The simple past tense in German is called Präteritum. This is just one of the forms of making expressions and references in the past. Präteritum is mostly used in writing of articles such as novels, newspapers, magazines etc. it can sometimes be used in spoken German but not by many. This form of past tense unlike the perfect or past participle tense does not make use of auxiliary verbs. The various verbs are simply conjugated in the Präteritum forms in the second position to the subject of that sentence in the standard SVO order.

It is considered inappropriate to use both Präteritum (simple past tense) and Perfect tense (past participle tense) in one sentence. Nevertheless, it is only possible to combine the Präteritum and perfect tense of the auxiliary verbs -haben and sein- in one sentence. The Präteritum of the various categories of verbs are shown below.

**Note that in English, the simple past form of the auxiliary verb “do” can also be used to make the simple past tense. In such instances, the present form of the main verb is used. Regardless, it is still the Präteritum in German. For example; “I did buy a new house” means the same as “I bought a new house”.

Präteritum of Hilfsverben

The Präteritum of the auxiliary verbs are a bit irregular but easy to learn and memorize. Study the pictures below…

SubjectsSein (waren)English meaning
Ich
du
er/sie/es
wir
ihr
sie/Sie
war
warst
war
waren
wart
waren
I was
you were
he/she/it was
we were
you (guys) were
they/you were
Präteritum of sein
SubjectsHaben (hatten)English meaning
Ich
du
er/sie/es
wir
ihr
sie/Sie
hatte
hattest
hatte
hatten
hattet
hatten
I had
you had
he/she/it had
we had
you (guys) had
they/you had
Präteritum of haben
SubjectsHaben (hatten)English meaning
Ich
du
er/sie/es
wir
ihr
sie/Sie
wurde
wurdest
wurde
wurden
wurdet
wurden
I would
you would
he/she/it would
we would
you (guys) would
they/you would
Präteritum of werden
SubjectsHaben (hatten)English meaning
Ich
du
er/sie/es
wir
ihr
sie/Sie
tat
tatest
tat
tan
tatet
tan
I did
you did
he/she/it did
we did
you (guys) did
they/you did
Präteritum of tun

Usage;

  • I was at home last night.—— ich war letzte Nacht zu Hause.
  • He would go home soon.—— er wurde bald nach Hause gehen.
  • Why didn’t you?—— warum tatest du nicht?
  • We had our breakfast already.—— wir hatten schon unser Frühstück.

Regelmäßige Verben

To derive the Präteritum of weak verbs can be done in one of two ways;

  1. Cut off the prefix “ge-” from the perfect form of that verb and then attach the declension suffix from the table below to the rest of the stem.
  2. Conjugate the verb in its present tense to the third person subject (er/sie/es) and then add the declension suffix from the picture below.
SubjectDeclension
ich
du
er/sie/es
wir
ihr
sie/Sie
-e
-est
-e
-en
-et
-en
conjugating declension for weak verbs in the präteritum

For Example: arbeiten

More examples:

SubjectsKochenReisenArbeitenPaddelnKlettern
ich
du
er/sie/es
wir
ihr
sie/Sie
kochte
kochtest
kochte
kochten
kochtet
kochten
reiste
reistest
reiste
reisten
reistet
reisten
arbeitete
arbeitetest
arbeitete
arbeiteten
arbeitetet
arbeiteten
paddelte
paddeltest
paddelte
paddelten
paddeltet
paddelten
kletterte
klettertest
klettertet
kletterten
klettertet
kletterten
Englishcookedtravelledworkedpaddledclimbed
Präteritum of regelmäßige Verben

Usage:

  • We worked the entire night.—— wir arbeiteten die ganze Nacht.
  • The child played with the toy today.—— das Kind spielte heute mit dem Spielzeug.
  • I danced yesterday.—— ich tanzte gestern.
  • The man didn’t brush his teeth.—— der Mann putzte seine Zähne nicht.

