Past Tense - Regular Forms

 

What you should know about regular verbs in the Past Tense:

For the forms of the Past Tense of the regular verbs (also called "weak verbs") we take the stem of the verb and attach the following endings at the end of the verb stem:

Form German Endings Phonetic Script English
infinitive lernen   ['lɛrnən] to learn
1. person singular ich lernte -te ç 'lɛrntə] I learned/learnt
2. person singular (familiar) du lerntest -test [du: 'lɛrntəst] you learned/learnt
3. person singular er/sie/es lernte -te [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'lɛrntə] he/she/it learned/learnt
1. person plural wir lernten -ten [vi:ə 'lɛrntən] we learned/learnt
2. person plural (familiar) ihr lerntet -tet [i:ə 'lɛrntət] you learned/learnt
3. person plural sie lernten -ten [zi: 'lɛrntən] they learned/learnt
polite form (singular + plural) Sie lernten -ten [zi: 'lɛrntən] you learned/learnt

As you can see, the 1. and 3. person have the same forms, the singular as well as the plural forms.

Especially in the spoken language, the forms of the 2. person singular and the 2. person plural are not used very often in the Past Tense. The only exception are the verbs to be, to have, the auxiliary verbs and some other verbs as they are easier to form in the Past Tense than in the Present Perfect.

 

Exceptions:

 

1. Verbs whose stem ends in -d, -t, -m or -n

If the verb stem ends in -d, -t, -m or -n, an additional e is often (not always) put between the verb stem and the ending, as otherwise, the pronunciation would be difficult.

  Examples:      
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive reden ['re:dən] to talk
  1. person singular ich redete ç 're:dətə] I talked
  2. person singular (familiar) du redetest [du: 're:dətəst] you talked
  3. person singular er/sie/es redete [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 're:dətə] he/she/it talked
  1. person plural wir redeten [vi:ə 're:dətən] we talked
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr redetet [i:ə 're:dətət] you talked
  3. person plural sie redeten [zi: 're:dətən] they talked
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie redeten [zi: 're:dətən] you talked
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive arbeiten ['arbaitən] to work
  1. person singular ich arbeitete ç 'arbaitətə] I worked
  2. person singular (familiar) du arbeitetest [du: 'arbaitətəst] you worked
  3. person singular er/sie/es arbeitete [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'arbaitətə] he/she/it worked
  1. person plural wir arbeiteten [vi:ə 'arbaitətən] we worked
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr arbeitetet [i:ə 'arbaitətət] you worked
  3. person plural sie arbeiteten [zi: 'arbaitətən] they worked
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie arbeiteten [zi: 'arbaitətən] you worked
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive atmen ['a:tmən] to breathe
  1. person singular ich atmete ç 'a:tmətə] I breathed
  2. person singular (familiar) du atmestest [du: 'a:tmətəst] you breathed
  3. person singular er/sie/es atmete [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'a:tmətə] he/she/it breathed
  1. person plural wir atmeten [vi:ə 'a:tmətən] we breathed
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr atmetet [i:ə 'a:tmətət] you breathed
  3. person plural sie atmeten [zi: 'a:tmətən] they breathed
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie atmeten [zi: 'a:tmətən] you breathed
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive öffnen ['œfnən] to open
  1. person singular ich öffnete ç 'œfnətə] I opened
  2. person singular (familiar) du öffnetest [du: 'œfnətəst] you opened
  3. person singular er/sie/es öffnete [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'œfnətə] he/she/it opened
  1. person plural wir öffneten [vi:ə 'œfnətən] we opened
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr öffnetet [i:ə 'œfnətət] you opened
  3. person plural sie öffneten [zi: 'œfnətən] they opened
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie öffneten [zi: 'œfnətən] you opened

However, there are also exceptions where no additional e is inserted because we do not have any problems with the pronunciation, e.g. the verb wohnen (ich wohnte).

 

2. Verbs of which the Past Tense forms are also used in the spoken language

Though in the spoken language the Germans use the Present Perfect most of the time, there are some verbs whose Past Tense forms are also used in the spoken language very often. So it is better to learn the forms of the following verbs:

