The Perfect in German (Perfekt)

The "Perfekt" is the most used past tense in German.
The "Perfekt" is used in spoken and non-formal written language with non-modal verbs.


Use of the "Perfekt"

The "Perfekt" is the most used verb tense for referring to past actions in German. It is used for 3 situations:

To refer to a past action without any relation to the present

Theory says that, for a past action without any relation to the present, the Präteritum should be used. In practice, however, this is only true for the written language and modal verbs. The Perfekt is used in the spoken language (or in non-formal written language) with non-modal verbs. Perfekt is used more in southern German and Präteritum is used more often in northern Germany.

Er hat gestern Fußball gespielt
He played soccer yesterday

To refer to a past action that continues in the present

If the action continues in the present, the use of the Perfekt is mandatory.

Wir sind nach Spanien gereist
We travelled to Spain (and we still are there)

To refer to an action that will be completed in the future

To give "Perfekt" this connotation of being in the future, it is necessary to add a temporal particle that indicates the future. This may seem a bit odd to you.

Ich habe es nächste Woche geschafft
I'll have it done next week

Conjugating the "Perfekt"

The conjugation of the "Perfekt" is easy enough. It is constructed with the verb "sein" or "haben" in the present indicative + "Partizip II" of the verb.

Ich habe ein Bild gemalt
I have painted/ I painted a picture

Sie ist schon angekommen
She has already arrived / She arrived already

When to use the auxiliary verbs "haben" and "sein"

- "Sein" is only used as an auxiliary verb:

  • For the verbs "sein", "passieren", "bleiben", "werden".
  • For intransitive verbs and non-reflexive verbs that indicate movement or a change in state such as: rennen (to run), springen (to jump), laufen (to walk), fallen (to fall), gehen (to walk), sterben (to die), schmelzen (to melt), etc.

- The auxiliary verb "haben" is used in all other cases.

- There are some verbs that can be transitive or intransitive depending on the sentence which is why they will sometimes have sein or haben as auxiliary verbs. Examples that we have are:

fahren (to drive), biegen (to turn), verderben (to spoil), brechen (to break), fliegen (to fly), treten (to step on, to go), schneiden (to separate, to cut), reiten (to ride).

How Partizip II is constructed

It depends on what type of verb you are dealing with:

Regular verbs without a prefix

ge - (VERB STEM) -(e)t

InfinitivPartizip IIMeaning
kauf-enge-kauf-tto buy
regn-enge-regn-e-tto rain

An "-e-" between the stem and the final "-t" is added with some verbs (for more details, see the present indicative)

Regular verbs with a separable prefix


InfinitivPartizip IIMeaning
auf-rund-enauf-ge-rund-e-tto round up
ein-kauf-enein-ge-kauf-tto go shopping

Regular verbs with inseparable prefix


InfinitivPartizip IIMeaning
be-nutz-enbe-nutz-tto use
ent-wickel-nent-wickel-tto develop

Verbs ending with "-ieren"


InfinitivPartizip IIMeaning
studier-enstudier-tto study (at the University)
rotier-enrotier-tto rotate

Irregular verbs

Many of the irregular verbs follow the construction:
ge - (VERB STEM) -(e)n


InfinitivPartizip IIMeaning
backengebackento bake
bratengebratento fry
fahrengefahrento drive
fallengefallento fall
fangengefangento catch

But, unfortunately, most irregular verbs do not follow any easy rule to learn:


InfinitivPartizip IIMeaning
habengehabtto have
werdengewordento become
wissengewusstto know
verlierenverlorento lose

This link has most of the irregular verbs' participles in German.

The passive voice of the Perfekt

The construction of the passive voice in the "Perfekt" consists of:

[sein conjugated in the present] + PARTIZIP II + worden.

As a reminder: "Worden" is the Partizip II of the verb "werden" when it acts as an auxiliary verb.

If the sentence in the active voice in the "Perfekt" is:

He has read a book
Er hat ein Buch gelesen

The equivalent sentence in the passive voice would be:

The book has been read by him
Das Buch ist von ihm gelesen worden

The "Perfekt" with modal verbs

With modal verbs it is much more common to use the "Präteritum" than the "Perfekt" to indicate the past.

  • If the modal verb is accompanied by another verb (99% of the cases), the structure is:


    Er hat nicht fliegen wollen
    He hasn't wanted to fly / He didn't want to fly

  • If there is no full verb, the structure is


    Er hat nicht gewollt
    He didn't want to / He hasn't wanted to