The Basics of German Past Tense

The Basics of German Past Tense

Do you love reading novels or newspapers? If yes, you need to know everything about German past tense! Unlike English, there are 2 past tenses in German- the simple past tense and the present perfect tense. If you have already mastered the perfect tense, then simple past tense is actually quite simple!

When to use the German Past Tense

The simple past tense is also referred to as “Imperfect tense.” It is known as Präteritum in German. Usually, German past tense is used in written language. For instance in novels, newspapers, reports and magazines. It is also used while narrating stories.

During informal situations, simple past tense can be replaced by present perfect tense in spoken language. However, helping verbs (haben, sein and werden) and modal verbs are always used in their past tense forms even in spoken German.

Now that you know when to use the German past tense, let’s learn how to conjugate different types of verbs.

How to Conjugate Verbs in German Past Tense

You all must be aware that German verbs are divided into different categories. Just like other tenses, even in simple past tense, the conjugation of verbs slightly changes depending on the category.

So, the very first step is to identify the type of verb.

German Past Tense-Writing German-All-About-Deutsch

Weak Verbs

The conjugation of weak or regular verbs is easy because they follow a standard pattern. The simple past tense of these verbs is constructed by adding suffix ‘-te’ to the verb stem + the personal endings. Consider the verb lernen.

Past tense form = lern + te + personal endings

For verb stems ending in -d, -t, -m or -n, we add an ‘-e’ between the verb stem and the suffix -te. Consider the verb warten.

Past tense form = wart + e + te + personal endings

Conjugations of a few Weak Verbs:-

lernen (to learn)

PersonConjugation
ichlernte
dulerntest
er/ sie/ eslernte
wirlernten
ihrlerntet
sie/ Sielernten

machen (to make)

PersonConjugation
ichmachte
dumachtest
er/ sie/ esmachte
wirmachten
ihrmachtet
sie/ Siemachten

warten (to wait)

PersonConjugation
ichwartete
duwartetest
er/ sie/ eswartete
wirwarteten
ihrwartetet
sie/ Siewarteten

lachen (to laugh)

PersonConjugation
ichlachte
dulachtest
er/ sie/ eslachte
wirlachten
ihrlachtet
sie/ Sielachten

reisen (to travel)

PersonConjugation
ichreiste
dureistest
er/ sie/ esreiste
wirreisten
ihrreistet
sie/ Siereisten

Did you notice any similarities? Well, we are sure you did!

Be it any kind of verb, the first and third person singular forms do not take any endings. They are always the same.

Strong verbs

Strong or irregular verbs do not follow a standard pattern. The past tense of these verbs is formed without the suffix ‘-te. Also, the whole verb stem changes. Personal endings (either -st, -en, -t or no ending) are added after the changed verb stem.

The best way to remember the German past tense forms of all the strong verbs is to memorize them. But, not all at once! Only a few at a time!

Conjugations of a few Strong Verbs:-

geben (to give)

PersonConjugation
ichgab
dugabst
er/ sie/ esgab
wirgaben
ihrgabt
sie/ Siegaben

fahren (to drive)

PersonConjugation
ichfuhr
dufuhrst
er/ sie/ esfuhr
wirfuhren
ihrfuhrt
sie/ Siefuhren

helfen (to help)

PersonConjugation
ichhalf
duhalfst
er/ sie/ eshalf
wirhalfen
ihrhalft
sie/ Siehalfen

schreiben (to write)

PersonConjugation
ichschrieb
duschriebst
er/ sie/ esschrieb
wirschrieben
ihrschriebt
sie/ Sieschrieben

trinken (to drink)

PersonConjugation
ichtrank
dutrankst
er/ sie/ estrank
wirtranken
ihrtrankt
sie/ Sietranken

Helping Verbs

These are the most commonly used irregular verbs even in spoken German. The conjugations of helping verbs are as follows:-

haben (to have)

PersonConjugation
ichhatte
duhattest
er/ sie/ eshatte
wirhatten
ihrhattet
sie/ Siehatten

sein (to be)

PersonConjugation
ichwar
duwarst
er/ sie/ eswar
wirwaren
ihrwart
sie/ Siewaren

werden (to become)

PersonConjugation
ichwurde
duwurdest
er/ sie/ eswurde
wirwurden
ihrwurdet
sie/ Siewurden

Mixed Verbs

The simple past tense of mixed verbs is a combination of strong and weak verbs. This means, the verb stem changes like strong verbs, and we also add the suffix ‘-te’ after the verb stem just like weak verbs. Modal verbs too are categorized as mixed verbs.

Conjugations of a few Mixed Verbs:-

bringen (to bring)

PersonConjugation
ichbrachte
dubrachtest
er/ sie/ esbrachte
wirbrachten
ihrbrachtet
sie/ Siebrachten

rennen (to run)

PersonConjugation
ichrannte
duranntest
er/ sie/ esrannte
wirrannten
ihrranntet
sie/ Sierannten

können (to be able to)

PersonConjugation
ichkonnte
dukonntest
er/ sie/ eskonnte
wirkonnten
ihrkonntet
sie/ Siekonnten

mögen (to like)

PersonConjugation
ichmochte
dumochtest
er/ sie/ esmochte
wirmochten
ihrmochtet
sie/ Siemochten
German Past Tense-3 Tenses-All-About-Deutsch
Watch out for other factors like Separable and Inseparable Verbs!

You all must be familiar with the concept of separable verbs. If not, read about it in our lesson on verbs. While conjugating these verbs in German past tense, the prefix is placed at the end of the sentence. Again, the rules of weak, strong and mixed verbs apply here as well.

Reading simple story books and online newspapers will definitely help you to remember the simple past tense forms of irregular verbs.

German Grammar Quiz

Do you want to practice what you learned in this lesson? Take this quiz to test your knowledge of German Past Tense.


If you enjoyed learning this lesson, also check out the topic Prepositions on your favorite blog “All About Deutsch”.

Want to learn more about German past tense? Go through this article on Vistawide.

PS – On this blog, you will find grammar lessons just like this one, vocabulary lists divided subject-wise as well as articles related to countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland and a lot more. Keep scrolling, keep learning!

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