German Präteritum Explained

Das Präteritum or Imperfekt is the German simple past or imperfect. When talking about the past in spoken German, it is more common to use the Perfekt  than Präteritum. Though, there are some verbs and situations where you don’t have an option. Apart from those rules, it is important to note that the events you talk about should have started and ended in the past. Let’s take a closer look at the conjugation!

Präteritum for regular verbs

The endings of most regular verbs in the German Präteritum look like those in the example below. In order to form the simple past, you start with the stem of the verb (infinitive -en). After that, you can add the red endings just like in the following example:

German Präteritum Regular Verbs Chart 1

Some verbs require an additional -e- between the stem and endings for pronunciation purposes. These verbs include verbs of which the stem ends in -d or -t, OR with a strong consonant followed by -m or -n. Examples of verbs with strong consonants are e.g. the -ch- in zeichnen, the -ck- in trocknen.

Präteritum Regular Verbs Chart 2

How about irregular verbs?

Irregular or strong verbs of course have irregular conjugations in the German Präteritum. A full list can be found in this German irregular verbs chart.

The auxiliary verbs “sein” and “haben” are always conjugated in the Präteritum when talking about the past.

Irregular Verbs Chart 3

Modal Verbs

Furthermore, it is important that the same rule applies to the conjugation of modal verbs. The modal verbs or Modalverben are können, müssen, sollen, dürfen, wollen, mögen. They always require the Präteritum when talking about the past. For example:

ich wollte

du wolltest

er/sie/es wollte

ihr wolltet

wir wollten

Sie/sie wollten

Having a difficult time in understanding how and when to use German Präteritum or any other grammatical structure? Why not booking a one-to-one online session with an experienced teacher? Check out our online German course offerings and get one step ahead in learning German.