Pefect tense (German: das Perfekt / die Vorgegenwart / das vollendete Gegenwart) is one way of describing past events in German.

Example sentences

  • Ich habe das gemacht.
  • Du hast das gemacht.
  • Mein Vater hat das gemacht.
  • Ihr habt meine Mutter besucht.
  • Ich habe dich angerufen.
  • Sie hat ein Glas Wein getrunken.
  • Ich bin nach Berlin gefahren.
  • Sie sind noch nicht gestorben.
  • Er ist krank geworden.
  • Wir sind in Deutschland gewesen.

Verb 1: auxiliary (helping) verb

  • Can be either haben or sein.
  • Use haben with transitive verbs. A verb is transitive if it can take a direct object; that is, the action of the verb happens to someone or something.
  • Use sein with intransitive verbs. Some people prefer to think of this as when there is movement or a change of state or the verb list tells us to.
  • Use in present tense with the ending matching the subject (ich habedu hast…).
  • Place in the second position in the sentence, unless it is a yes/no question.
  • More detail about when to use haben or sein (in German).

Verb 2: past participle

  • Formed from the stem of the infinitive form of the verb. Sometimes the stem changes a bit; for example, trinken – getrunken.
  • Typically has ge- prefix, but not if the verb starts with be-ent-, er-über-unter-ver-zer- or ends in -ieren.
  • Has the ge- between a separable prefix and the stem of the verb; for example, eingeladenausgepacktaufgehängt.
  • Typically has -t suffix (but sometimes -en).
  • Placed at the end of the sentence/clause.

Usage in German

  • Perfect tense is the most common way to describe past events, particularly when speaking, or when writing informally. If in doubt, use perfect tense!
  • Imperfect tense is commonly used for the verbs haben (I had = ich hatte), sein (I was = ich war), the modal verbs, and when writing something formal.

Compared to English

  • I drank a glass of water. – Imperfect tense – Used to talk about something that happened at a fixed point in the past.
  • I have drunk a glass of water. – Perfect tense – Used to talk about something that happened in the past, but still has some impact on the present.