Get 30% Off With The Epic Sale. Ends Soon!
Get 30% Off With The Epic Sale. Ends Soon!
GermanPod101.com Blog
Learn German with Free Daily
Audio and Video Lessons!
Start Your Free Trial 6 FREE Features

German Tenses: All You Need to Know

Thumbnail

First of all, what is a verb? 

Together with nouns, verbs are the most important part of any sentence. They’re words that we use to describe actions (singen – to sing), states of being (existieren – to exist), or occurrences (entwickeln – to develop). They have to agree with the subject, which represents who or what is performing the action. 

Basically, every type of sentence requires a verb to be complete. This is why it’s so important to give them due attention when learning a foreign language—especially German! Today, we’ll talk about German tenses and how to correctly apply them to verbs.

A Man Studying Using His Laptop

German verbs are one of the most challenging aspects of learning this beautifully complex language, but don’t worry. We’ll have a look at the main rules you need to know in order to use German verbs with no problems! 

In particular, we’ll look at the main verb tenses in German and how to conjugate them for both regular and irregular verbs. 

Does this all sound a bit complicated? Don’t worry. We’ll try to explain each concept thoroughly in the following paragraphs. By the time you finish reading, you’ll know how to form German tenses, when to use each one, and more!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in German Table of Contents
  1. The Use of Tenses in German
  2. Present
  3. Past
  4. Future
  5. German Tenses: A Summary

1. The Use of Tenses in German

The tenses of a verb are used to express when an action takes place, so they make all the difference when talking about the three concepts of present, past, and future. 

In the German language, there are six main verb tenses:

1. Present (Präsens)

2. Present perfect (Perfekt)

3. Past simple (Imperfekt/Präteritum)

4. Past perfect (Plusquamperfekt)

5. Future (Futur I

6. Future perfect (Futur II)

Let’s look at each of these tenses in more detail with examples of how to conjugate them.

A Simple Clock against a White Background

2. Present 

The present tense, or Präsens in German, is the most used of all the German verb tenses. It can be used to talk about present actions or future actions that have already been determined. This tense can actually be used to express concepts in three equivalent English tenses: the present, the present continuous, and the future (“will” and “going to” constructions). 

We use the German Präsens to express…

  • …a fact or condition in the present, or an action that takes place in the present.

Das ist Andreas.
That’s Andreas.

Jeden Montag geht er zum Fußballtraining.
He goes to football training every Monday.

  • …an action that gives information on the duration of something. (Note that in this case, English uses the present perfect.)

Er spielt schon seit zwei Jahren Fußball.
He’s been playing football for two years.

  • …a future action that is already determined to happen. (In English, we can use the future or the present.)

Nächste Woche hat seine Mannschaft ein wichtiges Spiel.
His team will have an important match next week.

A Football Stadium

To conjugate regular verbs in the present tense, we simply remove the infinitive ending -en and add the following endings according to the subject:

Personal PronounPresent Tense EndingConjugation of Lernen (To Learn)
Ich (I)-eich lerne
Du (You) [s]-stdu lernst
Er / Sie / Es (He / She / It)-ter / sie / es lernt
Wir (We)-enwir lernen
Ihr (You) [p]-tihr lernt
Sie (They)-ensie lernen

Remember, however, that verbs can be irregular. This is the case for two of the most used verbs in German: sein (to be) and haben (to have). Have a look at the table below to see their conjugation in the present tense:

Personal PronounSein (To Be)Haben (To Have)
Ich (I)binhabe
Du (You) [s]bisthast
Er / Sie / Es (He / She / It)isthat
Wir (We)sindhaben
Ihr (You) [p]seidhabt
Sie (They)sindhaben

3. Past

To convey events that happened in the past, we have three available tenses in German: the simple past, the present perfect, and the past perfect. Let’s look at when to use these and how to conjugate them!

A- Simple Past

In German, the simple past tense is usually referred to as Imperfekt or Präteritum, and it’s mainly used in writing. The majority of speakers prefer to use the present perfect instead, unless they’re trying to be formal or are telling a story. All the same, knowing this tense will be extremely useful if you want to be able to read books, magazines, and newspapers in German. 

All regular German verbs in the simple past follow the same pattern, so once you learn it, you’ll be able to conjugate all of them! 

To form the Präteritum, just remove the ending -en and add the following endings according to the subject: 

Personal PronounSimple Past Tense EndingConjugation of Lernen (To Learn)
Ich (I)-teich lernte
Du (You) [s]-testdu lerntest
Er / Sie / Es (He / She / It)-teer lernte
Wir (We)-tenwir lernten
Ihr (You) [p]-tetihr lerntet
sie/Sie (They)-tensie lernten

Of course, there are still irregular verbs that do not follow this pattern—you’ll just have to recognize them and memorize their endings by heart! Don’t worry, though: with time and practice, this will come as second nature!

Here’s a table with the conjugations of sein (to be) and haben (to have) in the simple past tense. These verbs are often used not only in writing, but also in speaking. 

Personal PronounSimple Past of Sein (To Be)Simple Past of Haben (To Have)
Ich (I)warhatte
Du (You) [s]warsthattest
Er / Sie / Es (He / She / It)warhatte
Wir (We)warenhatten 
Ihr (You) [p]warthattet
Sie (They)warenhatten

Note that although haben is an irregular verb, it actually uses the same endings as regular verbs. It simply changes its stem from -b- to -t-. Verbs like this are called mixed verbs and, even though there aren’t many, they’ll stick in your mind for this peculiarity!

