Perfekt – Perfect Tense in German Grammar

Introduction

The perfect tense, also called present perfect (Perfekt), is a past tense. We use it to speak about actions completed in the recent past. In spoken German, the present perfect tense is often used instead of the past tense. We can translate the perfect tense using the English simple past tense.

Master the rules of conjugation for the perfect tense on Lingolia and get tips on when and how to use it. Learn to conjugate irregular German verbs and test your knowledge in the exercises.

Example

Gestern hat Michael sein Büro aufgeräumt.

Er hat sich vorgenommen, jetzt immer so ordentlich zu sein. Aber bis nächste Woche hat er das bestimmt wieder vergessen.

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Usage

We use the German perfect tense to express:

  • a completed action in the past with the focus on the result of the action.
    Example:
    Gestern hat Michael sein Büro aufgeräumt.Yesterday Michael cleaned his office.

    Result: the office is clean now

    Er hat sich vorgenommen, jetzt immer so ordentlich zu sein.He has decided to always be this organised now.

    Result: he doesn’t want to be so disorganised anymore

  • an action that will be completed by a certain point in the future.
    Example:
    Bis nächste Woche hat er das bestimmt wieder vergessen.By next week he’ll surely have forgotten this again.

    The point in the future must be specifically designated, otherwise we use the future perfect.

Conjugation of German Verbs in Perfect Tense

To conjugate verbs in the perfect tense we need the present tense form of sein/haben and the past participle (Partizip II).

Person sein haben
1st person singular (ich) ich bin gegangen ich habe gelesen
2nd person singular (du) du bist du hast
3rd person singular (er/sie/es/man) er ist er hat
1st person plural (wir) wir sind wir haben
2nd person plural (ihr) ihr seid ihr habt
3rd person plural/polite form (sie/Sie) sie sind sie haben

When to Use Haben or Sein

The verbs haben and sein are used as auxiliary or helping verbs in the present perfect. Sometimes it can be difficult to know which verb to use. Luckily, there are a few rules for the usage of haben and sein in the German present perfect tense.

We use haben to conjugate the present perfect with:

  • verbs that take an accusative object
    Example:
    Michael hat das Büro aufgeräumt.etwas aufräumen: to tidy something
    Michael has tidied the office
  • verbs without an accusative object that don’t express a change of state or place
    Example:
    Er hat aufgeräumt.aufräumen: to tidy up
    He has tidied up.
  • reflexive verbs
    Example:
    Das Büro hat sich verändert.sich verändern: to change
    The office has changed.

We use sein to conjugate the present perfect with:

  • verbs of movement that don’t take an accusative object: gehen, laufen, fahren, fallen, fliegen, kommen, reisen, stolpern, stürzen
    Example:
    Alle Kollegen sind in sein Büro gekommen.All his colleagues have come into his office.
  • verbs that express a change of state: aufwachen/erwachen, einschlafen, gefrieren, tauen, sterbn, zerfallen
    Example:
    Michaels Ordungsliebe ist erwacht.Michael’s tidiness has been awoken.
  • the following verbs: bleiben, geschehen, gelingen, misslingen, sein, werden
    Example:
    Was ist mit Michael geschehen?What has happened to Michael?

Past Participle

The past participle (Partizip II) is formed in the following ways:

Regular Verbs also known as weak verbs (schwache Verben) form the past participle with ge…t and the verb stem.

Example:
lernen – gelernt

Irregular verbs are verbs that change their verb stem in simlpe past and/or the participle form (see list of irregular verb). There are two kinds of irregular verbs in German grammar: strong verbs (starke Verben) and mixed verbs (gemischte Verben).

  • Strong Verbs form the past particple with mit ge…en.
    Example:
    sehen – gesehen (sehen-sah-gesehen)
    gehen – gegangen (gehen-ging-gegangen)
  • Mixed Verbs form the past participle with ge…t.
    Example:
    haben – gehabt (haben-hatte-gehabt)
    bringen – gebracht (bringen-brachte-gebracht)

Exceptions

  • We add an -et to weak/mixed verbs when the word stem ends in d/t.
    Example:
    warten – gewartetto wait – waited
  • Verbs that end in -ieren form their 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, the ge comes after the prefix.
    Example:
    ankommen – angekommento arrive – arrived