The Präsens in German

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

Table of contents – Präsens

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Use of the Präsens
  2. Präsens for the future
  3. Scenic and historical Present
  4. Further explanations and exercises

What is the Präsens and how is it used?

The Präsens is a German verb tense that describes the present time. Basically, this means that things are relevant to or around the present point in time. Beside this way of usage, the German verb tense of the present can also express the future or the past at times. In detail it is used in the following cases:

  • The Präsens is used for current actions and processes. It does not matter whether they are happening at the present point of time or whether they happen regularly around it but not at the moment:
    • „Dort drüben füttert eine Frau die Tauben.“ (A woman is feeding the pidgeons over there.)
      • The action (feeding) is taking place at the moment.
    • „Ich spiele regelmäßig Fußball. Es macht mir sehr viel Spaß.“ (I regularly play football. It is a lot of fun for me.)
      • Although the last time of playing took place in the past and the next one will take place in the future, the Präsens is utilized as the regularity (in this case the hobby) still exists. The same counts for ‘macht … Spaß’ (is fun).
  • Similarly, the Präsens is used for general facts, laws of nature, and fixed rules, etc.:
    • „Die Sonne geht im Osten auf und im Westen unter.“ (The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.)
      • This is a law of nature.
    • „Man darf in Gaststätten normalerweise nicht rauchen.“ (It is usually not allowed to smoke in pubs.)
      • This concerns a law.
    • „Schild an einer Bäckerei: »Hunde müssen draußen bleiben.«“ (Sign at a bakery: “Dogs have to stay outside.”)
      • This is a set rule.
  • In addition to the present time, the Präsens can also refer to the future. This is actually very often the case in the German language, even more than with a form of the future (as the Futur I with ‘werden’):
    • Morgen ziehen wir um.“ (We are moving tomorrow.)
      • This sentence includes the adverbialmorgen’ (tomorrow) that clarifies that the statement refers to the future time.
    • In Zukunft bin ich pünktlicher.“ (I will be more punctual in the future.)
      • This sentence refers to a general statement instead of an action and also includes ‘in Zukunft’ (in the future) as an adverbial for the future.

Using the Präsens for the future

In contrast to some other languages, it is relatively straightforward to express the future in the German language as it is often possible to use the Präsens to do so. However, in most cases it is necessary to use an adverbial of time in order to illustrate that the statement refers to the future. This adverbial commonly appears at the beginning of the sentence although it can as well be used at other positions in the sentence. For a more detailed explanation, have a look at Adverbial of Time.

  • Some examples for adverbials that refer to the future:
    • sofort (immediately), bald (soon), morgen (tomorrow), heute Abend (this evening), demnächst (soon), nächste Woche (next week), am Samstag (on Saturday), heute Nachmittag (this afternoon), gleich (at once), in fünf Minuten (in five minutes), in der Zukunft (in the future), nächstes Jahr (next year), am kommenden Wochenende (this coming weekend), etc.
  • Examples …
    • … with adverbials at the beginning of the sentence:
      • Bald kaufe ich mir ein neues Auto.“ (Soon I’m going to buy a new car.)
      • In drei Monaten fängt meine Ausbildung an.“ (My apprenticeship starts in three months.)
    • … for adverbials in the middle of a sentence:
      • „Meine Nachbarn fliegen am Freitag in den Urlaub.“ (My neighbours are going on holiday on Friday.)
      • „Ich kann morgen endlich ausschlafen.“ (I can finally sleep in tomorrow.)
    • … with adverbials at the end of the sentence:
      • „Hast du dich schon angemeldet? – Nein, das mache ich aber gleich morgen früh.“ (Have you registered yet? – No, but I’m going to do that first thing tomorrow morning.)
      • „Dieses Jahr ist Ihr Ausweis noch gültig. Einen neuen benötigen Sie erst nächstes Jahr.“ (Your ID card is still valid this year. You will just need a new one next year.)

Historical and scenic Present (Präsens for the past time)

The so-called historical or scenic Present is a way to use the German Präsens also for things in the past. This is often done if a speaker, narrator, or writer wants to employ stylistic devices in order to sound more interesting:

  • Especially in conversational or informal language, the scenic Present (Präsens) is utilized in order to recount an experience more vividly and increase tension:
    • „Gestern war ich im Kino. Da stehe ich gerade vor der Eingangstür, und wer kommt raus? Mein Chef.“ (I was at the movies yesterday and I’m standing in front of the entrance and who is coming out? My boss.)
    • „Jetzt fahren wir doch nichtsahnend nach dem Einkaufen nach Hause; da hält uns plötzlich die Polizei an.“ (Now we are completely unaware on our way back home from shopping as the police stop us all of a sudden.)
  • But also in literature or in historical texts, it is occasionally used to create a certain closeness between the narrative events and the reader. It is then called historical Present:
    • „Pharao Ramses II. wird als Sohn von Sethos um das Jahr 1303 v. Chr. geboren. Nach dem Tod seines Vaters besteigt er im Jahre 1279 v. Chr. den Thron.“ (Pharao Ramses II is born as the son of Sethos around the year 1303 BC. After his father’s death he ascends the throne in the year 1279 BC.)
      • In addition to the historical present, the passive voice can be found in the first sentence.
  • Likewise, it is quite often used for introducing quotations. This is usually done in cases when the significance is still applicable:
    • „Konfuzius sagt: »Der Dumme lernt aus seinen Fehlern, der Kluge aus den Fehlern der anderen.«“ (Confucius says: “The fool learns from his own mistakes, the wise man from mistakes of others.”)

Further explanations related to the ‘German Präsens’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘Präsens (Present) in the German language’ and could also be interesting when learning:

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