Willkommen zurück! It’s already been 2 months since I uploaded my last crash course German, so I thought it was about time I uploaded a new lesson! In my last two posts, I talked a lot about German objects, so for this post I thought I’d concentrate on German verbs and tenses for a change. Because there’re already a million posts about how to conjugate German verbs and because I couldn’t possibly cover all rules and exceptions in one post, I’ve decided to only focus on the usage of the tenses (for everyone interested in learning more about the conjugation, I’ve linked some resources at the end of the post). To make things a bit more fun, I’m only using translated quotes from well known children’s books for the example sentences. From Alice’s Adventures over Harry Potter to Matilda, I’m sure you recognize a lot of these!

Das Präsens (Present Tense)

We use the Präsens to express:

  • a fact or condition

“Wir sind hier alle verrückt. Ich bin verrückt. Du bist verrückt.”
(“We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”)

  • an action that takes place in the present once, repeatedly, or never

“Meine Mutter fährt jeden Nachmittag nach Aylesbury und spielt Bingo.” 
(My mother goes to Aylesbury every afternoon to play bingo.)

  • an action happening now

“Ich überleg mir gerade, was ich als Nächstes lesen soll.”
(I’m wondering what to read next.)

  • a future action that is already planned or agreed upon

Mrs. Beth Bouncer zeigt nächste Woche ihre neuste Puppenmodekollektion.
(Mrs. Beth Bouncer will open her new assortment of Doll’s Millinery next week.)

  • an action that started in the past and is still going on

Seit elf Jahren versuche ich die Leute dazu zu bringen, ihn bei seinem richtigen Namen zu nennen: Voldemort.”
(“for eleven years I have been trying to persuade people to call him by his proper name: Voldemort.”)

German doesn’t have an equivalent to the English progressive tense.
The Präsens covers the present progressive aspect as well, e.g. “I run” and “I am running” can both be translated into “Ich laufe.” A time expression is often added for clarification (ich laufe gerade, im Moment, jetzt).

In some instances, the present tense is used to refer to the future, e.g. Ich treffe ihn am Mittwoch/nächste Woche

The Präsens can also function like the English present perfect, e.g. to talk about something that started in the past and is still going on.

Das Präteritum (Simple Past)

We use the Präteritum to express:

  • a completed action in the past (typically used to tell stories or report past events in written German)

Im Alter von vier Jahren konnte Matilda rasch und fließend lesen und fing natürlich an, sich sehnsüchtig nach Büchern umzuschauen.
(At the age of four, Matilda could read fast and well and she naturally began hankering after books)

Mr und Mrs Dursley im Ligusterweg Nummer 4 waren stolz darauf, ganz und gar
normal zu sein, sehr stolz sogar.
(Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.)

The Präteritum is mostly only used for written German. In everyday spoken German, it’s more common to use the Perfekt to talk about the past. Exception include modal verbs (wollen, möchten, können, müssen, dürfen), sein and haben (see below)

Das Perfekt (Present Perfect)

We use the Perfekt to express: 

  • a completed action in the past (usually used in spoken language)

“Ich habe Geld gefunden, und ich habe mir zwei Tafeln Schokolade gekauft, weil ich solchen Hunger hatte, und in der zweiten Tafen war die Goldene Eintrittskarte, und dann sind alle Leute in den Laden gekommen und wollten sie sehen, und der Ladenbesitzer hat mir rausgeholfen, und dann bin ich den ganzen Weg bis nach Hause gerannt, und hier bin ich.”
(“I found some money in the street and I bought two bars of chocolate and the second one had the Golden Ticket and there were crowds of people all around me wanting to see it and the shopkeeper rescued me and I ran all the way home and here I am!”)

Das Futur (Future)

We use the Futur to express:

  • a future intention

“Ich werde in den Ferien kochen lernen, und meine nächste Essenseinladung wird ein Erfolg.”
(“I’ll learn plain cooking for my holiday task, and the dinner party I have shall be a success.“)

  • an assumption about the future

“Wir können nur mutmaßen,” sagte Dumbledore “Vielleicht werden wir es nie wissen.
(“We can only guess,” said Dumbledore. “We may never know.” )

Das Plusquamperfekt (Past Perfect)

We use the Plusquamperfekt to express:

  • an action that took place before another action in the past

An dem Nachmittag, an dem sich ihr Vater geweigert hatte, ihr ein Buch zu kaufen, machte sich Matilda ganz allein auf und ging in die Gemeindebücherei.
(On the afternoon of the day when her father had refused to buy her a book, Matilda set out all by herself to walk to the public library in the village.)

I think reading is one of the best ways to learn a new language so I hope that this post has helped some of you get a better idea of the German tenses! 

Have you recognized some of these quotes? Would you enjoy more of such posts? Let me know in the comment section below!

Further sources:


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