Formation of the Plusquamperfekt

(Conjugation & verb forms of the German pluperfect)

Table of contents – Plusquamperfekt

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Rule of conjugation
  2. Auxiliary verb ‘haben’ or ‘sein’
  3. Verb forms
  4. Doubled Plusquamperfekt
  5. Further explanations and exercises

What rule is there for conjugating in the Plusquamperfekt?

As the article about the use explains, the German Plusquamperfekt combines of one of the two auxiliary verbshaben’ or ‘sein’ and the past participle of the corresponding main verb. The rule is as follows:

Rule for conjugating the Plusquamperfekt

haben/sein’ (conjugated in the Präteritum) + past participle (of the full verb)

Example sentences

  • „Die Gäste waren bereits alle eingetroffen, bevor das Geburtstagskind kam.“ (All the guests had already arrived before the birthday boy came.)
    • In this sentence, the Plusquamperfekt requires the auxiliary verb ‘sein(waren).
  • „Wir hatten den Eiffelturm noch nie gesehen, und so reisten wir 2010 nach Paris.“ (We had never seen the Eiffel Tower, so we travelled to Paris in 2010.)
    • The auxiliary ‘haben(hatten) must be used with this main (lexical) verb.

Do we need ‘haben’ or ‘sein’?

Since the Plusquamperfekt consists of two parts, German learners need to know the participle of the lexical verb on the one hand and whether this verb goes with ‘haben’ or ‘sein’ on the other hand. For this reason, the formation may be tricky for students. The following applies:

  • The absolute majority of German verbs require ‘haben’ as the auxiliary:
    • trinken (to drink), tragen (carry), schweigen (be silent), schlafen (sleep), braten (roast), bitten (ask), lesen (read), waschen (wash), etc.
      • „Ich hatte die Jacke gewaschen.“ (I had washed the jacket.)
      • „Der Koch hatte das Fleisch bereits gebraten.“ (The chef had already roasted the meat.)
  • sein’ needs to be used only with individual verbs. Among others, this group includes verbs of movement, for example:
    • fliegen (to fly), rennen (run), sein (be), bleiben (stay), verschwinden (disappear), ankommen (arrive), etc.
      • „Der Einbrecher war spurlos verschwunden, als die Polizei eintraf.“ (The burglar had disappeared without a trace when the police arrived.)
      • „Wir waren noch nicht einmal am Flughafen angekommen, als unser Flug gestrichen wurde.“ (We hadn’t even arrived at the airport when our flight was cancelled.)

Note: The Plusquamperfekt is very similar to the Perfekt, and only the auxiliary verb has to be in the Präteritum instead of the Präsens. For that purpose, the explanation about the formation of the Perfekt offers precise rules and more help in choosing the correct auxiliary verb and distinguishing them more easily.

Conjugated forms of the Plusquamperfekt

The tables present all conjugated forms of the Plusquamperfekt with the auxiliary verbs ‘haben’ and ‘sein’ together with the main/full verbs ‘einschlafen’ (fall asleep) and ‘essen’ (eat). Remember that the auxiliary always appears in the Präteritum.

Conjugation model with ‘sein

Example sentence: „Ich war eingeschlafen.“ (I had fallen asleep.)

Subject/pronoun (person) Positive declaration Interrogative sentence
ich Ich war eingeschlafen. War ich eingeschlafen?
du Du warst eingeschlafen. Warst du eingeschlafen?
er/sie/es Er war eingeschlafen. War er eingeschlafen?
wir Wir waren eingeschlafen. Waren wir eingeschlafen?
ihr Ihr wart eingeschlafen. Wart ihr eingeschlafen?
sie / Sie (polite form) Sie waren eingeschlafen. Waren sie eingeschlafen?

Conjugation model with the auxiliary ‘haben

Example sentence: „Ich hatte gegessen.“ (I had eaten.)

Subject/pronoun (person) Positive declaration Interrogative sentence
ich Ich hatte gegessen. Hatte ich gegessen?
du Du hattest gegessen. Hattest du gegessen?
er/sie/es Sie hatte gegessen. Hatte sie gegessen?
wir Wir hatten gegessen. Hatten wir gegessen?
ihr Ihr hattet gegessen. Hattet ihr gegessen?
sie / Sie (polite form) Sie hatten gegessen. Hatten Sie gegessen?

What does ‘doubled Plusquamperfekt’ mean?

The Plusquamperfekt has a particularity in German everyday speech—it may occur there as the doubled Plusquamperfekt. Although this doubled pluperfect form is incorrect according to the official grammar rules, it is pretty common but almost exclusively in spoken language. The difference between the regular and the doubled form is that the past participle ‘gehabt’ is added to the verb phrase:

  • Example of the Plusquamperfekt in its grammatically correct form:
    • „Musst du dich für die Reise noch impfen? – Nein, das hatte ich schon vor meiner Reise nach Afrika gemacht.“ (Do you still have to get vaccinated for the trip? – No, I had already done that before my trip to Africa.)
      • This sentence shows the normal formation according to the rule with ‘haben’ (hatte) and the participle ‘gemacht’.
  • Example of the same sentence with the doubled pluperfect as it is used in colloquial language:
    • „Musst du dich für die Reise noch impfen? – Nein, das hatte ich schon vor meiner Reise nach Afrika gemacht gehabt.“ (Also corresponds to: “Do you still have to get vaccinated for the trip? – No, I had already done that before my trip to Africa.”)
      • Here, the second past participle ‘gehabt’ is added to the original participle ‘gemacht’.

Advice: As a learner of German as a foreign language, you should concentrate on using the correct (regular) Plusquamperfekt (i.e., ‘haben’ + past participle). However, if you hear the doubled form, you know the speaker wants to convey the same meaning as with the simple pluperfect.

Further explanations related to the ‘Formation of the Plusquamperfekt’

The following explanations refer to the topic ‘Conjugation and verb forms of the German Plusquamperfekt (pluperfect)’ and could also be helpful: