German Present 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 will talk about the ''Perfekt,'' the past tense in German. We will see how to form this tense with different verbs and also see how to use it.

Let's Talk About the Past

So you bought a nice new dress or had an amazing weekend with your friends and you want to tell someone about it? To do so, you will have to use a past tense, and the German present perfect will probably be your tense of choice. It's used a lot in everyday speech, so it's important to know the rules behind it.

This is a compound tense, which means that it will be made from more than one verb. The present perfect tense is made from the conjugated auxiliary verb haben or sein and the past participle.

So the formula is: haben or sein + past participle

Let's see what exactly this means in the next sections and how to apply this principle in different sentences.

First Part: Auxiliary Verb

The perfect tense has two parts, and the first part will be the conjugated auxiliary verb. Some verbs will use haben while the others will use sein. Let's see when and how to use each one.

Haben (to have)

Most of the verbs will form their present perfect with the help of the auxiliary verb haben (to have). Let's quickly freshen up your knowledge with the conjugation of the verb haben, because it will be crucial for building the present perfect tense:

Pronoun Conjugation Pronunciation Meaning
ich habe eeh HAH-beh I have
du hast doo hahst you have
er hat ehr haht he has
sie hat zee haht she has
es hat ehs haht it has
wir haben veer HAH-behn we have
ihr habt eehr hahbt you have
sie haben zee HAH-behn they have
Sie haben zee HAH-behn you have (singular and plural formal)

Don't forget to change the auxiliary verb depending on the noun it's paired with.

Let's take a look at a few examples with verbs that form this tense with the help of the auxiliary verb haben:

  • Sie hat sich ein neues Kleid gekauft. (She bought herself a new dress.)
  • Wir haben sehr lange gewartet. (We waited very long.)

Translation: It rained heavily.

Sein (to be)

A smaller group of verbs will build the present perfect tense with the help of the auxiliary verb sein. Remember its conjugation?

Pronoun Conjugation Pronunciation Meaning
ich bin eeh been I am
du bist doo beest you are
er ist ehr eest he is
sie ist zee eest she is
es ist ehs eest it is
wir sind veer seend we are
ihr seid eehr siyd you are
sie sind zee zeend they are
Sie sind zee zeend you are (singular and plural formal)

So which verbs will use sein? Sein is mostly used with verbs that express a change in location (going from point a to point b), like kommen (to come) or changing of state or shape, like aufwachen (to wake up).

Let's take a look at some example sentences using these verbs:

  • Wir sind nach Berlin gegangen. (He went to Berlin.)
  • Sie ist sehr früh aufgestanden. (She woke up very early.)

Here are some of the most used ones:

Verb Translation
gehen to go
kommen to come
aufwachen to wake up
reisen to travel
rennen to run
laufen to run, walk
fahren to drive
schwimmen to swim
springen to jump

Translation: He flew to Rome.

Note that there are some rare verbs that can take both haben and sein, depending on the exact meaning. For example fahren will take sein when it means to go somewhere, but when it means to drive, it will take haben.

The surest way to know if a verb uses sein or haben is to learn it together with the verb, because all definitions are just roughly explaining it and have a lot of exceptions.

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