Conjugation of German verbs (past tense)


 1. The past. (Die Vergangenheit)

- there are basically two ways to express an action that happened in the past: - using imperfect tense (but this is used mostly in literature) - using perfect tense with "haben" and "sein" which is the most common, and it is also called "the spoken past"

a.    German simple past tense - imperfect tense (Präteritum)

Conjugation of regular verbs (imperfect tense)

- it is fomred by adding the following endings to the root (also calles stem) of the verbs:

 

Singular

Plural

Person I

- te

- ten

Person II

- test

- tet

Person III

- te

- ten

 

   Let's conjugate the verg ”to sing” = ”singen”

   singen + an ending from the above table

   

Singular

Plural

Person I

ich singte

wir singten

Person II

du singtest

ihr singtet

Person III

er, sie, es singte

sie, Sie singten

 Translation would be: I/you/he, she, it/we/they/you sang

There is a category of verbs in the frame of both regular and irregular verbs wich conjugation is made a bit differently

This verbs, after the elimination of the ending "-en", if they are ending in “t”, “d”,” m” or “n” we introduce the vowel "e" between the root and the endings for all persons singular and plural.

Examples of this kind of verbs: antworten = to answer; arbeiten = to work; atmen = to breathe; begegnen = to meet;beobachten = to observe; bilden = toformulate; bitten = to invite; finden = to find; heiraten = to marry; mieten = to rent;öffnen = to open; rechnen = to calculate; reden = to speak; retten = to save; trocknen = to get dry; warten = to wait;zeichnen = to draw etc.

Let's see an example 

The verb ”to talk” = ”reden”

reden + e + an ending from the above table


Singular

Plural

Person I

ich redete

wir redeten

Person II

du redetest

ihr redetet

Person III

er, sie, es redete

sie, Sie redeten

Translation would be: I/you/he, she, it/we/they/you talked

Conjugation of irregular verbs (imperfect tense)

Some verbs like "haben", "sein" and "werden" are very often used in their imperfect form. Also „wissen”, „denken”, „lassen”, „gehen”, „fahren” and „bringen” could also play the role of an auxiliary, they are also often met in their imperfect form. That's why it is very important to learn their conjugation.

-    while conjugating, the irregular verbs change their vowels

 infinitive

Imperfect

(Präteritum)

ich

du

er, sie, es

wir 

ihr

sie, Sie

sein = to be

waren

war

warst

war

waren

wart

waren

haben = to have

hatten

hatte

hattest

hatte

hatten

hattet

hatten

werden = to become

wurden

wurde

wurdest

wurde

wurden

wurdet

wurden

wissen = to know

wussten

wusste

wusstest

wusste

wussten

wusstet

wussten

denken = to think

dachten

dachte

dachtest

dachte

dachten

dachtet

dachten

gehen = to walk

gingen

ging

gingst

ging

gingen

gingt

gingen

fahren = to drive

fuhren

fuhr

fuhrst

fuhr

fuhren

fuhrt

fuhren

bringen = to bring

brachten

brachte

brachtest

brachte

brachten

brachtet

brachten

lassen = to leave

ließen

ließ

ließt

ließ

ließen

ließt

ließen

 

-     the imperfect tense is the tense of telling (we meet it more in literature)

 

b. German past tense - the perfect tense (Vollendete Gegenwart)

o   The perfect tense if formed with the help of two auxiliary verbs „haben“ (to have) or „sein“ (to be) and the *past participle of the verb.

o  In a sentence the auxiliary verb (haben or sein) stands always before the verb we want to conjugate.

o   The perfect tense is the most used tense to express actions and events happened in the past, it is laso calles "the spoken past"

- it is translated in english with the simple past tense and also with the perfect past tense: "I habe gelesen" = I read/I have read (both translations are right)

The past participle of the verb is obtained by the following rules:

- Regular verbs:

We add to the *root of the verb the prefix "ge-" and the ending "-(e)t"

„ge-” + „root of the verb” + „-(e)t”

The root of the verb is obtained by cuttin the ending "-en" from the infinitive verb

Example:

to ask = "fragen", the root will be fragen = farg, now we have to add the prefix and the ending, we obtain "ge-" + frag + "(e)t" results in gefragt

Another example:

to work = "arbeiten",  „ge-” + arbeit + „-et” results in gearbeitet

 

-   Irregular verbs:

We add to the root of the verb the prefix "ge-" and the ending "en"

„ge-”+ „root of the verb” + „-en”

Most of the time in the root of the verb a change of vowel is taking place:

Example:

fliegen = to fly, in this example "ie" becomes "o": ie o, „ge-” + flog + „-en” results geflogen

schließen = a inchide, ie → o, „ge-” + schloß + „-en” results geschloßen

singen = a canta, i u, „ge-” + sung + „-en” results gesungen

This can be learned only by practicing!

