Past Tense in German

  • By Aditi Kulkarni
  • June 10, 2023
  • German Language
Past Tense in German

Past Tense in German

Hallo liebe Leute! In German, there are two ways you can transform your sentences in Past Tense in German. One of them is using Präteritum and the other is Perfekt. The basic difference can be stated as-

In Präteritum, no haben/sein form is used. The verb is directly converted to the past form and is conjugated. Eg- Ich war Krank.

In Perfekt, haben/sein form is conjugated according to the Subject of the sentence at 2nd position and partizip II of verb is at end. Eg- Ich habe das gelernt.


Let’s learn first what Präteritum is-

For Modal verbs and helping verbs like sein and haben; we prefer präteritum. For other verbs like gehen, laufen, fahren, and kochen präteritum is used only when we are writing for official texts like newspaper articles. In speaking, we use them in the Perfekt tense. Präteritum form of some verbs are given below-


Past Tense in German


Although haben is an irregular verb, in the Präteritum it uses the standard endings -te, test, -te, -ten, -tet, -ten (t,d ending verbs).

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Gestern hatte Peter viel Spaß. (Peter had a lot of fun yesterday.)

Wir hatten Spaghetti zum Mittagessen. (We had spaghetti for lunch.)

Hattet ihr früher ein rotes Auto? (Did you have a red car before?)


Past Tense in German


As you can see, the verb sein changes its form completely and turns into war. Besides that, it will use the endings -, -st, -, -en, -t, -en, meaning that there won’t be an ending in the first and third person singular (ich war, er war).

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Meine Familie war letzten Sommer in Amerika. (My family was in America last summer.)

Das war toll! (This was great!)

War dein Bruder gestern in der Schule? (Was your brother at school yesterday?)


Past Tense in German


Note- No conjugation has umlaut. Presence of umlaut shows present tense. 

Verb stem for mögen changes.

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Tips to remember conjugations- Remove umlaut. Ending en changes to ten. Conjugate just like arbeiten (t,d ending verbs). Ich and er/sie/es form remains same.


Past Tense in German



Wir mussten immer viel Hausaufgaben machen. (We always had to do a lot of homework.)

Ich konnte gestern nicht arbeiten. (I couldn’t work yesterday.)

Er durfte hier nicht rauchen. (He wasn’t allowed to smoke here.)

Sie wollte nach Deutschland fahren. (She wanted to go to Germany.)


Now, let’s learn about Perfekt in detail-

We use it to speak about actions completed in the recent past. A sentence is in perfekt tense and past participle of verb is called partizip II. As stated above already, In Perfekt, haben/sein form is conjugated according to the Subject of the sentence at 2nd position and partizip II of verb is at end. 

Note that both haben and sein conjugations are in present tense. If präteritum conjugations of haben and sein are used; the tense of sentence changes to plusquamperfekt which is another type of past tense that describes a time previous to another in past.

So, question arises- where do we use sein and where haben? And the answer is simple.

Wherever there is a verb which shows a location change or a verb expresses change of state, we use sein conjuagtions. Eg- Ich bin gestern ins Kino gegangen. (I had gone to Cinemahall yesterday.)

For verbs which don’t show a location change or express change of state, we use haben conjuagtions. Eg- Ich habe gestern meine Hausaufgabe gemacht. (I had done my homework yesterday.)

*Reflaxive verbs always take haben conjugations and the following verbs always form their perfekt with sein: bleiben(to stay), geschehen(to occur), gelingen(to go smoothly), misslingen(to fail), sein(to be), warden(to become).


Now let’s take a look at how we construct the German Past Participle (Partizip II) for different verbs-


Weak verbs / regular verbs:

Find the stem, or Stamm, of a verb by removing the –en ending.

For example, the Stamm of machen (to do) is mach.

Once you have the Stamm, add a ge- prefix at the beginning and a –t to the end i.e

ge + mach + t 

so,machen → gemacht.

Other examples can be kochen- gekocht, lernen- gelernt.

For t,d ending verbs et is added to the end. Eg- arbeiten gearbeitet

One exception to this rule is weak verbs ending in -ieren, which omit the ge. So, studieren becomes ‘studiert’ and telefonieren becomes ‘telefoniert’.

Strong verbs/ irregular verbs:

Strong verbs are your irregular German verbs, like essen; which often(not every time) have spelling changes when conjugated.

To conjugate a strong verb, simply add ge- to the beginning of the word, apply the appropriate spelling change and leave the -en on at the end.


essen gegessen

gehen gegangen

schließen  geschlossen

fahren  gefahren (No spelling change)

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Mixed verbs:

Mixed verbs are a mixture of the two types. Mixed verbs tend to be regular in the present tense, but combine the ending of a weak verb -(e)t with the vowel change of a strong verb in the past tense.


wissen  gewusst

Seperable verbs:

The partizip II of separable verbs is also formed in the above way, except that the separable prefix is joined on to the front of the ge-. 

Eg- aufräumen – auf + ge + räum + t

Gestern hat Michael sein Büro aufgeräumt.


Inseparable verbs:

The only difference is that past participles are formed without the ge-.

Eg- bestellen → bestellt

Ich habe Kaffee bestellt.



  1. Ich habe vor drei Jahren Deutsch gelernt.
  2. Ich bin gestern ins Kino gegangen.
  3. Er ist letze Woche nach Mumbai gefahren.
  4. Sie hat gestern alle Hausaufgaben gemacht.
  5. Er hat gestern Fussball gespielt.

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Aditi Kulkarni

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