German Regular Verbs: Past Tenses

Frankfurt, Germany train station
Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

​Regular German verbs follow an easy-to-learn and predictable pattern in both past tenses (simple past, present perfect). Once you learn the pattern for one regular German verb, you know how all German verbs are conjugated in the past. The irregular verbs don't follow the same rules in the past, but since most German verbs are regular, this makes your learning task somewhat simpler.

The chart below shows a sample regular German verb in the simple past tense and the present perfect. All regular German verbs follow the same pattern. We have also included a helpful sample list of common regular verbs in German.

The Basics (Simple Past)

Any regular German verb uses the basic -te ending to form the simple past, similar to the -ed past ending in English. The past-tense ending is added to the verb stem exactly as in the present tense. "He played" thus becomes er spielte. To conjugate any regular verb in the simple past, you simply add the past-tense ending to the stem.

As in the present tense, each "person" (he, you, they, etc.) requires its own ending on the verb. There are four (4) unique endings in the German simple past tense, one less than in the present tense (because the endings for ich and the third person are identical in the past).

The simple past tense endings are: -te (ich, er/sie/es), -test (du), -tet (ihr), and -ten (Sie, wir, sie [pl.]). Unlike English, the past tense ending is not always the same: I played = ich spielte, we played = wir spielten. Now let's look at all the conjugations of spielen in the simple past tense. (To learn more about when to use the simple past versus the present perfect (below), see The Two German Past Tenses.)

Simple Past Tense - Imperfekt

Deutsch English Sample Sentence
ich spielte I played Ich spielte Basketball.
du spieltest you (fam.)
Spieltest du Schach? (chess)
er spielte he played Er spielte mit mir. (with me)
sie spielte she played Sie spielte Karten. (cards)
es spielte it played Es spielte keine Rolle. (It didn't matter.)
wir spielten we played Wir spielten Basketball.
ihr spieltet you (guys) played Spieltet ihr Monopoly?
sie spielten they played Sie spielten Golf.
Sie spielten you played Spielten Sie heute? (Sie, formal "you," is both singular and plural.)

The Basics (Present Perfect)

All regular German verbs have a basic past participle form based on the third person singular form. The third person form of the verb spielen is (er) spielt. Add the ge- prefix to that and you get the past participle: gespielt. All regular verbs follow this same pattern: gesagt, gemacht,getanzt, etc.

To form the present perfect tense, you take the past participle (gespielt/played) and use it with an auxiliary or helping verb (usually a form of haben, sometimes sein). The present perfect tense gets its name from the fact that you combine the present tense of the auxiliary verb with the participle to form the tense. (The past perfect is similar, using the past tense of the auxiliary verb.) In most cases, the past participle is placed at the end of the sentence: "Wir haben die ganze Nacht getanzt." (We danced all night.)

To say "I have played" (or "I played") in the German present perfect, you say: "Ich habe gespielt." After you study the chart below, you will grasp the idea even better.

Present Perfect Tense - Perfekt

Deutsch English Sample Sentence
ich habe gespielt I played
I have played
Ich habe Basketball gespielt.
du hast gespielt you (fam.) played
you have played
Hast du Schach gespielt?
er hat gespielt he played
he has played
Er hat mit mir gespielt.
sie hat gespielt she played
she has played
Sie hat Karten gespielt.
es hat gespielt it played
it has played
Es hat keine Rolle gespielt. (It didn't matter.)
wir haben gespielt we played
we have played
Wir haben Basketball gespielt.
ihr habt gespielt you (guys) played
you have played
Habt ihr Monoploy gespielt?
sie haben gespielt they played
they have played
Sie haben Golf gespielt.
Sie haben gespielt you played
you have played
Haben Sie heute gespielt?

Notice in the chart above that the German present perfect tense can be translated into English in two ways, with or without "have." Also be careful to avoid the incorrect use of the German present perfect for English expressions like, "I have lived in Frankfurt for five years (now)." In German that would be expressed in the present tense with seit: "Ich wohne seit fünf Jahren in Frankfurt."

More Regular Verbs

English Deutsch Simple Past Past Participle
answer antworten antwortete* geantwortet*
ask fragen fragte gefragt
build bauen baute gebaut
cost kosten kostete* gekostet*
end enden endete* geendet*
hear hören hörte gehört
say sagen sagte gesagt
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Flippo, Hyde. "German Regular Verbs: Past Tenses." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Flippo, Hyde. (2023, April 5). German Regular Verbs: Past Tenses. Retrieved from Flippo, Hyde. "German Regular Verbs: Past Tenses." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).