German Verb Review 3
The Present Perfect Tense in German
With a self-scoring quiz
Part of Lesson 18 of German for Beginners
In this third part of our three-part "Verb Review" we discuss the German Perfekt (present perfect). As in parts one and two, we offer a self-scoring quiz (with answer key) at the end of this lesson.
Here are some sample German verbs and their past participle forms in the present perfect tense (in red):
to have - haben - hat gehabt
to go - gehen - ist gegangen
to buy - kaufen - hat gekauft
to bring - bringen - hat gebracht
You should notice several things about the verbs above. (1) Some have past participles that end in -t, while others end in -en. (2) Some use haben (to have) as a helping verb, while others use sein (to be). Keep that in mind as we continue our review of the German present perfect below.
The Present Perfect Tense
The present perfect tense is formed by using one of three (3) types of past participles: strong (irregular), weak (regular), and mixed. This past tense form is often referred to as the "conversational past" since it is most often used in spoken German when speaking about events in the past. While English says, "We saw him yesterday," German can express this as, "Wir sahen ihn gestern." (simple past, Imperfekt) or "Wir haben ihn gestern gesehen." (present perfect, Perfekt). The latter form is also referred to as a "compound tense" because it is formed by combining a helping verb (haben) with the past participle (gesehen). Even though the literal translation of "Wir haben ihn gestern gesehen," is "We have seen him yesterday," it would normally be expressed in English simply as, "We saw him yesterday."
Although some aspects of the past tense were previously discussed in Verb Review 1, here in Part 3 we are concentrating solely on the present perfect and its formation.
Regular or WEAK verbs are predictable and can be "pushed around." Their past participles always end in -t and are basically the third person singular with ge- in front of it: spielen/gespielt, machen/gemacht, sagen/gesagt. The so-called -ieren verbs (fotografieren, reparieren, studieren, probieren, etc.) do not add ge- to their past participles: hat fotografiert.
Irregular or STRONG verbs are unpredictable and cannot be "pushed around." They tell YOU what they're going to do. Their past participles end in -en and must be memorized: gehen/gegangen, sprechen/gesprochen. Although there are various patterns that their past participles follow, and they sometimes resemble similar patterns in English, it is best to simply memorize past participles such as gegessen, gesungen, geschrieben, or gefahren.
There are more rules for verbs with separable and inseparable prefixes. See Verb Prefixes 4 for examples.
This third category is also rather unpredictable. As with the other irregular verbs, the participles for MIXED verbs need to be memorized. The mixed verbs, as their name implies, mix elements of the weak and strong verbs to form their past participles. While they end in -t like weak verbs, they have a stem change like strong verbs: bringen/gebracht, kennen/gekannt, wissen/gewußt.
In English, the present perfect is always formed with the helping verb "have," but in German some verbs require "to be" (sein) instead. There is a rule for this condition (see below), but it is best to simply memorize the few verbs that usually use sein as a helping verb. (Most are intransitive verbs of motion.) These verbs include: bleiben (stay), fahren (drive, travel), fallen (fall), gehen (go), kommen (come), laufen (run), reisen (travel), sein (be), steigen (climb), sterben (die), wachsen (grow), werden (become). Example: "Er ist schnell gelaufen." = "He ran fast."
Rule for "sein" as Helping Verb: Verbs that are intransitive (take no direct object) and involve a change of condition or location use sein as a helping verb, rather than the more common haben. Among the few exceptions to this rule are sein itself and bleiben, both of which take sein as their helping verb.
NEXT > Verb Quiz 3 (Pres. Perfect) - Test yourself!
German for Beginners: Lesson 18.3
House and home and the conversational past in German.
The Two German Past Tenses
Talking about the past in German.
German Verbs Guide
Our main verbs page with links to all of our German verbs pages.
Verb Review 1
A look at the past tense in German and the verb werden. Includes a self-scoring quiz.
Verb Review 2
A look at the modal verbs in German. Includes a self-scoring quiz.
All of our German verb pages.
German Grammar Topics
Articles and grammar charts on this site, arranged by topic. Also links to other German grammar sites.
Books About German Verbs
If you scored low on the quiz, maybe you should get 501 German Verbs or other verb books.
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