Overview: Tenses in German

Are you confused by the German tenses? Don’t worry! In this lesson we will briefly summarize each of the then and look at their usage and formation. This will allow you to better understand, when to use which tense. And, you will see that it is actually not that difficult.

In German, there are 6 verb tenses: 3 past tenses, 2 future tenses and the present tense.

They are:

Präsens | Präteritum| Perfekt | Plusquamperfekt | Futur 1 | Futur 2

The present tense | das Präsens

The easiest one of all 6 verb tenses is the present or Präsens. We use it to talk about actions that happen in the present and it can also be used to talk about the future in German.

Accordingly, we can translate it into one of four English tenses: the simple past, the present progressive, as well as the will future and or going to future.

It is formed by adding the following verb endings (see table below) to the root of the verb.

Personalpronomen | Personal pronounEndung | Ending
ich-e
du-st
er, sie, es-t
wir-en
ihr-t
sie-en

More about the Präsens here.

Past tenses | Vergangenheitsformen

There are three past forms in German – of which we mostly use only one: the Perfekt.

However, this doesn’t mean that we don’t the other one’s and that it’s not necessary to learn them. They are just used less frequently. Let’s have a look!

Perfekt

The Perfekt is the most used past tense in German. The idea behind the perfect is that we use it to speak about actions completed in the recent past. However, nowadays, in spoken language the Perfekt is used in almost all situations in which someone is talking about the past.

So in spoken language you can practically use it whenever you are talking about the past.

It is formed by using the conjugated present tense of the verbs ‘sein‘ (to be) or ‘haben‘ (to have) and the past participle (Partizip 2) of the corresponding verb.

Personalpronomen | Personal pronounsPerfektform
ichbin / habe + Partizip 2
dubist / hast + Partizip 2
er, sie, esist / hat + Partizip 2
wirsind / haben + Partizip 2
ihrseid / habt + Partizip 2
siesind / haben + Partizip 2

The Perfekt forms of the verb machen (to make / to do), for example, use the Hilfsverb (auxiliary verb) haben and the Partizip 2 is ‘gemacht‘. So the corresponding forms are:

Personalpronomen | Personal pronounsPerfektform
ichhabe gemacht
duhast gemacht
er, sie, eshat gemacht
wirhaben gemacht
ihrhabt gemacht
siehaben gemacht

More about the Perfekt here.

Das Präteritum (Imperfekt)

The Präteritum is used less frequently than the Perfekt. It can be compared to the simple past in English and is mostly used in written language. It is typically used to tell stories or report past events.

We forms it by removing the infinitive ending -en and instead adding the following endings to the root of the verb:

Personalpronomen | Personal pronounsEndung | Ending
ich-te
du-test
er, sie, es-te
wir-ten
ihr-tet
sie-ten

More about the Präteritum here.

Das Plusquamperfekt

The Plusquamperfekt (past perfect) is the least common past tense in German. It is used to talk about actions that took place before a certain point in the past

It is formed by using the Präteritum forms (simple past forms) of the Hilfsverb (auxiliary verb) – which can either be ‘sein’ or ‘haben’ – and then adding the Partizip 2 (past participle) of the corresponding verb.

Personalpronomen | Personal pronounsPlusquamperfekt
ichwar / hatte + Partizip 2
duwarst / hattest + Partizip 2
er, sie, eswar / hatte + Partizip 2
wirwaren / hatten + Partizip 2
ihrwart / hattet + Partizip 2
siewaren / hatten + Partizip 2

If you use the example of the verb ‘machen‘ (to make / to do) again, the forms in the Plusquamperfekt would be the following:

Personalpronomen | Personal pronounsPlusquamperfekt
ichhatte gemacht
duhattest gemacht
er, sie, eshatte gemacht
wirhatten gemacht
ihrhattet gemacht
siehatten gemacht

More about the Plusquamperfekt here.

Future tenses | Zukunftsformen

Let’s finally have a look at the future tenses. In German, there are two future tenses, of which we almost only use the first one: Futur 1

Futur 1

Futur 1 is mostly used to express assumptions about the future, as well as future intentions. We can translate it with the English tenses will-future and going-to-future.

It is formed by using the conjugated form of the verb werden‘ (to become) and the infinitive of the corresponding verb.

Personalpronomen | Personal pronounsFutur 1
ichwerde + infinitive
duwirst + infinitive
er, sie, eswird + infinitive
wirwerden + infinitive
ihrwerdet + infinitive
siewerden + infinitive

If we stick with the example of the verb ‘machen‘ (to make / to do), the Futur 1 forms would be the following:

Personalpronomen | Personal pronounsFutur 1
ichwerde machen
duwirst machen
er, sie, eswird machen
wirwerden machen
ihrwerdet machen
siewerden machen

Futur 2

Finally, we have the least used tense in German: the Futur 2 (future perfect). It expresses the assumption that an action will have been already completed by a particular point in the future.

It is formed by using the conjugated form of the verb werden‘ (to become) and then add the Partizip 2 (past participle) of the corresponding verb + the Hilfsverb (auxiliary verb) ‘sein‘ or ‘haben‘.

Personalpronomen | Personal pronounsFutur 2
ichwerde + Partizip 2 + sein / haben
duwirst + Partizip 2 + sein / haben
er, sie, eswird + Partizip 2 + sein / haben
wirwerden + Partizip 2 + sein / haben
ihrwerdet + Partizip 2 + sein / haben
siewerden + Partizip 2 + sein / haben

If we stick with the example of the verb ‘machen‘ (to make / to do), the Futur 2 forms would be the following:

Personalpronomen | Personal pronounsFutur 2
ichwerde gemacht haben
duwirst gemacht haben
er, sie, eswird gemacht haben
wirwerden gemacht haben
ihrwerdet gemacht haben
siewerden gemacht haben

Other tenses in German:

Overview | Präsens| Präteritum | Perfekt | Plusquamperfekt | Futur 1 | Futur 2

Stay tuned for more articles about this and other grammar topics for learning German!

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