Unregelmäßige Verben

The Präteritum of strong verbs is irregular just like their perfect tense. They all have stem vowel changes that are completely different from their present tense. Unlike weak verbs, they are not first conjugated to the third person subject but instead the verb ending “en” is lost and the stem vowel and/or even some stem consonants are replaced with that of the Präteritum. The stem changes that take place in the Präteritum are shown below.

present tense vowel and consonant change fromPräteritum vowel and consonant change to
-e-
-o-
-ei-

-ss
-a-
-ä-
-ü-
-u-/-au-
-a-/-i-/-o-
-a-
-ie-/-i-
-ss

-u-/-i
-a-
-o-
-ie-
vowel and connsonant changes of unregelmäßige Verben in the Präteritum

**Note that the above stem-vowel changes are due to the position of the “stress” on the word.

Examples;

PräsensPräteritumEnglish Past-participle
essen
gehen
lesen
helfen
bleiben
finden
fliegen
fliehen
fahren
steigen
laufen
rufen
singen
bieten
bitten
fangen
brechen
fließen
schließen
laden
nehmen
schreiben
sitzen
stehen
binden
geben
werden
beißen
sterben
lassen
stehlen

ging
las
half
blieb
fand
flog
floh
fuhr
stieg
lief
rief
sang
bot
bat
fing
brach
floss
schloss
lud
nahm
schrieb
saß
stand
band
gab
wurde
biss
starb
ließ
stahl
ate
went
read
helped
stayed
found
flew
fled
drove
stepped
walked
called
sang
bade
requested
caught
broke
flowed
closed
loaded
took
wrote
sat
stood
bound
gave
became
bit
died
let/left
stole
list of german strong verbs in präteritum

After making the necessary changes in the stem, the conjugating suffixes are then added to the various subjects as shown below:

SubjectDeclension
ich
du
er/sie/es
wir
ihr
sie/Sie

-(e)st

-en
-t
-en
conjugating declension for strong verbs in the präteritum

Observe that the declension at du is an “e” in bracket. This indicates that it can sometimes be used with or without the “e”. When the stem ends with either “t, d, s or z”, “est” is used but when it involves any other stem ending, “st” is used instead. See illustration below.

SubjectsSchließenBietenessengehennehmen
ich
du
er/sie/es
wir
ihr
sie/Sie
schloss
schlossest
schloss
schlossen
schlosst
schlossen
bot
botest
bot
boten
botet
boten

aßest

aßen
aßt
aßen
ging
gingst
ging
gingen
gingt
gingen
nahm
nahmst
nahm
nahmen
nahmt
nahmen
Englishclosedbadeatewenttook
Präteritum of unregelmäßige Verben

Usage:

  • They bade 50 percent.—— sie boten 50 Prozent.
  • He closed the door.—— er schloss die Tür.
  • John helped the old woman.—— John half der alten Frau.
  • You ate two plates of rice.—— du aßest zwei Teller Reis.

Gemischte Verben

Mixed verbs form their Präteritum partly like weak verbs in that they are first conjugated to the third person and then like strong verbs by changing the various stem vowels to “-a” before the declension suffix from the weak verb table for Präteritum above is added or better still, cut off the prefix “-ge” from the perfect tense and add the respective conjunction vowels for perfect tense at the end of the stem.

*Note that all mixed verbs follow this pattern except “wissen” whose stem vowel changes to “-u” instead. See below…

PräsensPräteritumEnglish Past-participle
wissen
kennen
rennen
brennen
bringen
wenden
nennen
senden
denken
wusst
kannt
rannt
brannt
bracht
wandt
nannt
sandt
dacht
knew
knew
ran
burnt
brought
turned
named
sent
thought
list of german mixed verbs in präteritum

Usage:

  • I knew it!—— ich wusste es!
  • She burnt her hand.—— sie brannte ihre Hand.
  • They brought some Oranges.—— sie brachten etwas Orangen.
  • You knew the man, why didn’t you say so earlier? Du kanntest den Mann, warum sagtest du es nicht früher?

