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German Tenses

Explaining All German Tenses, Short and Sweet

Ever wondered about the magic of time travel?

Well, buckle up, because we’re about to journey through the incredible world of the Geman tenses. They’re like our time machines in the language universe. So hold tight, we’re taking off!

Remember, there’s absolutely no need to panic. Our goal is to make it as simple as pie. Let’s go!

German tenses
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Table of Contents:

Tenses in German: A Quick Overview Table

The tenses in German Example sentences in the respective tenses
Präsens Der Affe spielt Verstecken.
Futur I Der Affe wird Verstecken spielen.
Futur II Der Affe wird Verstecken gespielt haben.
Perfekt Der Affe hat Verstecken gespielt.
Präteritum Der Affe spielte Verstecken.
Plusquamperfekt Der Affe hatte Verstecken gespielt.

Tenses in German are always formed using the verb, which takes different endings depending on the personal pronoun used.

Take your time to look at the table. For this, we’ve used the third person singular as an example (der Affe).

How many tenses are there in German?

There are six tenses in German.

Here they are briefly illustrated using the verb “kaufen”:

Präsens: Ich kaufe.
Präteritum: Ich kaufte.
Perfekt: Ich habe gekauft.
Plusquamperfekt: Ich hatte gekauft.
Futur I: Ich werde kaufen.
Futur II: Ich werde gekauft haben.

How do you form the six German tenses?

Präsens (Present):
Simply use the base form of the verb and adjust the ending according to the personal pronoun. For regular verbs, drop the “n” at the end of the verb for the personal pronoun “ich” for example: “Ich studiere Deutsch.”

Präteritum (Simple Past):
As a rule, add -te at the end of the verb stem – for example: “Ich studierte Deutsch.” But watch out – there are many irregular verbs.

Perfekt (Present Perfect):
Use the auxiliary verb haben or sein in the present tense and the Partizip II of the verb: “Ich habe Deutsch studiert.” / “Ich bin mit dem Auto gefahren.”

Plusquamperfekt (Past Perfect):
Use the auxiliary verb “haben” or “sein” in the simple past tense and the Partizip II of the verb: “Ich hatte Deutsch studiert.”

Futur I (Future I):
Use the auxiliary verb “werden” in the present tense and the infinitive of the verb: “Ich werde Deutsch studieren.”

Futur II (Future II):
Use the auxiliary verb “werden” in the present tense, the Partizip II of the verb, and “haben” or “sein” in the infinitive form at the end: “Ich werde Deutsch studiert haben.”

How do I recognize the German Perfekt (perfect tense)?

You can recognize the German Perfekt (perfect tense) because it consists of two parts: one being the auxiliary verb (either “haben” or “sein”) and the other being the Partizip II.

The Partizip II is typically formed by placing “ge-” before the stem of the verb and adding “-t” or “-en” at the end: “Ich habe gegessen”.

Why are there so many German tenses?

There are so many tenses in German because it allows speakers to give precise and detailed information about the timing and frequency of events. It’s like having a Swiss watch in your language toolkit – accurate and reliable!

These tenses can also express various actions and states, such as whether they are completed, ongoing, or repeated.

Each German tense serves specific functions and is used in different contexts:

Präsens (Present): This one’s a chatterbox, always talking about actions in the present or universal truths.

Präteritum (Simple Past): This tense likes to write. It’s mainly used in written language to portray past events.

Perfekt (Present Perfect): The informal cousin of Präteritum, often used in spoken language to depict past events.

Plusquamperfekt (Past Perfect): This one’s a historian, always discussing an event that took place before another past event.

Futur I (Future I): Meet the fortune teller of the tenses. It’s used to describe future events or intentions.

Futur II (Future II): This tense has a crystal ball. It talks about a future event that will be completed at a certain future point

How can I remember the tenses?

One excellent method is to think up example sentences and then repeat them like your favorite song’s chorus.

