The Regular Past Tense

You can undoubtedly tell from the title that German must have an “irregular” past tense somewhere. Don't let it worry you. Fortunately for you as an English speaker, you have the advantage of knowing very similar past tense patterns in your native language.

For now you're just going to concentrate on the regular past tense. In English, the regular past tense is when you tack on the ending “–ed” to a verb and it takes on a past tense meaning.

he jumps he jumped we look we looked I travel I traveled

Just think of all the English verbs that form their past tense by this simple method. The German method is just as easy. Just add –te to the stem of the verb and it becomes past tense.

Table 13-1. Forming the Past Tense

Infinitive Verb Stem Past Tense spielen (to play) spiel spielte fragen (to ask) frag fragte suchen (to search) such suchte

If the stem of the verb ends in –t or –d, you have to add an extra –e before placing the past tense ending –te on the end of the stem:

warten (to wait)    wart    wartete

After you have formed the past tense (spielte, fragte, suchte, wartete), you're not quite done. As with all German verbs, the conjugational ending must still be added. But notice that the endings for ich, er, sie, and es are the same: –te. The past tense conjugation of regular verbs will look like the ones in Table 13-2. Listen to your CD for the German pronunciation.

Table 13-2. Conjugating the Past Tense

There are no new conjugational endings to learn for the past tense. This past tense formation is called das Imperfekt in German. It is used primarily to show that something was done often (Sie spielte oft Tennis. / She played tennis often.) or in a narrative that describes events that happen in sequence. Remember that English has two present tense forms: I drive / I am driving. Both English forms become just one form in German: ich fahre. The same is true in the past tense. English has two forms; German has one.

Table 13-3. Comparing English and German Past Tense Forms

English Past Tenses German Past Tense we were learning wir lernten we learned wir lernten

Exercise 13-1

Form the past tense for the following regular verbs with the pronouns provided. For example:

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