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Learn to Form the Past Perfect Tense in German

written by: Peter Boysen • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 6/23/2015

Learn how to conjugate verbs in the past perfect (plusquamperfekt) tense in German.

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    How Is the Past Perfect Tense Used?

    We use the past perfect tense in English to talk about an event that happened before another event that also took place in the past, and Germany that has already been discussed in the simple past or present perfect tense. Here are some examples of how we use it:

    I had already ordered drinks before you got to the restaurant.

    We had received the letter before you called.

    They were upset because she hadn't told them about the eviction notice.

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    How Do I Write the Past Perfect in English?

    It's very similar to the present perfect: the helping verb is a form of "to have," and the past participle is the proper form of the action verb. In the present perfect, we use the present tense of "to have," while, in the past perfect, we use the past tense -- for all three persons, singular and plural, the form is "had."

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    What on Earth Is "Plusquamperfekt"?

    The easy version -- plusquamperfekt -- simply means "past perfect." Remember how we write the perfekt (present perfect)? Here's a refresher:


    We have lived in Berlin for five years.


    Wir haben fünf Jahre in Berlin gewohnt.

    See? We use the present tense of "haben," or "to have" -- just like English. We also use the past participle -- just like English. The only difference is that the past participle goes to the end of the clause.

    Now, let's make a slight change to see how the plusquamperfekt works in German.


    We had lived in Berlin for five years before I found a job in Munich.


    Wir hatten fünf Jahre in Berlin gewohnt, bevor ich einen Beruf in München gefunden habe.

    Note: This looks just like the present perfect (perfekt) in German, except we're using the past tense of haben as the helping verb. If you're using an intransitive verb that takes sein as a helping verb, you should use the past tense of sein as your helping verb when writing in the plusquamperfekt. Here's how this works:


    I had driven for three hours before I came home.


    Ich war drei Stunden gefahren, bevor ich nach Hause gekommen bin.

    There is a wealth of examples if you need more....alles Glück!

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    For online help pronouncing German words, try LEO, a German translator with pronunciation. Just type in the word you want to hear, and click on the speaker.