You could also create a table with the tenses and example sentences. It’s like your own language treasure map! It’s often very helpful to do a lot of reading and writing too, to gradually develop a good feel for the German tenses. It’s like learning to dance – the more you practice, the better you get!

When do you use which tenses in German?

  • Präsens (Present): You use this for actions that are happening right now, or regularly occur. It’s like your reliable friend who’s always there for the everyday stuff.
  • Präteritum (Simple Past): This is the typical past tense in literary texts. It’s the old-school storyteller of the tenses.
  • Perfekt (Present Perfect): You use this to talk about something that happened in the past but still impacts the present. It’s like a blast from the past that’s still echoing in the present.
  • Plusquamperfekt (Past Perfect): You use this to talk about something that took place before another event in the past. It’s the time traveler of the tenses.
  • Futur I (Future I): You use this to talk about future events or intentions. It’s like your personal planner scheduling your future appointments.
  • Futur II (Future II): You use this to talk about events that will be completed in the future. So, it’s expressing a guess or expectation for the future, like a psychic with a crystal ball.

Now, let’s explain the German tenses in a bit more detail

German Tenses: Present (Präsens) – Usage and Examples

Present Actions:

The present tense, Präsens, is used to express what’s happening right now.

  • “Ich knabbere gerade an einer Karotte wie ein hungriger Hase.”
    (I’m currently nibbling on a carrot like a hungry bunny)
  • “Er liest ein Buch und versinkt völlig in der Geschichte.”
    (He’s reading a book and totally immersed in the story)

General Statements and Facts:

When we talk about something that’s generally true or a well-known fact, we use the present tense.

  • “Die Sonne geht im Osten auf, keine Überraschungen dort.”
    (The sun rises in the East, no surprises there)
  • “Wasser kocht bei 100 Grad Celsius.”
    (Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius)

Habits and Routines:

We also use the present tense to describe what we regularly or habitually do.

  • “Ich gehe jeden Morgen joggen, als ob ich für einen Marathon trainiere.”
    (I go jogging every morning, like I’m training for a marathon)
  • “Sie trinkt immer Kaffee nach dem Mittagessen.”
    (She always drinks coffee after lunch. It’s like her magic potion)

Future Events:

Sometimes, we use the present tense to talk about something that will happen in the future, particularly if it’s a planned or scheduled event.

  • “Morgen fliege ich nach Berlin.”
    (Tomorrow, I’m flying to Berlin, feeling like an adventurous bird)
  • “Nächstes Jahr studiere ich in München. Hallo, Bratwurst und Brezeln!”
    (Next year, I’ll be studying in Munich. Hello, bratwurst and pretzels!)

So, the Präsens in German is quite versatile, and is used not just for present actions, but also for future and general actions.

German Tenses: Future I – Usage and Practical Sentences

The Future I is a tense in German mainly used to talk about future events or intentions.

Here are some situations where we use Future I:

Future Events:

When we talk about something that will happen in the future, we use Future I.

  • “Ich werde morgen ins Kino gehen.”
    (I will go to the cinema tomorrow)
  • “Sie wird nächste Woche nach Berlin fliegen.”
    (She will fly to Berlin next week)

Assumptions and Guesses:

Future I is also used to express assumptions or guesses about present or future conditions.

  • “Er wird wohl zu Hause sein.”
    (He is probably at home)
  • “Es wird morgen wahrscheinlich regnen.”
    (It will probably rain tomorrow)

Intentions and Plans:

We can also use Future I to express our intentions or plans for the future.

  • “Ich werde nächstes Jahr Deutsch studieren.”
    (I will study German next year)
  • “Wir werden uns ein neues Auto kaufen.”
    (We will buy a new car)

It’s important to note that in everyday German, the present tense is often used instead of Future I to talk about future events, especially when the context or additional time information makes it clear that it’s about the future.

“Morgen gehe ich ins Kino.” (Tomorrow I’m going to the cinema) instead of “Morgen werde ich ins Kino gehen.” (Tomorrow I will go to the cinema)

Nonetheless, understanding Future I is important, especially for formal or written contexts.

