Conversational Past Tense
by Melia Courtney, Sarah DeWitt, and Kyle Hayes
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This website was created to enhance the comprehension of the correct use of the conversational past tense in German. This page uses nine common verbs to teach the fundamentals of this grammar lesson in the language. These nine verbs consist of:
anrufen - to call
essen - to eat
fahren - to drive/ride
helfen - to help
machen - to do
reisen - to travel
schrieben - to write
schwimmen - to swim
spielen - to play
wissen - to know
The conversational past tense is used in speech when referring to events that have previously occurred. (Example: I played soccer yesterday.) When using this tense, one should first know how to conjugate the verbs haben and sein. Here is a brief review:
er, sie, es hat
er, sie, es ist
Forms of haben and sein are the helping verbs in the sentence. The main action verb is referred to as the past participle. Haben is used as the helping verb if the past participle is not a verb of motion. Sein, on the other hand, is used with past participles that are verb of motion. For example, gehen, schwimmen, fliegen, and bleiben.
The past participle is formed by adding a ge- to the beginning of the verb in er, sie, es form for regular verbs. (The past participle of spielen is gespielt.)
There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Some irregular verbs require ge- plus the infinitive form of the verb. Gefahren is the past participle of fahren (to drive, ride) that uses this format.
Other irregular verbs called separable prefix verbs have the prefix precede the ge- added to the rest of the verb (example, anrufen’s past participle is angerufen).
Still, other irregular verbs require ge- added to a modified or changed form of the er, sie, es form of the verb (example, helfen’s past participle form is geholfen).
More irregular verbs have different forms and do not require the addition of ge- to their past participle forms (example, bekommen’s past participle is bekommen).
Unfortunately, there many different rules that apply to forms of verbs in German, just as there are in the English language; we could go on forever! Basically, forms of the past participles of irregular verbs have to be learned with time.