbs never follow any rules, do they? There is no doubt that you should learn the list of irregular verbs. Making a sentence with each verb will help out a lot.

3. Separable verbs: Those separable parts of the verb now will get back together with ‘ge’ in between in the German Perfect tense.

German perfect tense_separable verb1

German perfect tense_separable verb2

4. Inseparable verbs: When dealing with these verbs, we will usually keep the infinitive form as the perfect tense form. However, we will erase -en and add -t to the end of the verb.

5. -ieren verbs: take it easy! All you need to do is the same to what you do with the conjugation of inseparable verbs – take off -en and add -t.

German Perfect Tense: Exceptions

Although the German Perfect Tense is used in daily conversations, there are some instances where we cannot change the tense. Just like in English, we do not carry out any conjugation in Perfekt for modal verbs. They switch to Präteritum instead.

Another exception is the transformation of the verbs “to have” and “to be”. In contrast to English, you cannot say “I have had…” or “I have been…” in German. These verbs always require Präteritum when talking about the past.

Check out our German courses in Berlin to get professional support in understanding the German tenses.

By Trinh Tran


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