learn German online free: das Partizip - conjugation and the tenses - Präsens, Perfekt, Präteritum, starke and schwache Verben - list of verbs

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Tempus - a linguistic depiction of time

What do stem and trunk have in common?

It makes me very sad to think that a lot of children have never climbed an apple tree. Apple trees are heaven's gift. Beautiful when blooming and a medicine for our soul. When I was a kid we had so many different types of apple trees, carrying all kinds of apples. Verbs are like these trees. They, too, are a mirror of time and in children's books you sometimes find the seasons depicted through trees, fields or plants. Winter is depicted by barren trees with a lone snowman, summer by a tree ladden with fruit, fall by falling leaves, spring by trees in blossom. Verbs change their form through pre- and suffixes, being attached to their stem, which is like the trunk of a tree.

Apple tree,   depiction of stem, prefix, suffix  ( en , 799 x 607 ):  stem, trunk, prefix, suffix, tree, summer, time, modification of tense through stem and suffixes in German

Zeit (time) seems to stand still. But it won't be long before the bees will be humming in those trees again.

winter wandering time,   depiction of past, present and future  ( en , 799 x 599 ):  stem, trunk, tree, snow, winter, time, significance of tense in Grammar

Stamm (stem) und Endung (suffix):

ich hol -e
du hol -st
Der Stamm ist »hol«.

Verbs denote an action and time, which in a linguistic context is called Tempus (tense). Tempus is Latin and means Time. The plural is Tempora. We usually imagine three levels of time (Zeitstufe), present (Gegenwart), past (Vergangenheit) and future (Zukunft). A good pattern, by which to learn verbs, is this:

sprechen spricht sprach gesprochen
to speak speaks spoke spoken

What do you get when you learn the pattern for a specific verb? You learn the fundamentals of a verb:

Zeitstufe Beispiel Name
- sprechen Infinitiv
Gegenwart spricht Präsens
Vergangenheit sprach Präteritum
- gesprochen Partizip

Die Blüte (the blossom) is a symbol of change in the sense of growth and well-being.

Significance of change, creation and mutation,   depiction of intrinsic change  ( en , 799 x 599 ): apple blossom

When you have learnt this pattern you haven't yet learnt all tenses, but you have got the scaffolding upon which you can build your competence. The Infinitiv and the Partizip are forms which can pertain to all tenses. The Präsens can express the time level of the simple present and the present progressive: du sprichst = you speak / du sprichst = you are speaking. An interesting, notable, but very informal construction is to compose the present progressive explicitly like this: Ich bin am sprechen. That is, you take a form of to be (ich bin = I am / ich war = I was) and add the infinitive form (sprechen) via the contracted preposition "am" (an article and a preposition merge to "am" = an dem). Using this, you can copy the English present progressive (progressive form = Verlaufsform) colloquially.

The Präteritum mainly corresponds to the past progressive (er sprach = he was speaking). For the most part the Präteritum is used in written language like newspaper articles and reports. In newspaper articles, literature and also informal spoken language the Präteritum (preterite) can also correspond to the simple past:

Ich sah ihn.
I saw him.

The Partizip is not a tense, but a very important and highly significant component, which you need to build the Perfekt. For example: We have spoken about this. Wir haben darüber gesprochen. English tenses are always twofold in integrating the progressive form to each time level (Zeitstufe). As we have already noted, English is not an easy language, and the tense system of German is far easier to understand for students who know English. The Partizip denotes completion of an action, it might seem insignificant, but it penetrates core aspects of German grammar, building a complex system of tense variations.

The Infinitiv you recognize through the suffix -en


nehmen usw.

The Infinitiv is no tense (like the Partizip is no tense, either) these forms are therefore called infinite Formen.

