Past Simple Tense

German speakers use the narrative past (Imperfekt, Präteritum), also called simple past to describe past events in written texts and occasionally in speaking, especially when telling a story. The German simple past tense has its counterpart in English where the verb takes -ed on the end and a past tense meaning.

In spoken German, the conversational past tense, or present perfect is used when talking about past events.

I habe vor zwei Jahren zum See gefahren. - I went to the sea two years ago.

Regular Weak Verbs

In the simple past regular weak verbs add to the verb stem a -t- and a set of regular endings:

suchen - to search, to look for

ich suchte

du suchtest

er/sie/es suchte

wir suchten

ihr suchtet

sie suchten

Weak verbs with a stem ending in -t, -d, -fn, -gn, -chn, -kn insert an additional -e- before the -te: arbeitete.

Just like in the present tense, separable prefixes are placed at the end of the sentence.

Der Zug fuhr ab. - The train left.

Irregular Strong Verbs

In the simple past, irregular verbs have a vowel change in their stem and their endings are different from those used in regular verbs. For all irregular verbs, the vowel change needs to be memorized.

geben - to give

ich gab

du gabst

er/sie/es gab

wir gaben

ihr gabet

sie gaben

Irregular Weak Verbs

Irregular weak verbs add regular endings to changed vowel stems:

denken - dach - dachte


Grammar Patterns

Listening Comprehension