How to Use Irregular Verbs in the German Perfekt Tense

Hallo, Deutschlerner. In my previous 2 videos I introduced you to the Perfekt tense in German. I showed you a ton of examples in an example dialogue skit and then showed you the basics of this tense and how it works with regular verbs. If you haven’t seen those two videos, I encourage you to watch those first. Today I’m going to explain how irregular verbs work in the Perfekt tense. 

If you would like to download a bunch of charts displaying the patterns of past tense irregular verbs in German for FREE, click here.

If you would like a worksheet to help you practice these irregular verbs plus an answer key, an mp3 version of the lesson and a copy of the video scripts, click here.

Quick Review of Regular Perfekt Tense Verbs

Regular verbs, as I mentioned last week, generally add ge- to the front of the verb stem and -t to the end of it, changing verbs like “machen” into their Partizip 2 version “gemacht”. Irregular verbs will mostly have ge- at the beginning and will only remove the ge- in the same situations as regular verbs would (i.e. verbs with inseparable prefixes). Don’t forget that all verbs that end with -ieren are regular verbs, so those verbs don’t belong in this video about irregular verbs. 

Formation of Irregular Verbs in the Perfekt Tense

The ending for irregular verbs in the Perfekt tense, however, is not always a -t. Sometimes you add -en to the end of the stem. This is most prominent in the irregular verbs that look like the infinitive with ge- slapped on the front. For example: 

backen – gebacken 

Ich backe einen Kuchen. –
I am baking a cake. 

Ich habe einen Kuchen gebacken. –
I baked a cake. 

einladen – eingeladen

(Quick Reminder: Verbs with separable prefixes will use ge- between the verb stem and the separable prefix.)

Er lädt deine Mutter zum Abendessen ein. –
He is inviting your mother to dinner. 

Er hat deine Mutter zum Abendessen eingeladen. –
He invited your mother to dinner. 

anfangen – angefangen

Das Spiel fängt um 3 an. –
The game starts at 3. 

Das Spiel hat um 3 angefangen. –
The game started at 3. 

schlafen – geschlafen

Ich schlafe nicht gut in der Nacht. –
I don’t sleep well at night. 

Ich habe nicht gut in der Nacht geschlafen. –
I didn’t sleep well at night. 

sehen – gesehen

Wir sehen deinen Bruder im Kino. –
We are seeing your brother at the movie theater. 

Wir haben deinen Bruder im Kino gesehen. –
We saw your brother at the movie theater. 

geben – gegeben 

Sein Vater gibt ihm ein Auto. –
His father is giving him a car. 

Sein Vater hat ihm ein Auto gegeben. –
His father gave him a car. 

fahren – gefahren

I mentioned in my last lesson that “fahren” can be used with either “haben” or “sein” as a helping verb, so today I’ll show you both examples.

Fährst du mit dem Bus zur Schule? –
Do you ride the bus to school?

Bist du mit dem Bus zur Schule gefahren? –
Did you ride the bus to school? 

Fährst du das Auto deines Vaters zur Schule? –
Are you driving your father’s car to work? 

Hast du das Auto deines Vaters zur Schule gefahren? –
Did you drive your father’s car to school? 

essen – gegessen

This one is a bit different, because it adds an extra G between the initial ge- and the infinitive “essen”. This is simply there to aid in pronunciation.

Ihre Tochter isst kein Schnitzel. –
Her daughter doesn’t eat schnitzel (cutlet). 

Ihre Tochter hat kein Schnitzel gegessen. –
Her daughter didn’t eat schnitzel (cutlet). 

bekommen – bekommen

Since there is an inseparable prefix, be-, there is no ge- added.

Wir bekommen jedes Jahr eine Karte von unserer Tante. –
We get a card from our aunt every year. 

Wir haben jedes Jahr eine Karte von unserer Tante bekommen. –
We got a card from our aunt every year. 

Irregular Verbs That Aren’t Just the Infinitive + ge- in the Front

In addition to verbs that are essentially the infinitive with ge- added to the front, there are other irregular verbs in the Perfekt tense that are just weird, because they often have stem changes and at first glance they can seem pretty random. For example:  

wegnehmen – weggenommen

Fred nimmt mir mein Spielzeug weg. –
Fred is taking away my toy. 

