Verb Tenses

In German, there are six verb tenses, but only two of them really require you to modify the verb very much

The remaining tenses use the infinitive or participle plus an auxiliary or “helping” verb.

That’s why, when you learn a German verb, you should also learn the past participle and the simple past form if they’re irregular.

Here are the tenses for the verb tun:

Present:Er tut es.He does it.
Preterite (simple past):Er tat es.He did it.
Perfect:Er hat es getan.He has done it.
Pluperfect:Er hatte es getan.He had done it.
Future 1:Er wird es tun. He will do it.
Future 2:Er wird es getan haben.He will have done it.

In German, the perfect is used for referring to the past in speech. In writing, the preterite is preferred as it sounds more formal. However, there are a few high-frequency verbs such as denken and wissen whose preterite forms are still used often in speech.

Das wusste ich nicht.
I didn’t know that.

The perfect is formed with haben and the past participle. As in English, there are many irregular past participles. However, the vast majority use the prefix ge-. Any irregularities will be marked in a dictionary as follows:

sehen, sah, hat gesehen (irregular preterite)
to see, saw, have seen

studieren, studierte, hat studiert (irregular participle)
to study, studied, have studied

bringen, brachte, hat gebracht (irregular preterite and participle)
to bring, brought, have brought

In English, the perfect describes past experiences, but in German it’s necessary to add schon “already” or je “before” to show that something has previously happened in the past.

Ich habe das Buch gelesen
I read the book.

Hast du je Berlin gesehen?
Have you ever seen Berlin?

It’s important to learn and be able to understand all of the German verb tenses, however, the vast majority of speech is in either the present or perfect, with the future barely trailing after it.

Note that four out of those six tenses use a helping verb haben or werden. It’s imperative to memorize all the forms of these two verbs quickly since they’re used so frequently.

Ihr habt ihm nicht geholfen
You guys didn’t help him.

The helping verb sein is used instead of haben, rarely, when the verb has to do with motion.

Ich habe ihn gesehen
I saw him.

Ich bin dort gegangen.
I went there.