German Tenses: Future II – Usage and Example Sentences

The Future II (Futur II) is a unique tense in German that is primarily used to talk about events that will be completed in the future.

Here are the key uses of Futur II:

Completed Future Actions:

The Futur II describes an action that will take place in the future and be completed by a specific point in the future.

  • “Bis zum nächsten Jahr werde ich mein Deutsch verbessert haben.”
    (By next year, I will have improved my German)
  • “Bis du ankommst, werde ich das Abendessen gekocht haben.”
    (By the time you arrive, I will have cooked dinner)

Guesses about the Past:

Sometimes, we also use the Futur II to express a guess about an event in the past when we don’t know the outcome yet.

  • “Er wird das Auto vermutlich schon repariert haben.”
    (He probably already fixed the car)
  • “Sie wird die Nachrichten wahrscheinlich schon gehört haben.”
    (She has probably already heard the news)

Note: The Futur II is less commonly used for guesses in everyday language and is often replaced by the Perfect tense.

  • “Er hat das Auto vermutlich schon repariert.”
    (He probably already fixed the car)
  • “Sie hat die Nachrichten wahrscheinlich schon gehört.”
    (She probably already heard the news)

The German tense “Perfekt” – Usage and Example Sentences

The Perfekt is a very common tense in German, which is often used to talk about past events.

Here are the main applications:

Completed actions:

The Perfekt is used to express that an action started in the past and is now completed.

  • “Er hat den ganzen Tag geschlafen.”
    (He slept the entire da”)
  • “Sie haben einen spannenden Film gesehen.”
    (They watched an exciting movie)

Recently completed actions:

When an action has been completed in the recent past, we often use the Perfekt.

  • “Wir haben gerade unser Abendessen beendet.”
    (We just finished our dinner)
  • “Er hat soeben das Spiel gewonnen.”
    (He just won the game)

Experiences:

We also use the Perfekt to describe what we have experienced or done in the past, without mentioning a specific point in time.

  • “Ich habe schon mehrere Bücher von diesem Autor gelesen.”
    (I have already read several books by this author)
  • “Sie hat in verschiedenen Firmen gearbeitet.”
    (She has worked in various companies)

Note: The Perfekt is a tense that is frequently used in everyday language and often replaces the Präteritum.

German Tense: Präteritum – Usage and Examples

The Präteritum (German simple past), also known as the “Imperfekt” in German , is a German tense mainly used to talk about past events.

Here are the primary applications:

Past Actions:

The Präteritum is used to express an action that took place and ended in the past.

  • Ich fütterte die Katzen.
    (I fed the cats)
  • Er reparierte sein Fahrrad.
    (He repaired his bicycle)

Narratives and Reports:

In written reports, narratives, and stories, the Präteritum is often used to advance the action.

  • Er besuchte die neue Kunstausstellung.
    (He visited the new art exhibition)
  • Sie las das gesamte Buch in einer Nacht.
    (She read the entire book in one night)

Polite Form:

Sometimes the Präteritum is also used as a form of politeness, particularly with the verb “waren”.

  • Waren Sie schon mal in Japan?
    (Have you ever been to Japan?)

Note: Although the Präteritum is often replaced by the German Perfekt in spoken German, it is very common in written language and formal communication.

German Tense: Plusquamperfekt – Application and Examples

The Plusquamperfekt, also known as the “Vorvergangenheit” in German, is used in German to talk about events that took place before a specific point in the past.

  • Sie hatte den Film schon gesehen, bevor wir ins Kino gingen.
    (She had already seen the movie before we went to the cinema)
  • Bevor die Party begann, hatte er das Haus gründlich gereinigt.
    (Before the party started, he had thoroughly cleaned the house)

The Plusquamperfekt is a rather formal tense and is mainly used in written language and in formal conversations.

It helps to make the sequence of events clear when multiple actions in the past are being described.

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