Fred hat mir mein Spielzeug weggenommen. –
Fred took away my toy. 

aufstehen – aufgestanden 

Er steht gegen 9 Uhr morgens auf. –
He gets up around 9 in the morning. 

Er ist gegen 9 Uhr morgens aufgestanden. –
He got up around 9 in the morning. 

beißen – gebissen 

Charlie beißt mir in den Finger. –
Charlie is biting my finger. 

Charlie hat mir in den Finger gebissen. –
Charlie bit my finger. 

bleiben – geblieben

Die Kinder bleiben heute zu Hause. –
The children are staying home today. 

Die Kinder sind heute zu Hause geblieben. –
The children stayed home today. 

gehen – gegangen 

Gehst du heute einkaufen? –
Are you going shopping today? 

Bist du heute einkaufen gegangen? –
Did you go shopping today? 

wissen – gewusst 

Das weiß ich schon. –
I know that already. 

Das habe ich schon gewusst. –
I knew that already. 

So How Do I Learn All of These Verbs?

Confused Student: Uh… excuse me, Herr Lehrer. How am I supposed to remember the irregular past tense forms of verbs if they follow no real rhyme or reason between the infinitive, Präteritum and Perfekt tense? 

Herr Antrim: It can seem that way at first, but when you take a step back and view a group of verbs together, you can often find some similarities and patterns. The easiest way to recognize these patterns is to include the simple past tense form of verbs along with the infinitive and the Partizip 2. 

If you want to learn more about the German simple past tense, I have several videos about that tense linked here.

There is also an amazing website called “Verbix“, which lets you put in any German verb and see it conjugated in every tense, mood and voice. If you haven’t tried that, I recommend that you do.

Another way to go about it would be to buy the book Barron’s 501 German Verbs. It shows you everything you will ever need to know about 501 of the most popular German verbs. *These Amazon links are affiliate links.

Irregular Verb Patterns in the Past Tenses of German

There are many patterns that can be seen when you look at the changes irregular German verbs make between the infinitive, Prӓteritum tense and Partizip 2 (used for the Perfekt tense). In this video I will show you the most common patterns, which will help you to learn the past tense forms of German irregular verbs. 

If you would like to download the charts listed below as a PDF for FREE, click here.

If you would like a worksheet to help you practice these irregular verbs plus an answer key, an mp3 version of the lesson and a copy of the video scripts, click here.

ei-ie-ie

Verbs that have ei in their stems in the present tense often switch to ie in the past tenses. For example: 

Infinitiv Präteritum Partizip 2 Englisch
bleiben blieb geblieben to stay, remain
entscheiden entschied entschieden to decide
leihen lieh geliehen to loan, lend
scheinen schien geschienen to shine
schreien schrie geschrien to scream
schreiben schrieb geschrieben to write
steigen  stieg gestiegen to climb

Be careful with this pattern, however, as there are plenty of regular verbs that have ei in the middle of them and there are also a few irregular exceptions to the rules. For example: 

Infinitiv Präteritum Partizip 2 Englisch
heißen hieß geheißen to be called
reiten ritt geritten to ride
schneiden schnitt geschnitten to cut

Verb stems that have ei in their infinitive tend to have O’s in their past tenses. For example: 

ie-o-o

Infinitiv Präteritum Partizip 2 Englisch
biegen bog gebogen to bend, kneel
bieten bot geboten to offer, provide
fliegen flog geflogen to fly
schießen schoss geschossen to shoot
schließen schloss geschlossen to close, shut
verlieren verlor verloren to lose
ziehen zog  gezogen to pull

Of course there are exceptions to that pattern, most notably: 

Infinitiv Präteritum Partizip 2 Englisch
liegen lag gelegen to lie, be located

If the verb stem has an I, you will see two distinct patterns. Some irregular verbs change to A in the simple past and O in the Perfekt and other irregular verbs change to A in the simple past, but U in the Perfekt tense. For example: 

i-a-o

Infinitiv Präteritum Partizip 2 Englisch
beginnen begann begonnen to begin
gewinnen gewann gewonnen to win
schwimmen schwamm geschwommen to swim
spinnen spann gesponnen to spin
sprechen sprach gesprochen to speak
sterben starb gestorben to die
treffen traf getroffen to meet
werfen warf geworfen to throw

Confused Student: WAIT! Those last 4 don’t have I in the infinitive! What is going on? How is this the same pattern? 

