The Perfekt tense in German

(The verb tense for the past in the German language)

Table of contents – Perfekt

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Use of the Perfekt
  2. Expressing the future with the Perfekt
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What is the Perfekt tense? When is it used?

The Perfekt is a verb tense in German, which expresses the past. It links past actions (to be precise, their results) to the present. Such a connection and its grammatical form, which includes the auxiliary verb ‘haben’ and the past participle, make it appear similar to the English present perfect. Still, there are two significant differences: First, the past-present connection is not mandatory. Second, the German Perfekt cannot denote any present actions or states.

Regarding its general occurrence, the Perfekt appears more often in spoken language, as it is more of an informal tense. It is typically used when the Präteritum (past tense) would intuitively be too far in the past.

The Perfekt consists of two parts and is formed from the auxiliary verb ‘haben’ or ‘sein’ and the past participle.

The following example situations show its usage:

  • Quite frequently, the Perfekt is employed in oral conversations for past events or processes in which the Präteritum would sound too stilted:
    • „Gestern habe ich mich mit einem alten Schulfreund getroffen.“ (Yesterday, I met an old school friend.)
      • Note here that it is characteristic for the German Perfekt to appear together with time indications that express completeness, such as ‘gestern’ (yesterday) or ‘letzte Woche’ (last week), which is in contrast to the English present perfect.
    • „Wir haben uns noch nicht entschieden, wohin wir in den Urlaub gehen.“ (We haven’t decided yet where we’ll go on holiday.)
    • Bist du mit dem Auto gekommen?“ (Did you come by car?)
  • Nevertheless, it is also common in informal correspondence, especially in emails:
    • „Ihre Ware hat unser Lager bereits verlassen.“ (Your goods have already left our warehouse.)
    • „Es hat mich sehr gefreut, Sie kennenzulernen.“ (It was very nice meeting you.)

Particular use of the Perfekt expressing the future

Besides the past, the Perfekt can equally refer to events or actions in the future when something is completed. In such a statement, it is imperative for clarity that the speaker gives a time reference (adverbial of time) indicating the future. In English grammar, the comparable verb tense (with the same usage) is the future perfect. Examples of the Perfekt for the future:

  • Nächstes Jahr habe ich endlich alle Prüfungen abgeschlossen.“ (Next year, I will finally have taken all exams.)
    • Of course, we can also use Futur 2 for this sentence:
      • „Nächstes Jahr werde ich alle Prüfungen abgeschlossen haben.“ (Next year, I will finally have taken all exams.)
  • Bis heute Nachmittag habe ich alle Fenster geputzt.“ (By this afternoon, I will have cleaned all the windows.)
    • This sentence would also be possible with the Futur 2, but it would sound rather formal:
      • „Bis heute Nachmittag werde ich alle Fenster geputzt haben.“ (By this afternoon, I will have cleaned all the windows.)

Further explanations related to the ‘German Perfekt’

The following explanations refer to the topic ‘Perfekt in German grammar’ and may also be interesting: