German Simple Past Tense - Regular Verbs


Forming the simple past is not all that difficult and is similar to forming verbs in the present tense. For regular verbs (weak verbs), you use the stem of the verb and add a personal ending. Those personal endings are -(e)te, -(e)test, -(e)ten, and -(e)tet.

Bringing up the past

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Past Tense 2Imperfect (das Imperfekt/Präteritum)

The simple past/imperfect/preterite 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.

Here are the conjugated forms of both verbs:

preteritehaben sein jpg


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.

Notice that both the 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 3 ways: for regular, mixed, and irregular verbs.

Regular verbs like ‘spielen,’ ‘arbeiten,’ and ‘tanzen’ drop the ‘en’ endings and add a ‘t’ + conjugated ending.


Regular Verbs

simplepastregularverbs 1 jpg

Note that verbs ending in ‘d’ or ‘t’ have to add an ‘e’ before the ‘t’ + ending (see ‘arbeiten’ above). Also, the first- and third-person singular (ich and er/sie/es forms) are identical in the preterite, just like with ‘haben’ and ‘sein’ (above). Other verbs that also add an “e” before the “t” are those that do so in the present tense, including atmen, begegnen, leugnen, widmen, and zeichnen (e.g. Er zeichnete/widmete/begegnete).

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.