The German Verb Tenses

(Tempus or Tempora in grammar)

Table of contents – Verb tenses in the German language

On this page you will find the following:

  1. German verb tenses
  2. Particularities
  3. Three different grammatical moods
  4. Further explanations and exercises

What are the verb tenses in the German language?

Basically, the correct usage of grammatical verb tenses is not always straightforward in most languages. This also counts for the German language with its six different tenses (singular: Tempus, plural: Tempora). In order to simplify the learning process, however, there are also some rules that make the utilization easier.

The following points shall give you a short outline of the German verb tenses. The headlines indicate the actual times that the tenses are used for. More details about the utilization as well as the formation can be found in the corresponding explanations:


  • The German Präsens to express the present:
    • „Ich backe einen Kuchen.“ can mean:
      • “I bake a cake.”
      • “I’m baking a cake.”
      • “I’ve been baking a cake.”
    • „Wir gehen.“ can mean:
      • “We’re leaving.”
      • “We’ll leave.”


  • The German Perfekt for the past (which may have a connection to the present):
    • „Ich habe einen Kuchen gebacken.“ can mean:
      • “I baked a cake.”
      • “I have baked a cake.”
    • „Wir sind gegangen.“ can mean:
      • “We left.”
      • “We have left.”
  • The Präteritum or Imperfekt for the past:
    • „Ich backte einen Kuchen.“ can mean:
      • “I baked a cake.”
    • „Wir gingen.“ can mean:
      • “We left.”
  • The Plusquamperfekt for the past perfect tense:
    • „Ich hatte einen Kuchen gebacken.“ can mean:
      • “I had baked a cake.”
      • “I had been baking a cake.”
    • „Wir waren gegangen.“ can mean:
      • “We had left.”


  • The Futur 1 for the future:
    • „Ich werde einen Kuchen backen.“ can mean:
      • “I’ll bake a cake.”
      • “I’m going to bake a cake.”
      • “I will be baking a cake.”
    • „Wir werden gehen.“ can mean:
      • “We’ll leave.”
      • “We’re going to leave.”
      • “We will be leaving.”
  • The Futur 2 for future perfect aspects:
    • „Ich werde einen Kuchen gebacken haben.“ can mean:
      • “I will have baked a cake.”
      • “I will have been baking a cake.”
    • „Wir werden gegangen sein.“ can mean:
      • “We will have left.”

Particularities when using the German tenses

Not all aforementioned tenses always relate to the corresponding time as some can also refer to more than one. Also, the usage may sometimes be fairly specific:

  1. By all means, the German Präsens principally describes the present time. In spite of that, it is also often used to describe the future.
  2. Both the Perfekt and the Präteritum function to show the past tense. Although there are some subtle differences in certain cases, they are mostly used equally.
  3. Although the German language offers two different verb tenses for the future, they are only used occasionally to express the future. They often bear other meanings. In order to formulate the future, the present tenses (Präsens) are employed most of the time.
  4. The Plusquamperfekt as well as the Präteritum are both tenses of the past and are often used together. To be specific, in almost no case the Plusquamperfekt appears as the only tense in the context of a statement but only in conjunction with the Präteritum or the Perfekt.

What moods do the German tenses have?

When learning the German tenses, it is very important to know that they can appear in three different moods. In plain terms, these can be the Indicative (which is the regular form), the Konjunktiv (which corresponds more or less to the Subjunctive in English), or the Imperative (which is the form for commands).

The following examples clarify the three grammatical moods in German:

  • „Silke kauft sich ein neues Auto.“ (Silke’s buying herself a new car.)
    • Indicative in Präsens
  • Hättest du besser aufgepasst, wüsstest du es jetzt!“ (Had you paid more attention, you would know it now.)
    • In the first part of the sentence, there is the Plusquamperfekt (Past Perfect) in the Konjunktiv II.
    • In the second part, it is the Konjunktiv II in Präsens (Present).
  • Sei jetzt mal still!“ (Just be quiet for once.)
    • Imperative

Further explanations related to the topic ‘German verb tenses’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘German verb tenses’ and can be helpful: