Easy Learning German

The pluperfect tense - Easy Learning Grammar German

What is the pluperfect tense?
The pluperfect is a verb tense which describes something that had happened or had been true at a point in the past, for example, I’d forgotten to finish my homework.

1 Using the pluperfect tense

  • You can often recognize a pluperfect tense in English by a form like I had arrived, you’d fallen.
Sie waren schon weggefahren.They had already left.
Diese Bücher hatten sie schon gelesen.They had already read these books.
Ich hatte mir das neueste iPad-Modell zum Geburtstag gewünscht.I had asked for the latest iPad for my birthday.
  • Note that when translating had done/had been doing in conjunction with seit/seitdem, you use the imperfect tense in German.
Sie machte es seit Jahren.She had been doing it for years.

2 Forming the pluperfect tense

  • Like the perfect tense, the pluperfect tense in German has two parts to it:
  • the imperfect tense of the verb haben (meaning to have) or sein (meaning to be)
  • the past participle.
  • If a verb takes haben in the perfect tense, then it will take haben in the pluperfect too. If a verb takes sein in the perfect, then it will take sein in the pluperfect.

3 Verbs taking haben

  • Here are the pluperfect tense forms of holen (meaning to fetch) in full.
PronounhabenPast Participle Meanings
ichhattegeholtI had fetched
duhattestgeholtyou had fetched
er
sie
es
hattegeholthe/she/it had fetched
wirhattengeholtwe had fetched
ihrhattetgeholtyou (plural) had fetched
sie

Sie
hattengeholtthey had fetched

you (polite) had fetched
Ich hatte schon mit ihm gesprochen.I had already spoken to him.

4 Verbs taking sein

  • Here are the pluperfect tense forms of reisen (meaning to travel) in full.
PronounseinPast ParticipleMeanings
ichwargereistI had travelled
duwarstgereistyou had travelled
er
sie
es
wargereisthe/she/it had travelled
wirwarengereistwe had travelled
ihrwartgereistyou (plural) had travelled
sie

Sie
warengereistthey had travelled

you (polite) had travelled
Sie war sehr spät angekommen.She had arrived very late.
Key points
  • The pluperfect tense describes things that had happened or were true at a point in the past before something else happened.
  • It is formed with the imperfect tense of haben or sein and the past participle.
  • Verbs which take haben in the perfect tense will take haben in the pluperfect tense and those which take sein in the perfect tense will take sein in the pluperfect tense.

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