German tenses in use: Plusquamperfekt

Posted on 19. Dec, 2011 by in Language

The German Plusquamperfekt tense is equivalent to the English Past Perfect tenses (both the simple and the progressive form). Thus, you use this tense in order to refer to an action or actions that had happened before another action in the past.

But the German Plusquamperfekt is seldom used in independent statements. It is rather used for the chronological course of actions that happened in the past.

Example:

Er hatte bis 20 Uhr gearbeitet. Dann traf er sich mit seinen Freunden.

(He had worked till 8 p.m. Then he met up with his friends.)

Please, note that you would use the Simple Past tense in English here:

He worked till 8 p.m. Then he met up with his friends.

 

Formation:

You form active sentences by using the imperfect verb form of the auxiliary ‘sein’ (to be) or ‘haben’ (to have) and the past participle of the full verb. Below you can find an overview of all conjugated forms of the auxiliaries:

 

haben = to have (hatten –had)

Singular Plural
1st person ich hatte(I had) wir hatten(we had)
2nd person du hattest / Sie hatten(you had) ihr hattet / Sie hatten(you had)
3rd person er/sie/es hatte(he/she/it had) sie hatten(they had)

 

sein = to be (war – was/were)

Singular Plural
1st person ich war(I was) wir waren(we were)
2nd person du warst / Sie waren(you were) ihr wart / Sie waren(you were)
3rd person er/sie/es war(he/she/it was) sie waren(you were)

 

 

Ich hatte bis 20 Uhr gearbeitet.  = I had worked until 8 p.m.

Ich hatte fünf Stunden gearbeitet. = I had been working for five hours.

 

Ich hatte bis 20 Uhr eingekauft. = I had shopped till 8 p.m.

Ich hatte fünf Stunden eingekauft. = I had been shopping for five hours.

As you can see, the German language does not distinguish between a Simple and a Progressive form.

 

Additionally, the Plusquamperfekt is used in temporal clauses in order to illustrate anteriority.

Nachdem sie nach Hause gekommen war, hörte sie Musik.

(After she had arrived at home, she listened to music.)

 

Als ich an der Bushaltestelle ankam, war der Bus schon losgefahren.

(When I arrived at the bus stop, the bus had already departed.)

 

Nachdem es aufgehört hatte zu regnen, gingen wir spazieren.

(After it had stopped raining, we went for a walk.)

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About Sandra

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra

12 Responses to “German tenses in use: Plusquamperfekt”

  1. Kace Schwarm 19 December 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    Is there a misspelling in the first German sentence of this post? Is it supposed to be “gearbeitet” or “gearbeitete?” (just caught my eye b/c I haven’t learned this verb form yet and was paying close attention to the conjugation!)

    Thanks for these posts btw–they are a nice review of the stuff I do know and a preview of the stuff I will be learning in my German class! :)

  2. Sandra Rösner 20 December 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    Thank you Kace, you spotted that right. It is supposed to be “gearbeitet”. I will immediately update that. :)

  3. cindy 22 February 2012 at 11:15 am #

    (After it had stopped to rain, we went for a walk.)

    Should be: After it had stopped raining, we went for a walk.

  4. José 25 May 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    Madam,how can modal verbs be used in nichttrennbare verben?

  5. José 25 May 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    How can someone say “iam confused by deutsch”?.

  6. David Bernstein 1 May 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    Echoing cindy’s comment, “After it had stopped to rain, we went for a walk.” actually means something like the following:

    The weather was doing something else, decided to stop doing that and start raining, and we then went for a walk (in the rain).

  7. Madeline 28 August 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    Sandra, shouldn’t it be “hörte ich Musik AN” (emphasis caps added) and not just “hörte ich Musik”?

  8. Sandra 29 August 2013 at 8:14 am #

    Hello Madeline,

    “Ich hörte Musik” is a common expression in order to say “I am listening to music” but you can also say “Ich hörte MIR Musik AN”. The infinite form is “sich Musik anhören” = “to listen to music”.

    Sandra :)

  9. cherry 25 November 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    vielen Dank fuer die Informationen.
    Ich bin immer im Zweifel mit dit diesen Formen.Wenn ich moechte ueber meine Wochenende erzaehlen,ob ich perfekt oder Plusquamperfekt benutze.
    z.B..Kann ich sagen………..
    Ich hatte in meiner Wochenende viel spass gemacht.Am Samstag war ich zum Einkauf gegangen und am Sonntag hatte ich meine Wohnung aufgeraumt.

  10. Iris 5 June 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    I saw some mistakes in your explanation:
    Hatte – habe
    hatten – haben.

    Ich habe fuer fuenf stunden eingekauft – I shopped for five hours.

    die haben fuer acht stunden gearbeited und danach sind Sie mit Ihren Freunden ausgegangen – They worked for eight hours and afterwards they went out with their friends.

  11. Sandra 9 June 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    Hi Iris,

    In German, you do not say “Ich habe FÜR fünf Stunden eingekauft.” You simply omit the “für” in order to get English “I have shopped for five hours. When you use “für” in the German sentence it is misleading. Check this: “Am Wochenende geben wir eine Party. Wir haben Essen für fünf Stunden eingekauft.” = “We are having a party on the weekend. I bought food for five hours.” (means that you bought so much food, that people can eat five hours.)

  12. Shilpa 15 September 2014 at 3:00 am #

    In plusquamperfekt when to use haben und war. How can we decide wether to use haeb order sein?


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