The simple past tense


The tense Präteritum (also called Imperfekt) is primarily used in the written form in books, stories, and in the press. It is also used with the auxiliary verbs haben, sein and modal verbs (even if it is used in verbal form).

Examples of sentences in the Präteritum tense

  • Translation
  • The police was searching for a suspect.
  • Translation
  • Three people were injured.
  • Translation
  • My uncle went to the woods.
  • Translation
  • I was in cinema yesterday.
  • Translation
  • I had stomach pains in the morning.
  • Translation
  • While on vacation, I wanted to eat pizza every day.

Building sentences in the Präteritum tense

Regular verbs

Subjekt + Präteritum + ...

The subject (Subjekt) is the person or thing peforming the action. The Präteritum form for regular verbs is created by adding the -te suffix and a suffix for the correct person to the verb stem e.g. wir machen 👉 wir + mach + te + n 👉 wir machten. The first and third person singular are always the same (only the -te suffix is added).

Person Endung machen
ich -te machte 👈 mach + -te
du -test 👈 -te + -st machtest 👈 mach + -test
er/sie/es -te machte 👈 mach + -te
wir -ten 👈 -te + - en (-teen) machten 👈 mach + -ten
ihr -tet 👈 -te + -t machtet 👈 mach + -tet
sie/Sie -ten 👈 -te + -en (-teen) machten 👈 mach + -ten
The verbs haben and sein

The Präteritum form for verbs haben and sein is irregular.

Person haben sein
ich hatte war
du hattest warst
er/sie/es hatte war
wir hatten waren
ihr hattet wart
sie/Sie hatten waren
Mixed verbs

In the case of mixed verbs, the verb stem changes and the suffix -te is added (as with regular verbs).

Person Endung bringen denken
ich -te brachte dachte
du -test brachtest dachtest
er/sie/es -te brachte dachte
wir -ten brachten dachten
ihr -tet brachtet dachtet
sie/Sie -ten brachten dachten
Irregular verbs

For irregular verbs, the verb stem is changed. The changed verb stem becomes the base form, to which we add a suffix according to the following table.

Person Endung gehen kommen nehmen
ich - ging kam nahm
du -st gingst kamst nahmst
er/sie/es - ging kam nahm
wir -en gingen kamen nahmen
ihr -t gingt kamt nahmt
sie/Sie -en gingen kamen nahmen

Exceptions and special cases

Verbs ending with -t, -d, -chn, -ffn, -kn, -tm

In the case of regular verbs whose stem ends with -t, -d, -chn, -ffn, -kn, -tm, the suffix added to build the Präteritum form needs to be preceded by the vowel -e.

Person arbeiten (-t) enden (-d) zeichnen (-chn) öffnen (-ffn) trocknen (-kn) atmen (-tm)
ich arbeitete endete zeichnete öffnete trocknete atmete
du arbeitetest endetest zeichnetest öffnetest trocknetest atmetest
er/sie/es arbeitete endete zeichnete öffnete trocknete atmete
wir arbeiteten endeten zeichneten öffneten trockneten atmeten
ihr arbeitetet endetet zeichnetet öffnetet trocknetet atmetet
sie/Sie arbeiteten endeten zeichneten öffneten trockneten atmeten

It is quite intuitive as it would be even hard to pronounce e.g. atmtest, öffnte, zeichnten.

Separable verbs

For separable verbs, the verb conjugates normally and the prefix is at the end of the sentence.

  • Translation
  • The professor continued the lecture.
  • Explanation
  • fort|setzen - to continue; the part of the verb without the prefix is conjugated the same way as the verb setzen
  • Translation
  • The students had to stay longer because the professor continued his lecture.
  • Explanation
  • In a subordinate clause, the verb goes to the end of the sentence where its prefix stands. In this case, the prefix and verb are written together.

When the sentence has a modal verb in the tense Präteritum and another verb, then the other verb is at the end of the sentence in the infinitive form.

  • Translation
  • Unfortunately I couldn't come yesterday.
  • Translation
  • My sohn wanted to go to the sea.