The Präsens is a tense, which is easy to build:


Pronomen Stamm Endung Numerus
ich hol -e 1. Person Singular
du hol -st 2. Person Singular
er, sie, es hol -t 3. Person Singular
wir hol -en 1. Person Plural
ihr hol -t 2. Person Plural
sie hol -en 3. Person Plural

In order to gain an advanced understanding and a good command of German we have to first understand the nature of the past participle. (For the sake of convenience we shall call it Partizip.) It is a complex word, but learners of German as a foreign language who understand the usage of the English past participle (like for example spoken) will easily understand the German usage as it is similar. The Partizip can be used to build tense. (We have spoken about it. = Wir haben darüber gesprochen.) It can also be used as an adjective (for example the spoken word = das gesprochene Wort). Many actions create something new, i.e. the direct object is changed or affected. For example the verb "break" denotes elementary change or an affect / effect. Examples:

the broken window - das zerbrochene Fenster
verbranntes Holz - burnt wood
der versteckte Brief - the hidden letter
das vor kurzem gebaute Haus - the newly built house

When an action transforms or simply affects a direct object, the verb can denote a state and (as Partizip) also serve as an adjective. In this function, denoting an action, which has been completed, the adjective can serve as an attribute or a property of a noun. Properties of nouns are expressed by positing an adjective before the noun. In German the use of the Partizip as an adjective is common practice, whereas the English language doesn't use the past participle consistently in this manner, but mostly prefers whole sentences or other phrases:

der erblühte Baum = the tree that blossoms
der verstorbene Mann = the dead man / the man who died
das verliebte Mädchen = the girl in love

But the most important construction that the Partizip is used for is to compose the Perfekt tense. The Perfekt is a compound tense made up of an auxiliary verb and the Partizip:

Der Junge hat eine Burg gebaut. = The boy has built a sand castle.
Sie hat den Brief versteckt. = She has hidden the letter.
Wir haben darüber gesprochen. = We have spoken about it.

Due to the nature of the past participle (Partizip) the German Perfekt for the most part denotes completion of the action involved. This is no hard and fast rule, though; mixed with certain adverbs, the Perfekt can take on the meaning of the present perfect progressive:

Wir haben lange darüber geredet. = We have been talking about this for a long time.

And the Perfekt can also assume the role of the past tense.

So the bottom line is that English has a highly complex tense system, which in German is crammed into four puny tenses. But let's advance slowly and start by covering the most important tense: das deutsche Perfekt.

depiction, German Perfect and its meaning Significance of the German Perfekt tense,   depiction ( en , 692 x 311 ): das deutsche Perfekt, German grammar, simple past, past progressive, present perfect, present perfect progressive

Perfekt = simple past
Perfekt = past progressive
Perfekt = present perfect
Perfekt = present perfect progressive

All this can be expressed by the Perfekt in German, it is a very flexible tense as you can see. And also it should be the first thing that you think of when thinking of German tenses: that das deutsche Perfekt primarily denotes completion.

Sie hat ihr Zimmer aufgeräumt.
She has tidied up her room.
The room is tidy now.
Er hat drei Jahre in London gelebt.
He has lived in London for three years.
(Or: He has been living in London for three years.)

In this example English expresses that he's still living in London. The German example says that at this moment he is not in London anymore. See how important it is to keep this in mind and to understand that the tenses seem similar, superficially, but aren't identical in meaning. The auxiliary of the compound Perfekt can be either "haben" or "sein". Let's look at the forms of the most powerful words that human languages have:

 1. sein (be) 
 2. werden (get, become, be)
 3. haben (have)

We will need the forms of the Präsens:


ich         habe
du          hast
er, sie, es hat
wir         haben
ihr         habt
sie         haben	

ich         bin
du          bist
er, sie, es ist
wir         sind
ihr         seid
sie         sind	

ich         werde
du          wirst
er, sie, es wird
wir         werden
ihr         werdet
sie         werden	

Note that the auxiliary itself is conjugated in the Präsens. The composition of these parts constitutes the Perfekt:

Er hat einen Brief geschrieben.
He has written a letter. / He wrote a letter.

Er ist gerade gekommen.
He has just come.