- verbs that end in "-ieren" will get only the ending "-t"

Rule: root of the verb + „-t"

Exemple:

trainieren = to train, trainier + „-t” results trainiert

regieren = to reign, regier + „-t” results regiert

 

In order to perform a conjugation in the past tense we need to know the present tense conjugation of "sein" (to be) and "haben" (to have).

 

sein

haben

ich bin I am

du bist you are

er, sie, es ist = he, she, it is

wir sind we are

ihr seid you are

sie, Sie sind = they/you are

ich habe I have

du hast you have

er, sie, es hat he, she, it has

wir haben we have

ihr habt you have

sie, Sie haben = they/you have

 

Very important! Some verbs are conjugated with "sein" others with "haben", and there are also verbs that can be conjugated with both "haben" and "sein".

 

Conjugation of regular verbs with „haben”

Rule: „haben” + „ge-” + root of the verb + „-(e)t”

 

hören = to listen/to hear

„haben“ + „ge-“ + hören + „-t“ results „haben“ gehört


hören = to listen

1st person singular 

ich habe gehört = I have listened

2nd person singular

du hast gehört = you have listened

3rd person singular

er, sie, es haben gehört = he, she, it has listened

1st person plural

wir haben gehört = we have listened

2nd person plural

ihr habt gehört = you have listened

3rd person plural

sie, Sie haben gehört = they have listened / you have listened

Conjugation of irregular verbs with „haben”

Rule: „haben” + „ge-” + root of the verb + „-en”

Remember! The root of the verb suffers a vowel change

 

schreiben = to write

vowel change: ei ie

„haben” + „ge-” schrieb + „-en” results „haben” geschrieben

 

schreiben = to write

1st person singular 

ich habe geschrieben = I have written

2nd person singular

du hast geschrieben = you have written

3rd person singular

er, sie, es haben geschrieben = he, she, it has written

1st person plural

wir haben geschrieben = we have written

2nd person plural

ihr habt geschrieben = you have writtten

3rd person plural

sie, Sie haben geschrieben = they have written / you have written

 

 

Conjugation of regular verbs with „sein”

Rule: „sein” + „ge-” + root of the verb + „-(e)t”

 

baden = to bathe

„sein” + „ge-” + bad + „-et” results „sein” gebadet

 

baden = to bathe

1st person singular

ich bin gebadet = I have bathed

2nd person singular

du bist gebadet = you have bathed

3rd person singular

er, sie, es ist gebadet = he, she, it had bathed

1st person plural

wir sind gebadet = we have bathed

2nd person plural

ihr seid gebadet = you have bathed

3rd person plural

sie, Sie sind gebadet = they have bathed / you have bathed

 

 

Conjugation of irregular verbs with „sein”

 

Reule: „sein” + „ge-” + root of the verb + „-(e)t”

-   most of the time a change of vowel takes place

 

fliegen = to fly

Change of vowel: ie o

„sein” + „ge-” + flog + „-(e)t” results „sein” geflogen

 

fliegen = to fly 

1st person singular

ich bin geflogen = I have flied

2nd person singular

du bist geflogen = you have flied

3rd person singular

er, sie, es ist geflogen = he, she, it has flied

1st person plural

wir sind geflogen = we have flied

2nd person plural

ihr seid geflogen = you have flied

3rd person plural

sie, Sie sind geflogen  = they have flied / you have flied

 

 

There are verbs with can be conjugated with both "haben" or "sein"

 

fahren = to drive / to travel

„sein” + „ge-” + fahr + „-en” results „sein” gefahren

 

fahren = to drive / to travel

1st person singular

ich bin gefahren = I have driven

2nd person singular

du bist gefahren = you have driven

3rd person singular

er, sie, es ist gefahren = he, she, is has driven

1st person plural

wir sind gefahren = we have driven

2nd person plural

ihr seid gefahren = you have driven

3rd person plural

sie, Sie sind gefahren = they have driven / you have driven

 

The same verb with „haben“

„haben” + „ge-” + fahr + „-en” results „haben” gefahren

 

fahren = to drive / to travel 

1st person singular

ich habe gefahren = I have driven

2nd person singular

du hast gefahren = you have driven

3rd person singular

er, sie, es hat gefahren = he, she, is has driven

1st person plural

wir haben gefahren = we have driven

2nd person plural

ihr habt gefahren = you have driven

3rd person plural

sie, Sie haben gefahren = they have driven / you have driven

 

Remember! Many motion verbs can be conjugated with both "haben" and "sein": fahren (to drive), fliegen (to fly), bummeln (to walk) etc.