Learn about the Perfekt tense in German here

The Perfekt tense is the first past tense students need to learn as it's the most common past tense in German. We use it in conversations to discuss events that happened recently. To form the tense, we use an auxiliary verb and a participle.



We normally use "haben" as our auxiliary verb, unless the main verb implies a change of location or change of condition. If it does, we use "sein".


e.g. verbs like "fahren", "gehen", "fliegen" would take sein as their auxiliary, while verbs such as "machen", "geben", "arbeiten" would take haben.


As far as your main verb is concerned, we need to distinguish between regular, irregular, separable, and non-separable verbs. Here is how we form their participles:



When I cover this topic with students, I first do exercises with them practising the haben-sein distinction and then turn to exercises on both auxiliaries and participles so that they pick up the Perfekt form of the most common 60 verbs in German. From there on, it usually becomes fairly intuitive. So give this a lot of practice.


One question I get asked a lot is how to figure out whether a verb is regular or irregular. There are two rules of thumb. The first is to consider the conjugation of the verb in the present tense. If there is a stem change in the singular, it is not only an irregular verb in the present tense but often also irregular in the past.


e.g. fahren- er/sie/es fährt- gefahren


However, there are exceptions, such as the verb “gehen”, which is regular in the present tense but irregular in the past. So my second rule of thumb is to consider the English language. If there is a stem change in English from present to past, it is a strong indication that the verb may be irregular in German as well.


e.g. go-went - gehen- gegangen


Again, there are exceptions, such as


buy- bought - kaufen- gekauft.

So in situations where both rules of thumb let you down, you just have to memorise whether or not the verb is irregular.


If you’re interested to learn more common phrases in German, just follow the link to our blog. There we also have posts on false friends in German and English, how to say busy in German, give you tips on how to avoid the most common mistakes in German and how to quickly improve your German, you learn about the conjugation of German verbs in the present tense, we give you an explanation of the future tense in German, reflexive verbs in German and how to use them, separable verbs and when they split,how to express preferences in German, the German perfekt tense, and many other topics. We also have posts suitable language learners more generally, such as a comparison between online dictionaries like Linguee, dict.cc, dict.leo and Collins, and a review of the apps Duolingo, Memrise, Babbel, Busuu, and Quizlet. So check out our blog.


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