Tenses In German

There are six different tenses in which a German verb can be used to express time.

Present Tense (Präsens)

The present tense can indicate what you always do or what you are doing now.

When the action that has begun in the past and continues into the present, German uses the present tense.

Ich lerne seit zwei Jahren Deutsch. - I have been learning German for two years.

When used with time expressions, the present tense indicates future events.

Morgen fahren wir nach Hamburg. - Tomorrow we are travelling to Hamburg.

Present Perfect Tense (Perfekt)

The present perfect tense is the most common way of expressing a past event in spoken German.

Ich habe zwei Jahre lang Deutsch gelernt. - I learned German for two years.

Most verbs as well as reflexive verbs form the present perfect with the auxiliary haben.

Ich habe keinen Schlüssel gefunden. - I haven't found any key.

Intransitive verbs (without the accusative) indicating motion as well as intransitive verbs (without the accusative) indicating change of state take the auxiliary sein.

Am Samstag ist Martin nach Hamburg gefahren. - On Saturday Martin drove to Hamburg.

Simple Past Tense (Imperfekt)

The simple past or imperfect tense is mostly used in written reports or stories. In spoken German, it is used to tell a story. It is always used with modal verbs, haben and sein. Imperfekt can also be used to express actions which are normally rendered with the past continuous tense.

Sie sangen in einer fremden Sprache. - They were singing in a strange language.

Ich konnte das Buch nicht lesen. - I could not read the book.

Ich hatte keine Angst. - I wasn't afraid.

Sie waren hier. - They were here.

Past Perfect Tense (Plusquamperfekt)

The past perfect tense (Plusquamperfekt) is used to report an event or action that took place before another event or action that was itself in the past. Plusquamperfekt is often found in sentences containing als (when) and nachdem (after).

Als meine Mutter ankam, hatte ich schon Frühstück gemacht. - When my mother arrived, I had already made breakfast.

Nachdem unser Diner geendet hatte, sind wir nach Hause gefahren. - After our party was over, we drove home.

Plusquamperfekt is also used in negative sentences with seit (for, since) to mean had done/had been doing.

Ich hatte seit Jahren nicht mehr Klavier gespielt. - I hadn't played the piano for many years.

Future Tense (Futur)

In German, the future tense is not used as often as the present tense to refer to future events. The future tense is used when it is not quite clear from the context that the event will take place in the future.

Er wird alles tun, um es zu schaffen. - He'II do anything to succeed.

Wir werden ihn vermissen. - We'll miss him.

The future tense is also used to express assumptions.

Da werden Sie Recht haben. - You are probably right.

Future Perfect Tense (Futur II)

The future perfect is similar to past perfect except that the time reference is in the future rather than in the past. It is used to report a future action that will take place before another action or before a specific time in the future.

Bis Ende dieses Jahres werde ich 50.000 Meilen gefahren sein. - By the end of this year I will have drive 50,000 miles.


As in English, German verbs can have three different moods to express attitudes of the speaker to what he or she is expressing.

1. To express reality, German uses the indicative mood (Indikativ).

Ich spreche Deutsch.

2. To express hypothesis, wishes, polite requests, distance, German uses Konjunktiv.

Ich würde Deutsch sprechen. - I’d speak German (if I were you).

2. To give commands, German uses the the imperative mood.

Bitte sprechen Sie Deutsch! - Please speak German!

Grammar Patterns

Listening Comprehension