Plusquamperfekt – Past Perfect/Pluperfect Tense in German Grammar

Introduction

The past perfect or pluperfect (Plusquamperfekt) expresses actions that took place before a certain point in the past. It is the German equivalent of the English past perfect tense. We use this tense in storytelling together with the simple past, to look back at something that happened before a past event.

Do you know when to use the past perfect tense in German? Our simple explanations and examples make it easy to understand. Learn the rules and exceptions of verb conjugation, then test your grammar skills in the exercises.

Example

Beim Talent-Wettbewerb spielte Luise fehlerfrei ein schwieriges Stück auf der Flöte.

Sie hatte sehr lange geübt, bevor sie das Stück so perfekt spielen konnte.

Advertisement

Usage

We use the German past perfect tense to describe:

  • an action before a certain point in the past
    Example:
    Sie hatte sehr lange geübt, bevor sie das Stück so perfekt spielen konnte.She had practised for a very long time before she could play the piece so perfectly.

Conjugation of German Verbs in Past Perfect Tense

To conjugate the German past perfect (Plusquamperfekt), we need the simple past forms of sein/haben and the past participle (Partizip II).

person sein haben
1st person singular (ich) ich war gegangen ich hatte gelesen
2nd person singular (du) du warst du hattest
3rd person singular (er/sie/es/man) er war er hatte
1st person plural (wir) wir waren wir hatten
2nd person plural (ihr) ihr wart ihr hattet
3rd person plural/polite form (sie/Sie) sie waren sie hatten

Past Participle

The past participle (Partizip II) is formed in different ways depending on whether we are conjugating a strong verb (ge…en) or a weak/mixed verb (ge…t).

type conjugation example
strong ge…en sehen – gesehen Ich hatte sein Büro gesehen.I had seen his office.
weak ge…t lernen – gelernt Du hattest viel gelernt.You had learnt a lot.
mixed ge…t denken – gedacht Wir hatten an dich gedacht.We had thought about you.

Exceptions

  • Many strong and mixed verbs change their word stems in the past participle. (see list of strong and mixed verbs)
    Example:
    gehen – gegangen, bringen – gebrachtto go – gone, to bring – brought
  • If the word stem ends in d/t, we add an et to weak or mixed verbs.
    Example:
    warten – gewartetto wait – waited
  • Verbs with the ending ieren form the past participle without ge.
    Example:
    studieren – studiertto study – studied
  • Inseparable verbs form the past participle without ge.
    Example:
    verstehen – verstandento understand – understood
  • For separable verbs, ge goes after the prefix.
    Example:
    ankommen – angekommento arrive – arrived