German Review of the Simple Past Tense

Beginner German - Level A2

The simple past is the tense we use in the German language when we're writing--as opposed to speaking--about events that happened in the past and have now been completed. So if you ever dreamed of writing a novel in German this is one form you'll need to master.
In German it is known as das Präteritum (pronounced: dahs PREH-teh-rih-tum). 


work and career, school, apprenticeship

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German Review of the Simple Past Tense

The simple past/imperfect/preterit(e) tense (das Präteritum/das Imperfekt) is the form of the past tense most often found in writing (i.e. narrative form; not to be confused with written dialogue, which maintains the present perfect tense). The spoken past tense in German (the present perfect or “das Perfekt”) typically only utilizes the simple past forms of the following verbs: sein, haben, wollen, sollen, dürfen, müssen, mögen, and können. However, the present perfect form of both ‘sein’ and ‘haben’ are also used in spoken German — for all intents and purposes, they are interchangeable in the spoken word.

Present Perfect                                          Simple Past
Ich bin sehr müde gewesen.          OR   Ich war sehr müde.   =   I was very tired.
Ich habe Kopfschmerzen gehabt.  OR   Ich hatte Kopfschmerzen.   =   I had a headache.

Technically speaking, the present perfect sentences could/should be translated with "I have been very tired", and "I have had a headache", but this would alter the meaning slightly in English. Based solely on meaning,  the German simple past and present perfect forms are identical in terms of meaning. The only difference between them is that one form (present perfect tense) is exclusively used in spoken German (or other communication construed as verbal such as email, texts, or dialogue), whereas the other (simple past/preterite) is valid for the spoken and written past forms.

The simple past is formed in one of three ways: for regular, mixed, and irregular verbs.


1. The Simple Past of Weak (regular) Verbs. 

Regular verbs are verbs that show no stem changes in any tense or for any pronoun. 
For example, the stem of the verb "kochen" (to cock) is "koch-", and it remains "koch-" in every sense and pronoun. 

Ich koche - I cock. Ich kochte - I cooked. Ich habe gekocht. - I have cooked

The past participle of regular verbs is formed with "ge" and ends on -t (gekocht) 

Ich spiele Fussball. Ich spielte Fussball. Ich habe Fussball gespielt. 
I play soccer. I played soccer. I have played soccer. 

2. Strong (Irregular) Verbs

The term "irregular" verb applies to two groups. "Strong" and "mixed" verbs. Technically speaking, any verb that shows a stem change (vowel change, vowel addition, etc) is an irregular verb. Strong verbs are irregular verbs that have a stem change in one of the tenses or pronouns, and their past participle ends on "-en". 
Note: a stem change might only appear in the simple past). 

Although there are no set rules for predicting the past tense forms of irregular verbs, a number of verbs in English exhibit similar patterns of vowel changes as those in German (e.g. sing – sang – sung / singen – sang – gesungen). In German there are seven approximate categories of vowel change patterns, from infinitive to simple past to past participle (e.g. ride-rode-ridden):

  1. ei – ie – ie / ei – i – i = bleiben – blieb – geblieben / reiten – ritt – geritten
  2. ie – o – o / e – o – o = verlieren – verlor – verloren / heben – hob – gehoben
  3. i – a – u / i – a – o = singen – sang – gesungen / beginnen – begann – begonnen
  4. e – a – o = nehmen – nahm – genommen
  5. e – a – e / i – a – e / ie – a – e = essen – ass – gegessen / bitten – bat – gebeten / liegen – lag – gelegen
  6. a – u – a = einladen – lud ein – eingeladen
  7. a – ie – a / au – ie – au / ei – ie – ei / u – ie – u / o – ie – o / a – i – a = gefallen – gefiel – gefallen / laufen – lief – gelaufen / heißen – hieß – geheißen / rufen – rief – gerufen / stoßen – stieß – gestoßen / fangen – fing – gefangen
Ich fahre in die Arbeit. Ich fuhr in die Arbeit. Ich bin in die Arbeit gefahren
I drive to work. I drove to work. I have driven to work. 


