Easy Learning German

The perfect tense - Easy Learning Grammar German

What is the perfect tense?
The perfect is one of the verb tenses used to talk about the past, especially about a single, rather than a repeated action.
Den Nachtisch habe ich schon gegessen.I’ve already eaten dessert.

1 Using the perfect tense

  • The German perfect tense is the one generally used to translate an English form such as I have finished.
I have finished the book.Ich habe das Buch zu Ende gelesen.
  • The perfect tense is also sometimes used to translate an English form such as I gave.
I gave him my phone number.Ich habe ihm meine Nummer gegeben.
TipWhen a specific time in the past is referred to, you use the perfect tense in German. In English you use the -ed form instead.
Gestern Abend habe ich einen Krimi im Fernsehen gesehen.Last night I watched a thriller on TV.
  • The perfect tense is used with seit or seitdem to describe a completed action in the past, whereas the present tense is used to describe an action which started in the past and is still continuing in the present.
Seit dem Unfall habe ich sie nur einmal gesehen.I’ve only seen her once since the accident.

2 Forming the perfect tense

  • Unlike the present and imperfect tenses, the perfect tense has TWO parts to it:
  • the present tense of the irregular weak verb haben (meaning to have) or the irregular strong verb sein (meaning to be). They are also known as auxiliary verbs.
  • a part of the main verb called the past participle, like given, finished and done in English.
  • In other words, the perfect tense in German is like the form I have done in English.
PronounEndingPresent TenseMeanings
ich-eich habeI have
du-stdu hastyou have
er
sie
es
-ter hat
sie hat
es hat
he/she/it has
wir-enwir habenwe have
ihr-tihr habtyou (plural) have
sie

Sie
-ensie haben

Sie haben
they have

you (polite) have
PronounEndingPresent TenseMeanings
ichich binI am
dudu bistyou are
er
sie
es
er ist
sie ist
es ist
he/she/it is
wirwir sindwe are
ihrihr seidyou (plural) are
sie

Sie


sie sind

Sie sind
they are

you (polite) are

3 Forming the past participle

  • To form the past participle of weak verbs, you add ge- to the beginning of the verb stem and -t to the end.
InfinitiveTake off -enAdd ge- and -t
holen (to fetch)hol-geholt
machen (to do)mach-gemacht
  • Note that one exception to this rule is weak verbs ending in -ieren, which omit the ge.
studieren (to study)studiert (studied)
  • To form the past participle of strong verbs, you add ge- to the beginning of the verb stem and -en to the end. The vowel in the stem may also change.
InfinitiveTake off -enAdd ge- and -en
laufen (to run)lauf-gelaufen
singen (to sing)sing-gesungen
  • To form the past participle of mixed verbs, you add ge- to the beginning of the verb stem and, like weak verbs, -t to the end. As with many strong verbs, the stem vowel may also change.
InfinitiveTake off -enAdd ge- and -t
bringen (to run)bring-gebracht
denken (to think)denk-gedacht
  • The perfect tense of separable verbs is also formed in the above way, except that the separable prefix is joined on to the front of the ge-: ich habe die Flasche aufgemacht, du hast die Flasche aufgemacht and so on.
  • With inseparable verbs, the only difference is that past participles are formed without the ge-: ich habe Kaffee bestellt, du hast Kaffee bestellt and so on.

4 Verbs that form their perfect tense with haben

  • Most weak, strong and mixed verbs form their perfect tense with haben, for example machen:
PronounhabenPast ParticipleMeaning
ichhabegemachtI did, I have done
duhastgemachtyou did, you have done
er
sie
es
hatgemachthe/she/it did,
he/she/it has done
wirhabengemachtwe did, we have done
ihrhabtgemachtyou (plural) did,
you have done
siehabengemachtthey did, they have done
Siehabengemachtyou (singular/plural formal)
did, you have done
Sie hat ihre Hausaufgaben schon gemacht.She has already done her homework.
Haben Sie gut geschlafen?Did you sleep well?
Er hat fleißig gearbeitet.He has worked hard.

5 haben or sein?

  • MOST verbs form their perfect tense with haben.
Ich habe das schon gemacht.I’ve already done that.
Wo haben Sie früher gearbeitet?Where did you work before?
  • With reflexive verbs the reflexive pronoun comes immediately after haben.
Ich habe mich heute Morgen geduscht.I had a shower this morning.
Sie hat sich nicht daran erinnert.She didn’t remember.
  • There are two main groups of verbs which form their perfect tense with sein instead of haben, and most of them are strong verbs:
  • verbs which take no direct object and are used mainly to talk about movement or a change of some kind, such as:
gehento go
kommento come
ankommento arrive
abfahrento leave
aussteigento get off
einsteigento get on
sterbento die
seinto be
werdento become
bleibento remain
begegnento meet
gelingento succeed
aufstehento get up
fallento fall
Gestern bin ich ins Kino gegangen.I went to the cinema yesterday.
Sie ist heute Morgen ganz früh abgefahren.She left really early this morning.
An welcher Haltestelle sind Sie ausgestiegen?Which stop did you get off at?
  • two verbs which mean to happen.
Was ist geschehen/passiert?What happened?
  • Here are the perfect tense forms of a very common strong verb, gehen, in full:
PronounseinPast ParticipleMeanings
ichbingegangenI went, I have gone
dubistgegangenyou went, you have gone
er
sie
es
istgegangenhe/she/it went,
he/she/it has gone
wirsindgegangenwe went, we have gone
ihrseidgegangenyou (plural) went,
you have gone
siesindgegangenthey went, they have gone
Siesindgegangenyou (singular/plural formal)
went, you have gone
  • Note that the perfect tense of the most important strong, weak and mixed verbs is shown in the Verb Tables.
  • For Verb Tables, see supplement.
Key points
  • The perfect tense describes things that happened and were completed in the past.
  • The perfect tense is formed with the present tense of haben or sein and a past participle.
  • The past participle begins in ge- and ends in -t for weak verbs, in ge- and -en for strong verbs often with a stem vowel change, and in ge- and -t for mixed verbs, with a stem vowel change.
  • Most verbs take haben in the perfect tense. Many strong verbs, especially those referring to movement or change, take sein.

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