  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive sein [zain] to be
  1. person singular ich war ç va:ɐ] I was
  2. person singular (familiar) du warst [du: va:ɐst] you were
  3. person singular er/sie/es war [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs va:ɐ] he/she/it was
  1. person plural wir waren [vi:ə 'va:rən] we were
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr wart [i:ə va:ɐt] you were
  3. person plural sie waren [zi: 'va:rən] they were
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie waren [zi: 'va:rən] you were
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive haben ['ha:bən] to have
  1. person singular ich hatte ç 'hatə] I had
  2. person singular (familiar) du hattest [du: 'hatəst] you had
  3. person singular er/sie/es hatte [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'hatə] he/she/it had
  1. person plural wir hatten [vi:ə 'hatən] we had
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr hattet [i:ə 'hatət] you had
  3. person plural sie hatten [zi: 'hatən] they had
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie hatten [zi: 'hatən] you had
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive denken ['dɛŋkən] to think
  1. person singular ich dachte ç 'daxtə] I thought
  2. person singular (familiar) du dachtest [du: 'daxtəst] you thought
  3. person singular er/sie/es dachte [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'daxtə] he/she/it thought
  1. person plural wir dachten [vi:ə 'daxtən] we thought
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr dachtet [i:ə 'daxtət] you thought
  3. person plural sie dachten [zi: 'daxtən] they thought
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie dachten [zi: 'daxtən] you thought
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive werden ['vɛ:ɐdən] to become
  1. person singular ich wurde ç 'vʊrdə] I became
  2. person singular (familiar) du wurdest [du: 'vʊrdəst] you became
  3. person singular er/sie/es wurde [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'vʊrdə] he/she/it became
  1. person plural wir wurden [vi:ə 'vʊrdən] we became
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr wurdet [i:ə 'vʊrdət] you became
  3. person plural sie wurden [zi: 'vʊrdən] they became
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie wurden [zi: 'vʊrdən] you became
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive wissen ['vɪsən] to know
  1. person singular ich wusste ç 'vʊstə] I knew
  2. person singular (familiar) du wusstest [du: 'vʊstəst] you knew
  3. person singular er/sie/es wusste [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'vʊstə] he/she/it knew
  1. person plural wir wussten [vi:ə 'vʊstən] we knew
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr wusstet [i:ə 'vʊstət] you knew
  3. person plural sie wussten [zi: 'vʊstən] they knew
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie wussten [zi: 'vʊstən] you knew

As all these verbs have irregular forms in the Past Tense, you find them in the list of the irregular verbs when you click the button "Irregular Forms" above.

 

3. Modal verbs

As already mentioned, the modal verbs also belong to those verbs of which the Past Tense forms are very often used in the spoken language:

  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive dürfen ['dʏrfən] to be allowed to
  1. person singular ich durfte ç 'dʊrf] I was allowed to
  2. person singular (familiar) du durftest [du: 'dʊrftəst] you were allowed to
  3. person singular er/sie/es durfte [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'dʊrf] he/she/it was allowed to
  1. person plural wir durften [vi:ə 'dʊrftən] we were allowed to
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr durftet [i:ə 'dʊrftət] you were allowed to
  3. person plural sie durften [zi: 'dʊrftən] they were allowed to
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie durften [zi: 'dʊrftən] you were allowed to
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive können ['kœnən] to be able to
  1. person singular ich konnte ç 'kɔntə] I could
  2. person singular (familiar) du konntest [du: 'kɔntəst] you could
  3. person singular er/sie/es konnte [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'kɔntə] he/she/it could
  1. person plural wir konnten [vi:ə 'kɔntən] we could
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr konntet [i:ə 'kɔntət] you could
  3. person plural sie konnten [zi: 'kɔntən] they could
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie konnten [zi: 'kɔntən] you could
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive mögen ['mø:gən] to like
  1. person singular ich mochte ç 'mɔxtə] I liked
  2. person singular (familiar) du mochtest [du: 'mɔxtəst] you liked
  3. person singular er/sie/es mochte [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'mɔxtə] he/she/it liked
  1. person plural wir mochten [vi:ə 'mɔxtən] we liked
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr mochtet [i:ə 'mɔxtət] you liked
  3. person plural sie mochten [zi: 'mɔxtən] they liked
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie mochten [zi: 'mɔxtən] you liked
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive müssen ['mʏsən] to have to do
  1. person singular ich musste ç 'mʊstə] I had to
  2. person singular (familiar) du musstest [du: 'mʊstəst] you had to
  3. person singular er/sie/es musste [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'mʊstə] he/she/it had to
  1. person plural wir mussten [vi:ə 'mʊstən] we had to
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr musstet [i:ə 'mʊstət] you had to
  3. person plural sie musten [zi: 'mʊstən] they had to
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie mussten [zi: 'mʊstən] you had to
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive sollen ['zɔlən] to be to do sth
  1. person singular ich sollte ç 'zɔl] I was to do sth
  2. person singular (familiar) du solltest [du: 'zɔltəst] you were to do sth
  3. person singular er/sie/es sollte [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'zɔl] he/she/it was to do sth
  1. person plural wir sollten [vi:ə 'zɔltən] we were to do sth
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr solltet [i:ə 'zɔltət] you were to do sth
  3. person plural sie sollten [zi: 'zɔltən] they were to do sth
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie sollten [zi: 'zɔltən] you were to do sth
         
  Form German Phonetic Script English
  infinitive wollen ['vɔlən] to want
  1. person singular ich wollte ç 'vɔl] I wanted
  2. person singular (familiar) du wolltest [du: 'vɔltəst] you wanted
  3. person singular er/sie/es wollte [e:ɐ/zi:/ɛs 'vɔl] he/she/it wanted
  1. person plural wir wollten [vi:ə 'vɔltən] we wanted
  2. person plural (familiar) ihr wolltet [i:ə 'vɔltət] you wanted
  3. person plural sie wollten [zi: 'vɔltən] they wanted
  polite form (singular + plural) Sie wollten [zi: 'vɔltən] you wanted

 

As you can see, many strong and mixed verbs change their stem in the Past Tense. These verbs are called strong verbs (="irregular verbs"). You will find a list of those verbs if you click on the button "Irregular Forms" above.