3. Mixed Verbs

Mixed verbs are also irregular, but they get their name from the fact that, while they do have a stem change somewhere in their conjugation (either in tense or in pronoun), which is what they have in common with strong verbs, their participle ends on "-t" which they have in common with weak verbs. 

Ich bringe einen Kuchen. Ich brachte einen Kuchen. Ich habe einen Kuchen gebrachtI bring a cake. I brought a cake. I have brought a cake. 

4. Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are commonly used in their preterite/simple past form in both written and spoken German, and their meanings are identical. Although the present perfect forms do exist, they are only used when they are not accompanied by another verb. Notice that the umlauts are dropped when forming the past tense of these verbs.
(Do you really have to leave? Yes, I have to (leave.)

You will note that the 1st- and 3rd-person singular forms of these verbs are identical, and a “t” is added to the end of the stem before applying the ending. In keeping with the phonological rule related to stems ending in a “d” or “t”, an “e” must be added before applying the conjugated verb endings (
ihr and du forms). Thus, the du form of sollen would add a “t” + “e” + “st” for its simple past form, solltest. Of course, this makes no real difference when adding the ‘en’ ending to the wir, sie, and Sie plural forms, as no additional “e” separating the “t” from the ending is necessary. Note also that the ich, er, sie, and es forms add the “t” and then “e” only. Effectively, the simple past ending that is added to the modals and regular verbs is simply a “t” at the end of the stem.

N.B. The simple past forms of the modal verbs are the basis for the formation of the general subjunctive (modals with an umlaut in their infinitive forms)

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Unlike in English where the simple pas is the dominant form of the past tense that is used in writing and speaking, das Imperfekt in German is used a bit differently. the simple past is used mostly in written German to describe an event or action that both started and ended in the past.


Das Teamgespräch

Letzten Montag fand im Büro ein Meeting statt. Karin, Felix, Berin und Jara unterhielten sich über den Arbeitsplan für nächste Woche.

Das Gespräch dauerte eine Stunde. Karin wollte die verspäteten Lieferungen besprechen. Letzte Woche gab es Probleme mit dem Lieferanten, und sämtliche Bestellungen kamen zu spät.
Felix hatte ein paar gute Ideen, und wollte sie teilen.
Berin und Jara arbeiten in derselben Abteilung, und hatten letzte Woche Probleme mit der Produktionslinie. Eine Maschine fiel aus und verursachte Verspätungen. Noch dazu waren zwei Mitarbeiter krank.

Das Gespräch lief sehr gut.
Karin wird einen zweiten Lieferanten kontaktieren. Felix hat zwei extra Mitarbeiter. Er wird sie zu Berin und Jara schicken, wenn ihre Mitarbeiter krank sind.
Felix und Berin werden mit dem Abteilungsleiter reden und werden eine neue Maschine bestellen.

stattfinden - to take place
sich unterhalten - to have a conversation/discuss
das Gespräch(e) - the conversation
dauern - to last
verspätet - delayed, late
die Lieferung(en) - the delivery
der Lieferant(en) - the supplier
sämtliche - several
ausfallen - here: to break down
verursachen - to cause
noch dazu - on top of that, additionally

1. Which verbs simple past/preterit verbs were used?
2. Who works in the same department?
3. What was the issue with production last week?
4. What will Karin do? 
5. What will Felix and Berin do? 

1. fand statt, unterhielten sich, dauerte, wollte (besprechen), gab, kamen, hatte, wollte (teilen), hatten, fiel aus, verursachte, waren, lief.
2. Berin and Jara work in the same department. 
3. One machine broke down and two co-workers were sick. 
4. Karin will contact a second supplier. 
5. Felix and Berin will speak to the head of the department and order a new machine. 
1. Conjugate the following verbs in the preterit (Präteritum)
   a. machen
   b. fahren
   d. gehen
   c. essen
   e. müssen

2. Complete the following sentences in the preterit:

   a. Letzten Freitag _______ (cook) ich eine Suppe. 
   b. Wir ______ (meet) uns gestern vor dem Kino. 
   c. Ich ________ (work) 6 Jahre lang in England. 
   d. Er  _____ (go) mit seinem Hund spazieren. 
   e. Du ______ (come) noch nie so spät aus der Arbeit.