Trennbare Verben

The Präteritum of these verbs are of the three listed above. They are formed based on the category of the root verb which can either be weak, strong or mixed and without the prefix “-ge”. While these verbs are being conjugated to the subject in the Präteritum, the prefixes but first be cut out and then taken to the end of the sentence after everything else has been written. See examples below.

PräsensPräteritumEnglish Past-participle
ausmachen
ansteigen
nachsuchen
zumachen
stattfinden
losmachen
anziehen
anbieten
abfahren
mitkommen
beibringen
mitbringen
mitnehmen
aufräumen
zudecken
hinsetzen
weitermachen
fortfahren
nachdenken
auswählen
ausschreiben
zurückkommen
weggehen
macht…aus
stieg…an
sucht…nach
macht…zu
fand…statt
macht…los
zog…an
bot…an
fuhr…ab
kam…mit
bracht…bei
bracht…mit
nahm…mit
räumt…auf
deckt…zu
saß…hin
macht…weiter
fuhr…fort
dacht…nach
wählt…aus
schrieb…aus
kam…zurück
ging…weg
put off
stepped on
searched
closed
took place
loosened
dressed up
offered
departed
came along
instilled
brought with
took with
tidied(up)
tucked in
sat down
continued
drove off
reflected
picked out
wrote out
came back
went away
list of german separable verbs in präteritum

Usage:

  • The woman brought her children along.—— die Frau brachte ihre Kinder mit.
  • Anna did not tidy up the room.—— Anna räumte das Zimmer nicht auf.
  • You (people) came back yesterday.—— ihr kamt gestern zurück.

Untrennbare Verben

Since these verbs can’t be separated from their prefixes, the Präteritum is formed with them attached to the prefixes. They procedure is quite similar to the separable verb in that those with weak root verbs are converted to Präteritum like weak verbs and likewise the strong and mixed verbs. See examples below.

PräsensPräteritumEnglish Past-participle
verlieren
erkennen
empfehlen
entdecken
bedanken
gefallen
gehören
besprechen
unterhalten
versprechen
unterschreiben
unterbrechen
missbrauchen
entscheiden
verheiraten
erholen
erleben
genesen
verbrauchen
zerschneiden
erscheinen
erneuern
erinnern
gedenken
verlor
erkannt
empfahl
entdeckt
bedacht
gefiel
gehört
besprach
unterhaltet
versprach
unterschrieb
unterbrach
missbraucht
entschied
verheiratet
erholt
erlebt
genas
verbraucht
zerschnitt
erscheint
erneuert
erinnert
gedacht
lost
recognized
recommended
discovered
gratified
pleased with
belonged to
discussed
gist/chatted
promised
signed
interrupted
abused
decided
married off
recovered
experience
recovered
consumed
pieced
emerged
renewed
remembered
commemorated
list of german inseparable verbs in präteritum

Usage:

  • My aunt promised to buy toys for us.—— meine Tante versprach, uns Spielzeugen zu kaufen.
  • Sandra lost her cellphone last week at the central train station.—— Sandra verlor letzte Woche am Hauptbahnhof ihr Handy.
  • I just signed the two-year contract.—— ich unterschrieb gerade den Zweijahresvertrag.

Modal verbs

To derive the Präteritum of modal verbs, every umlaut is first replaced with the non-umlaut form of that letter and then the verb end “-en” is replaced with “-t” before the declension suffix is added to the various subjects during conjugation except “mögen” whose stem-end rather changes to “-ch”. See the description below…

*Note that the declension suffix from weak verb above should be used.

PräsensPräteritumEnglish Past-participle
können
sollen
dürfen
mögen
wollen
müssen
konnt-
sollt-
durft-
mocht-
wollt-
musst-
could/ was able to
should/ was supposed to
was allowed/ permitted to
liked to
wanted to
had to
list of german modal verbs in präteritum

Usage;

  • Unfortunately I couldn’t travel to France anymore.—— leider, konnte ich nicht mehr nach Frankreich reisen.
  • We were not allowed to go out.—— wir durften nicht raus(gehen).
  • You were not supposed to call me.—— du solltest mich nicht anrufen.
  • She liked to sing.—— sie mochte singen.

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