How to Conjugate the Verb "Helfen" (to Help)

A Quick German Lesson in the Past and Present Tenses

Female student having conversation
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Students will find that studying the verb helfen will be very helpful in expanding your German vocabulary.  After all, it is the verb that means "to help," and you'll find yourself asking for help often when you're first learning the language.

As with all German verbs, we need to conjugate helfen in order to say "I am helping" or "we helped." This lesson will show you how that's done so you can begin using this common verb to form complete sentences.

An Introduction to Helfen

Helfen is relatively easy to remember on its own because it resembles the English word "help." However, it is both a stem-changing verb and an irregular (strong) verb, meaning it does not follow the common conjugations patterns we find in German. Instead of relying on known rules, you will have to memorize this vocabulary. Practicing the various present and past tense forms in context will help you with that.

Helfen is also a dative verb.

Principal Parts: helfen (hilft) - half - geholfen

Past Participle: gelhofen

Imperative (Commands): (du) Hilf! (ihr) Helft! Helfen Sie!

Helfen in the Present Tense (Präsens)

We begin the lesson with the present tense (präsens) of helfen. The stem change is crucial here as you will notice the change from "e" to "i" in the du and er/sie/es present tense forms. 

As you're studying, give these forms of the verb a try in simple sentences such as these.

This practice will help you commit them to memory.

  • Hans, hilf deiner Schwester! - Hans, help your sister.
  • Wir helfen ihm. - We're helping him.
DeutschEnglish
Singular
ich helfeI help/am helping
du hilfstyou help/are helping
er hilft
sie hilft
es hilft
he helps/is helping
she helps/is helping
it helps/is helping
Plural
wir helfenwe help/are helping
ihr helftyou (guys) help/are helping
sie helfenthey help/are helping
Sie helfenyou help/are helping

Helfen in the Simple Past Tense (Imperfekt)

The past tense (vergangenheit) of helfen comes in a variety of forms. The most common of these is the simple past tense (imperfekt) and you will use it frequently to express "I helped" or "they helped."

DeutschEnglish
Singular
ich halfI helped
du halfstyou helped
er half
sie half
es half
he helped
she helped
it helped
Plural
wir halfenwe helped
ihr halftyou (guys) helped
sie halfenthey helped
Sie halfenyou helped

Helfen in the Compound Past Tense (Perfekt)

The compound past tense, or present perfect past tense (perfekt), is not as common, though it is good to know when and how you might use it.

In general, you will use these forms when the action of helping happened in the past but you're not saying exactly when it took place. It can, in some instances, also be used when you did "help" and continue to do so.

DeutschEnglish
Singular
ich habe geholfenI helped/have helped
du hast geholfenyou helped/have helped
er hat geholfen
sie hat geholfen
es hat geholfen
he helped/has helped
she helped/has helped
it helped/has helped
Plural
wir haben geholfenwe helped/have helped
ihr habt geholfenyou (guys) helped
have helped
sie haben geholfenthey helped/have helped
Sie haben geholfenyou helped/have helped

Helfen in the Past Perfect Tense (Plusquamperfekt)

The final past tense of this lesson is the past perfect (plusquamperfekt) and this has another rare but useful purpose. You'll use these forms when the action of helping occurred after something else. For example, "I had helped pack once the boxes arrived."

DeutschEnglish
Singular
ich hatte geholfenI had helped
du hattest geholfenyou had helped
er hatte geholfen
sie hatte geholfen
es hatte geholfen
he had helped
she had helped
it had helped
Plural
wir hatten geholfenwe had helped
ihr hattet geholfenyou (guys) had helped
sie hatten geholfenthey had helped
Sie hatten geholfenyou had helped