Not only does the Partizip denote that an action has been completed, but for the most part these actions in the Perfekt create an effect or a result, an outcome, sometimes even a product (like our letter). The second example sentence does not include a direct object, but nevertheless it still does effect a result, the result being that someone ("he") is now there due to the fact that he has just come. Sounds like a triteness, which it isn't, in fact. In this sense the Perfekt can be described as a tense of the immediate past and has a lot in common with the English present perfect and even more in common with the simple past. The Präteritum can be compared to the past progressive because there we don't know if an action has been completed or not:

Um fünf Uhr schrieb er einen Brief.
At five o'clock he was writing a letter. (Finished writing?)

Er hat mir einen Brief geschrieben.
He wrote me a letter. (Done. I am holding the letter in my hand.)

The Präteritum does not always correspond to the simple past, even if both tenses look similar, both being non-composed tenses. The Perfekt, though, can serve as a substitute for the Präteritum: but that is more or less colloquial and sounds better if slightly adapted:

Um fünf Uhr hat er an dem Brief gesessen.
At five he was busy writing his letter.

"Haben" and "sein" (have and be) are very special verbs because together with the Partizip they compose the Perfekt tense. We simply use the Präsens of either haben or sein and add the Partizip to get the tense. It's like baking a cake, you mix the correct ingredients like flour and eggs to get a cake. Note the significance of the Präsens denoting "present" while denoting "present result" combined with the Partizip. The reason why Germans are so fond of using the Perfekt in spoken language is that when talking, explaining stuff, the outcome, i.e. the result of the action, is relevant. One of the biggest problems for students of the German language is to decide when to use haben and when to use sein to build the Perfekt. This guideline aims at unraveling this problem concerning haben and sein, it will help you get the subject matter sorted in your mind. As we have already elaborated in the chapter on the Akkusativ, the main syntactic framework can be divided into two groups or categories of sentences, depending on the verb, whether it has a direct object or not. The use of either haben or sein depends upon what type of verb is involved. We will now identify five classes of verbs. At a later point we will go into this very deeply, but now I'm going to give you a short summary, so this doesn't get too arduous.

I. class: Verbs expressing change of location

These verbs express motion, which has got a direction.
These verbs compose the perfect with "sein" since they also have no direct object.

Er geht nach Hause (Präsens).
Er ist nach Hause gegangen (Perfekt).
He has gone home (present perfect).
II. class: movements without direction

The Perfect is composed with "haben" even though they have no direct object.

Es prasselt (Präsens).
Es hat lange geprasselt (Perfekt).
Rain clattered down for a long time (simple past).
Libellen schweben über der Wasseroberfläche (Präsens).
Libellen haben über der Wasseroberfläche geschwirrt (Perfekt).
Dragonflies were whirring / whirred above the surface of the water (past progressive / simple past).
III. class: verbs can affect a direct object

The affected objects are marked through the accusative.

John hat eine Katze (Präsens).
John hat eine Katze gehabt (Perfekt).
John had a cat (simple past).
IV. class: verbs expressing change

These verbs denote intrinsic change.
They have no direct object as the change happens on its own accord and is not effected by another agent.
These verbs compose their Perfekt with sein.

Die Bäume blühen auf (Präsens).
Die Bäume sind aufgeblüht (Perfekt).
The trees have started to blossom (present perfect).
Der Kang der Glocke verhallt (Präsens).
Der Klang der Glocke ist verhallt (Perfekt).
The sound of the bell has died away (present perfect).
Die Blume verwelkt (Präsens).
Die Blume ist verwelkt (Perfekt).
The flower has withered (present perfect).
V. class: actions or events without any effect or affect

There is no goal to be reached, nothing to be attained and no result in the end because the end of the action is indefinite.
These verbs have no direct object.
They compose the Perfekt with haben.

Das Kind friert (Präsens).
Das Kind hat gefroren (Perfekt).
The child was feeling / felt cold (past progressive / simple past).

If you observe the categories, you will find that it boils down to verbs with direct or indirect object and whether there is mutation or not. We have noted "A" in the head of the table for verbs with direct object and "B" for verbs with indirect object.  

How to compose the Perfekt using either "haben" or "sein",   depiction   ( en , 800 x 553 ):  Perfekt, Perfektformen, German grammar, Perfekt tense, when to use "haben" and when "sein", direct object, indirect object

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