German Hacks

German Hacks Episode 2 – German Perfect Tense with sein or haben?

German HacksHi, I am Kirsten Winkler and this is German Hacks.

Last week on German Hacks we talked about past tense and that in spoken German we can forget about two of the three past tenses, Präteritum and Plusquamperfekt, and instead concentrate our efforts on learning how to use the Perfekt well.

Perfekt, once again, is a compound tense which means you need an auxiliary, namely ‘sein or ‘haben’ which we have to conjugate in the Präsens (present tense) depending on our personal pronouns and then combine it with the Partizip Perfekt (past participle or third form) of our main verb.

But how do we actually decide which of the two auxiliaries we have to use when?

Well, of course you could simply google it or look it up in a dictionary as in good dictionaries it’s usually indicated how the different verbs from their Perfekt. That’s not what I call hacking German though, it’s laziness and not very smart.

Let’s explore some other possibilities!

In general, the majority of verbs require that you use ‘haben’ when you want to use them in the Perfekt tense. This is quite handy, I reckon, as we can now concentrate on the exception to this general rule, thus the verbs that need ‘sein’ in the Perfekt.

There are basically two easy rules to follow.

Just one sentence for all you grammar geeks! Intransitive verbs or verbs used in an intransitive way require the auxiliary ‘sein’. OK and now for the rest of us, once again in simple language:
First rule of thumb is that all so called verbs of movement use ‘sein’ for their Perfekt forms. When you want to form a Perfekt, simply try to visualize if your verb expresses some kind of movement. Classic example are ‘gehen’(to go), ‘rennen’ (to run) or ‘fahren’ (to drive).

The second rule is that you also need to use ‘sein’ with verbs that express a change in state or condition. Think of verbs like ‘einschlafen’ (to fall asleep) or ‘schmelzen’ (to melt). Perhaps ironically the verb that expresses ‘to stay’, in German that’s ‘bleiben’ also forms its Perfekt with ‘sein’! But generally spoken, this rule like no.1 is also pretty accurate.

The auxiliaries however are special cases, so I’m simply going to tell you how these form their Perfekt forms: ‘sein’ forms with sein, for instance “Sie ist in München gewesen”/ she was in Munich; ‘haben’ forms its Perfekt with haben, like in “Wir haben immer viel Spass mit Bettina und Markus gehabt” / We’ve always had so much fun with Bettina and Markus; ‘werden’ forms its Perfekt with sein: Die Zwillinge sind drei Jahre alt geworden / The twins turned three.

As German Hacks is designed to be hands-on, now, it’s practise time! Try it out with the following verbs: verschwinden (to vanish, disappear), sterben (to die), kochen (to cook), suchen (to search, look for), and ask yourself whether they express a movement or a change of state or mind and post your answers and the conjugated forms in the comment section!

In the next episode we will leave German grammar a bit behind and hack German stereotypes instead. We’ll go beyond Bier, Bavaria and Lederhosen. Until then Tschüss, bye bye!

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Title Music by: Dan-O at | Undiscovered Oceans