Herr Antrim: Well, these verbs are all irregular in the present tense, too. They have a stem change from E to I. sprechen – spricht, sterben – stirbt, treffen – trifft, werfen – wirft. So while they don’t have I in their infinitive, they do still follow the I-A-O rule. In fact, there are several more like that. For example: 

i-a-o (part 2)

Infinitiv Präteritum Partizip 2 Englisch
brechen brach gebrochen to break
helfen half geholfen to help
nehmen nahm genommen to take

Verbs that change from I to A and then U include: 

i-a-u

Infinitiv Präteritum Partizip 2 Englisch
finden fand gefunden to find
klingen klang geklungen to sound, ring
singen sang gesungen to sing
trinken trank getrunken to drink

There is another common pattern for verbs with I in their stem. This irregular verb category changes from I to A in the simple past tense and E in the Perfekt. This often happens with verbs that have a stem-change in the present tense. Unlike our last pattern, however, this one is not limited to verbs that change from E to I, but also includes the E to IE change. This is also the reason I put “liegen” in this list, as it changes from IE to A and then E. Here are a few verbs in this category. 

i-a-e

Infinitiv Präteritum Partizip 2 Englisch
bitten bat gebeten to ask, request
essen gegessen to eat
geben gab gegeben to give
lesen las gelesen to read
sehen sah  gesehen to see
treten trat  getreten to step, kick
sitzen saß gesessen to sit
liegen lag gelegen to lie
vergessen vergaß vergessen to forget

Quick side note here: The verb sein sort of can be added to this category, as it does change from an I in the present tense to an A in the Prӓteritum and an E in the Perfekt. Because the stem changes a bit more in the Prӓteritum than other verbs, however, it is often left out of this list. It’s forms are: 

Infinitiv Präteritum Partizip 2 Englisch
sein war gewesen to be

Verbs that have an A in their stem follow several patterns. First up is the change from A to U in the simple past and back to A in the Perfekt. Here are a few examples of that:

a-u-a

Infinitiv Präteritum Partizip 2 Englisch
fahren fuhr gefahren to drive
laden lud geladen to load 
schlagen  schlug geschlagen to hit, strike
tragen trug  getragen to carry
waschen wusch gewaschen to wash

This group actually belongs to a larger group of verbs, whose stems simply change in the Prӓteritum, but go back to the same vowel in the Perfekt. While they aren’t always the same vowels in each verb in this category, there is an overarching connection to be seen. 

x-y-x

Infinitiv Präteritum Partizip 2 Englisch
laufen lief gelaufen to run
heißen hieß geheißen to be called
rufen rief gerufen to call, yell
fangen fing gefangen to catch
hӓngen hing gehangen to hang

Quick side note here: fangen and hӓngen are technically the same, as fangen has a stem change in the present tense making it fӓngt with an umlaut. 

These patterns are great for helping you learn the past tenses of irregular German verbs, but there are a few verbs that don’t really fit into any particular mold. For those, you will simply have to remember them. Here are a few examples of those. 

Special Verbs

Infinitiv Präteritum Partizip 2 Englisch
gehen ging gegangen to go
kommen kam gekommen to come
stehen stand gestanden to stand
tun tat  getan to do
werden wurde geworden to become

Now that you know these patterns, you are well on your way to mastering the past tenses in German. If you want to learn about the Perfekt tense and how it works, click this link over here. If you want to learn about the Präteritum tense, click over here.  

Herr Antrim
Herr Antrim is a German teacher with over 10 years of teaching experience. In 2011 he started his successful YouTube Channel "Learn German with Herr Antrim". In 2015 he created this website to enhance the German language lessons he was providing on YouTube. He is now the author of his own e-book, "Beginner German with Herr Antrim". He has also been featured on numerous blogs and other sites. *This site uses a variety of affiliate links. If there is a link that leads to an outside site from which you could potentially make a purchase, it is very likely an affiliate link for which Herr Antrim will receive a small portion of your purchase. This does not cost you any extra, but it does help keep this website going. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you would like more information about the affiliate programs this site uses, click here.
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