German Past Perfect Tense

Instructor: Sandra Salajic

Sandra has a master's degree in teaching German. She has taught middle and high school German, and worked on different on- and offline courses with kids and adults.

In today's lesson, we are going to take a look at the German past perfect tense. We will learn how to build it and see some examples of how to use it in different sentences.

German Past Perfect Tense

Whether you want to say that you used to play football, but play basketball now, lived in Frankfurt last year and live in Berlin at the moment, or that you learned German even before elementary school, you will have to use the German past perfect tense.

In this lesson, we will take a close look at this tense and explain when to use it and exactly how to build it. So let's dive in into this German past tense!

Using the Past Perfect Tense

The German Plusquamperfekt, or past perfect tense, is used to describe an event that happened before another event or a certain point in the past. Let's take a look at a few examples:

  • Er hatte das Abendessen schon gekocht, als sie nach Hause kam. (He already cooked dinner when she arrived home.)
  • Sie hatte sehr gut Tennis gespielt, bevor sie verletzt wurde. (She played tennis very well before she got injured.)
  • Wir hatten in Frankfurt gewohnt, bis wir nach Berlin umgezogen sind. (We lived in Frankfurt before we moved to Berlin.)

As you can see, we will also often use helpers to let the listener know what happened when, such as als (when), bevor (before), bis (until), wenn (when) and the like.

Making the Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense is a compound verb, which means that it will be made out of multiple parts. For this tense, we will need the simple past form of the verb haben (to have) or sein (to be) and the past participle. Let's see how to make each of these parts and how to combine them together to make the tense.

Auxiliary Verbs in the Simple Past

The first part will be the auxiliary verb in the simple past tense. We will have to use either haben (to have) or sein (to be), and this will depend on the verb that you are using. That's why it's always best to learn the correct auxiliary for the past tenses together with the verb.

Let's quickly freshen up your knowledge of the verb 'to have' in the simple past:

Pronoun Conjugation Pronunciation Meaning
ich hatte HAH-teh I had
du hattest hah-tehst you had
er, sie, es hatte hah-teh he/she/it had
wir hatten HAH-tehn we had
ihr hattet hah-teht you had
sie hatten HAH-tehn they had
Sie hatten HAH-tehn you had
(singular and plural formal)

Here are some examples of verbs that use the verb haben to form the past perfect tense:

  • Er hatte in der Grundschule Deutsch gelernt, aber jetzt wollte er auch Französisch lernen. (He studied German in elementary school but wanted to learn French as well now.)
  • Sie hatte lange gewartet, bevor sie ins Zimmer kam. (She waited a long time before she entered the room.)

Translation: He practiced a lot before the concert.

And here is the verb 'to be' in the simple past tense:

Pronoun Conjugation Pronunciation Meaning
ich war vahr I was
du warst vahrst you were
er, sie, es war vahr he/she/it was
wir waren VAH-rehn we were
ihr wart vahrt you were
sie waren VAH-rehn they were
Sie waren VAH-rehn you were (singular and plural formal)

Here are some examples of verbs that use to be for making the past perfect tense:

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