B- Present Perfect

Just like in English, the present perfect tense (Perfekt in German) is composed of two parts: 

1) The present tense of an auxiliary verb (“have” in English, haben or sein in German)

2) The past participle of the verb you’re conjugating (for example, “learned” or gelernt)

  • Ich habe gelernt. (I have learned.)

In German, we form the past participle by adding the prefix ge- to the third person singular.

  • Infinitive: lernen → Third person singular: er lernt → Past participle: gelernt

This works with all regular verbs. 

Usually, we choose haben as an auxiliary verb when forming the Perfekt. But if we’re describing a condition or a movement, or are conjugating the verb sein, we would use sein as the auxiliary verb. 

  • Wir sind in den Supermarkt gegangen. (We went to the supermarket.)
  • Sie ist gestern krank gewesen. (She was ill yesterday.)

A Couple at the Supermarket

Personal PronounPresent Perfect of Lernen (To Learn)
Ich (I)habe gelernt
Du (You) [s]hast gelernt
Er / Sie / Es (He / She / It)hat gelernt
Wir (We)haben gelernt
Ihr (You) [p]habt gelernt
Sie (They)haben gelernt

Personal PronounPresent Perfect of Haben (To Have)
Ich (I)habe gehabt
Du (You) [s]hast gehabt
Er / Sie / Es (He / She / It)hat gehabt
Wir (We)haben gehabt
Ihr (You) [p]habt gehabt
Sie (They)haben gehabt

C- Past Perfect

The Plusquamperfekt (Past Perfect) expresses actions that took place before a given point in the past. It’s the German equivalent of the English past perfect tense (I had learned). We use this tense in storytelling, combined with the simple past, to talk about something that happened before a past event.

Like in English, we form it using the simple past of the auxiliary verb (“have” in English, haben or sein in German) and the past participle of the verb you’re conjugating (for example, “learned” or gelernt).

Personal PronounPast Perfect of Lernen (To Learn)
Ich (I)hatte gelernt
Du (You) [s]hattest gelernt
Er / Sie / Es (He / She / It)hatte gelernt
Wir (We)hatten gelernt
Ihr (You) [p]hattet gelernt
Sie (They)hatten gelernt

Personal PronounPast Perfect of Haben (To Have)
Ich (I)hatte gehabt
Du (You) [s]hattest gehabt
Er / Sie / Es (He / She / It)hatte gehabt
Wir (We)hatten gehabt
Ihr (You) [p]hattet gehabt
Sie (They)hatten gehabt

4. Future

As we’ve mentioned, we can often use the present tense to talk about set events in the future. What happens, though, when we want to talk about an intention or an event in the future we’re not sure about?

In German, we have two future tenses: Futur I and Futur II.

A Woman Writing Something at a Wooden Desk with a Typewriter

A- Futur I

This tense is comparable to the English “I will ___” or “I am going to ___.”

In German, we use it to express:

  • A future intention
  • An assumption about the future
  • An assumption about the present

To conjugate it, we need the finite form of werden and the infinitive form of the verb.

Personal PronounFutur I of Lernen (To Learn)
Ich (I)werde lernen
Du (You) [s]wirst lernen
Er / Sie / Es (He / She / It)wird lernen
Wir (We)werden lernen
Ihr (You) [p]werdet lernen
Sie (They)werden lernen

Personal PronounFutur I of Haben (To Have)
Ich (I)werde haben 
Du (You) [s]wirst haben 
Er / Sie / Es (He / She / It)wird haben 
Wir (We)werden haben 
Ihr (You) [p]werdet haben 
Sie (They)werden haben 

B- Future Perfect

The Futur II (future perfect) expresses the idea that an action will have been completed by a particular point in the future.

To form this tense, we need the finite form of werden, the past participle of the full verb, and the auxiliary verbs sein/haben.

Personal PronounFutur II of Lernen (To Learn)
Ich (I)werde gelernt haben
Du (You)wirst gelernt haben
Er/sie/es (He/she/it)wird gelernt haben
Wir (We)werden gelernt haben
Ihr (You plural)werdet gelernt haben
Sie (They)werden gelernt haben

Personal PronounFutur II of Haben (To Have)
Ich (I)werde gehabt haben
Du (You) [s]wirst gehabt haben
Er / Sie / Es (He / She / It)wird gehabt haben
Wir (We)werden gehabt haben
Ihr (You) [p]werdet gehabt haben
Sie (They)werden gehabt haben

5. German Tenses: A Summary

As you’ve seen, learning how to use verbs and verb tenses in German can be tricky, but it’s certainly one of the most important aspects of learning this beautiful and interesting language

We hope that this post helped you gain some insight into German tenses and how to use them properly to talk about the past, present, and future!

If you want to learn more about verbs and conjugations and have access to much more German learning material, visit GermanPod101.com. Here you’ll find lessons for all levels, grammar material, vocab lists, podcasts, dictionaries, blog posts, and more!

What are you waiting for? Start learning and practicing German with us—you’ll be able to master the use of German verbs and tenses in no time at all! 

Before you go, let us know in the comments if this article helped you. Do you feel ready to tackle the challenge of German verb tenses, or do you still have questions? We look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in German