What is the perfect tense?

The perfect tense is used to express things that have happened in the past in general. It is the most commonly used past tense in German.

It is used in letters, emails and spoken German.

It is used to describe something that you have done, but maybe do often and are likely to do again, eg:

  • ich habe ein Film gesehen – I saw a film

This is different from the imperfect tense, which is used more often in written German for narratives and accounts of events, and to talk about one particular incident in the past, eg:

  • ich sah das Brandenburger Tor – I saw the Brandenburg Gate

The perfect tense could be described as the most interesting of the German past tenses as, apart from the subject that always has to be used, there are two distinct parts to it. You also get to play with the word order.

Forming the perfect tense

The basic ingredients for the perfect tense are:

The subject + auxiliary verb + the past participle, eg:

  • ich habe gelernt – I studied

ich (SUBJECT) habe (AUXILIARY VERB) gelernt (PAST PARTICIPLE)

  • wir haben gewonnen – we won

wir (SUBJECT) haben (AUXILIARY VERB) gewonnen (PAST PARTICIPLE)

  • der Junge ist gegangen – the boy went

der Junge (SUBJECT) ist (AUXILIARY VERB) gegangen (PAST PARTICIPLE)

Did you know?

For many years, the Brandenburger Tor was the main city gate separating East and West Berlin. However, since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the Brandenburg Gate has now come to represent freedom, German unity and European harmony.

The Brandenburger Tor is one of most iconic constructions in Germany and is recognised throughout the world. It is one of the most visited sites – Sehenswürdigkeiten – in Berlin.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany
The 'Brandenburger Tor' is one of Germany's most recognised landmarks