PLUSQUAMPERFEKT: The past perfect tense in German

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As the highest form of past tense in German, the Plusquamperfekt tense expresses a scenario of what happened before other occurrences happened. It tells more about a story or narrative than actually just being used as another way of expressing oneself in past tense. This is even clearer when the sentence is expressed with “Nachdem”.

Content in this post
1. The types of German past tense
2. How to formulate the Plusquamperfekt tense
3. The difference between the Plusquamperfekten and Perfekt tense
4. How to make sentences in the Plusquamperfekt tense
5. Bonus tip on how to use the subordinate conjunction “Nachdem” in the Plusquamperfekt tense.
Table of content for Plusquamperfekt

The Plusquamperfekt tense is one of the three ways of making expressions with reference to the past in German and considered as the highest level of the German past tense. It is actually formed from the combination of the two other past tenses. Unlike Präteritum but like Perfekt tense, the Plusquamperfekt requires the auxiliary verbs “haben” or “sein” (depending on whether the verb that would be in the Partizip II involves motion e.g gehen, position e.g singen, or a change of state e.g einschlafen) + a main verb.

While the perfect tense is formed with the present tense of the auxiliary verb; haben/sein + Partizip II of the main verb, the Plusquamperfekten is formed with the Präteritum (simple past tense) of the auxiliary verb; hatten/waren + Partizip II of the main verb. For example, the present tense sentence “Ich kaufe ein Buch“ has the main verb as “kaufen” and its Partizip II as “gekauft”. Hence, the sentence would be translated in the perfect tense as “Ich habe ein Buch gekauft” and in the Plusquamperfekt as “Ich hatte ein Buch gekauft”.

PlusquamperfektPerfect TensePräteritum
1. Ich hatte das gemacht.
(I had done that)
Ich habe das gemacht.
(I have done that)
Ich macht das.
(I did that)
2. Jemand hatte mein Fahrrad gestohlen.
(Someone had stolen my bicycle)
Jemand hat mein Fahrrad gestohlen.
(Someone has stolen my bicycle)
Jemand stahl mein Auto.
(someone stole my bicycle)
3. Wo wart ihr gewesen?
(Where had you guys been?)
Wo seid ihr gewesen?
(Where have you guys been?)
Wo wart ihr?
(Where were you guys?)
4. Mein Vater hatte gerade sein rotes Auto repariert 🚘.
(my father had just repaired his red car)
Mein Vater hat gerade sein rotes Auto repariert 🚘.
(my father has just repaired his red car)
Mein Vater reparierte sein rotes Auto 🚘.
(my father repaired his car).
Comparing sentences with Plusquamperfekt, perfect tense and Präteritum

Nachdem + Plusquamperfekt

Nachdem is a subordinate conjunction that is primarily used to explain a person’s routine. It is only used with past tense to indicate what someone did prior to a certain time.

As a subordinate conjunction, nachdem always forms a “Nebensatz” where by the conjugated verb must be at the end of the sentence. Whereas, the “Hauptsatz” that is connected to a sentence with nachdem must always be a tense lower than that used in the “Nebensatz”. What this means is that, the tense of the “Hauptsatz” or main sentence is determined by the tense of the “Nebensatz” in the sequence below;

  • Plusquamperfekt
  • Präteritum
  • Perfekt
  • Präsens

What is meant by the sequence above is that, if the “Nebensatz” is in Plusquamperfekt, the “Hauptsatz” must be in the Präteritum and when the “Nebensatz” becomes expressed in the Präteritum, the “Hauptsatz” is then expressed in the Perfekt tense and so on. The “Hauptsatz” must always be one step lower than the “Nebensatz”. See the illustrations below.

1. Nachdem ich einen Deutschkurs besucht hatte, arbeitete ich in einer Bank.
(After I had attended a German course, I worked in a bank.)
2. Nachdem ich einen Deutschkurs besuchte, habe ich in einer Bank gearbeitet.
(After I attended a German course, I have worked in a bank.)
3. Nachdem ich einen Deutschkurs besucht habe, arbeite ich in einer Bank.
(After I have attended a German course, I work/ am working in a bank.)
Sentences with nachdem in Plusquamperfekten

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