3. Detect the mistake in the following sentences:
   a. Ich lieste gestern seine E-mail. 
   b. Er schreibte den Bericht am Abend. 
   c. Sie schluf nicht gut gestern Nacht. 
   d. Wir anriefen den Abteilungsleiter. 
   e. Du daftest als Kind abends fernsehen. 

4. Choose between the following verbs and complete the sentences in the preterit:
    fahren – spielen – lesen – aufstehen – einkaufen
   a. Er _____ nach dem Meeting alle E-mails. 
   b. Ich ______ gestern noch beim Supermarkt ____. 
   c. Wir ______ mit dem Auto in die Berge. 
   d. Sie (They) ______ jeden Samstag Fußball. 
   e. Sie (She) ______ um 5 Uhr morgens _____. 
1.a. ich machte, du machtest, er/sie/es machte, wir machten, ihr machtet, sie/Sie       
   b.ich fuhr, du fuhrst, er/sie/es fuhr, wir fuhren, ihr fuhrt, sie/Sie fuhren
   d.ich ging, du gingst, er/sie/es ging, wir gingen, ihr gingt, sie/Sie gingen
   c. ich aß, du aßt, er/sie/es aß, wir aßen, ihr aßt, sie/Sie aßen
   e. ich musste, du musstest, er/sie/es musste, wir mussten, ihr musstet, sie/Sie

2.a. Letzten Freitag kochte ich eine Suppe. 
   b. Wir trafen uns gestern vor dem Kino. 
   c. Ich arbeitete 6 Jahre lang in England. 
   d. Er  ging mit seinem Hund spazieren. 
   e. Du kamst noch nie so spät aus der Arbeit.

3.a. Ich lieste -> las gestern seine E-mail. 
   b. Er schreibte -> schrieb den Bericht am Abend. 
   c. Sie schluf -> schlief nicht gut gestern Nacht. 
   d. Wir anriefen _> riefen den Abteilungsleiter an
   e. Du daftest -> durftest als Kind abends fernsehen. 

4.a. Er las nach dem Meeting alle E-mails. 
   b. Ich kaufte gestern noch beim Supermarkt ein
   c. Wir fuhren mit dem Auto in die Berge. 
   d. Sie (They) spielten jeden Samstag Fußball. 
   e. Sie (She) stand um 5 Uhr morgens auf

Listen to the audio and try to answer the following questions.



1. When was the simple past/preterit used?
2. What happened in the first half?
3. What was the final score?
4. Who shot the first goal?
5. When did the game start and why did it start late? 


1. spielte (played) , fing…an (began) , fielen (here: scored) , erhielt (received) , war (was), schoss (shot) , glich…aus (equalized), schoss (shot), machten (made), fiel (fell), konnte (could).
2. Rainer Bolz received the yellow card in the first half, but no goals were scored.
3. The final score was 2:2.
4. Germany scored the first goal (50 min)
5. The game started at 4pm (16.00), but on time. It did not start late. 


Am Samstag spielte die Deutsche Nationalmannschaft gegen Frankreich. Das Spiel fing pünktlich um 16.00 Uhr an. Es fielen keine Tore in der ersten Halbzeit. Rainer Bolz erhielt in der 30. Minute die gelbe Karte.

Die zweite Halbzeit war deutlich interessanter. In der 50. Minute schoss Deutschland das Tor zum 1 : 0. Frankreich glich kurz danach aus, und schoss in der 54. Minute das 1 : 1. Beide Teams machten Druck. In der 69. Minute fiel dann das 2:1 für Deutschland, doch am Ende konnte Frankreich ausgleichen, mit einem Tor in der 89. Minute. Endstand 2:2


fallen – to fall (here: score. ein Tor fiel - A goal fell/a goal was scored.)
erhalten – to receive
ausgleichen – equalize 

die Halbzeit(en)  – the halftime (die 1. Halbzeit – the first half)
der Druck – the pressure
der Endstand(stände) – the final score
die gelbe Karte(n) - the yellow card


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