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Intermediate German: The world of work
Intermediate German: The world of work

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1.6 Perfekt und Imperfekt

Wenn Sie im Deutschen über die Vergangenheit sprechen, brauchen Sie das Perfekt und das Imperfekt. Der folgende Überblick gibt Ihnen Information über den Gebrauch von Perfekt und Imperfekt im Deutschen.

Box 2 Past tenses: the perfect and the imperfect

In German, the distinction between when to use the perfect or the imperfect tense lies in the context in which the tense is used, i.e. if it is, for example, informal and spoken, the tendency is to use the perfect tense. However, for modal verbs, for sein, haben and also for the verbs finden and geben, the shorter, imperfect forms are preferred. Consequently the two tenses are frequently found side by side. For example:

Ich bin gestern nach Berlin gefahren. Das Wetter war sehr schön. Ich habe in einem Restaurant gegessen, das einen fabelhaften Ausblick hatte. Ich fand das Essen sehr gut, aber ein bisschen teuer.

In other words, use of the two tenses is a great deal more interchangeable in German than in some other European languages. A general guideline is as follows:

Both the perfect and the imperfect are used to narrate or describe actions, states and events in the past.


The perfect tense is mainly used in spoken or informal German, especially where what is evoked continues to resonate in the present:

Wir sind gestern nach Berlin gefahren.


The imperfect tense is mainly used in formal or written German, especially to narrate or describe habitual actions, repeated events or states firmly located in the past:

Als ich Kind war, gab es noch viele Wölfe.

The imperfect is also frequently used with modal verbs, haben, sein, and commonly occurring verbs such as bleiben, gehen, kommen, stehen, finden, geben and werden.

Regional differences in usage

There are significant regional differences in how imperfect and perfect tenses are used in German.

Use of the imperfect tense in informal speech is common in North Germany:

Im Jahr 2000 wurde er Bürgermeister.

In Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland, use of the perfect tense is almost invariably preferred in everyday speech:

Im Jahr 2000 ist er Bürgermeister geworden.