Sein – Every Tense, Mood, & Voice

    This week’s Tip of the Week Video follows in the footsteps of the previous several weeks. This time I covered the verb “sein”, which is the most used verb in the German language. If you want to see the video conjugating the verb through every tense, mood, and voice, you can see it below.

    Now for the part you are actually wanting to see. How do you use all of those tenses and moods in sentences? You will notice I left out the passive voice in the video. This is because you can’t have a direct object with this verb, which means you also can’t have a passive voice of it.

    Present, Indicative, Active

    In the present tense you can use “sein” in similar ways that you do in English. You can describe the subject of the sentence with a predicate adjective or you can show that the subject is equal to another noun by using a predicate nominative. Take a look at these examples.

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    Ich bin Lehrer. – I am a teacher. (Use of predicate nominative.)

    Bist du klug? – Are you smart? (Use of a predicate adjective.)

    Mein Bruder ist mein bester Freund. – My brother is my best friend. (Use of a predicate nominative.)

    Wir sind Geschwister. – We are siblings. (Use of a predicate nominative.)

    Seid ihr fertig? – Are you finished? (Use of a predicate adjective.)

    Diese Schuhe sind schön. – These shoes are beautiful. (Use of a predicate adjective.)

    Future, Indicative, Active

    Most of the things that I might use with the future tense in English and the verb “to be”, I would more than likely use “werden” (to become) in German. This means that you probably wouldn’t use a predicate nominative in the future tense usage of the verb “sein”. That being said, it can be done. Think of instances in English when you can say “will be” and you will more than likely use the future tense of “sein” in the German versions of those sentences.

    Ich werde nett sein. – I will be nice. (In response to a parent who told you to be nice.)

    Du wirst ein hübscher Joseph sein. – You will be a handsome Joseph. (If someone were to play the part of “Joseph” in a play or something like that.)

    Das System wird effektiv sein. – The system will be effective.

    Simple Past, Indicative, Active

    You might see the past tense of “sein” in obituaries when they are talking about the life of the deceased.

    Hans war ein guter Mann. – Hans was a good man.

    Die Kinder waren noch nicht zehn Jahre alt. – The children were not yet 10 years old.

    See an example of a German obituary here.

    Present Perfect, Indicative, Active

    The present perfect tense is supposed to be used when speaking in German, but in almost every instance, I would actually use the simple past tense. More colloquially, the difference is pretty subtle. Try to see the difference between the following sentences.

    Ich war heute beschäftigt. – I was busy today.

    Ich bin heute beschäftigt gewesen. – I have been busy today.

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    Technically speaking, there isn’t really a difference in the two sentences and you can use the present perfect (bin gewesen) to express the same thing, but when people use it in conversation, they may use the present perfect version to draw attention to the fact that the action has been completed. Using the simple past, as the name implies, is easier and therefore more common.

    Past Perfect, Indicative, Active

    In case you don’t remember from my post about the tenses, this tense is used when you need to indicate that one past event happened before another past event. Generally, this is done by using an extra phrase to talk about the second event in the series.

    Ich war noch nicht mit meiner Hausaufgabe fertig gewesen, als mein Vater ins Wohnzimmer kam. – I had not yet been finished with my homework when my father came into the living room.

    Bruce Wayne war noch nicht Batman gewesen, als er Ra’s al Ghul getroffen hat. – Bruce Wayne had not been Batman when he met Ra’s al Ghul.

    Future Perfect, Indicative, Active

    This tense is essentially the polar opposite of the past perfect. Instead of indicating something in the past, however, it indicates that something will be completed in the future.

    Mein Vater wird schon da gewesen sein, als ich darin schlafe. – My father will have already been there when I sleep in there.

    Ich werde schon lange tot gewesen sein, bevor die Roboter die Welt beherrschen. – I will have been dead a long time before the robots rule the world.


    The imperative with “sein” is pretty straight forward. If you tell someone to be something, you use the imperative form of “sein”.

    Sei nett! – Be nice.

    Seid brav! – Be good.

    Seien Sie still! – Be quiet.

    Seien wir Drachen! – Let’s be dragons. (Used to explain how to play pretend with children.)

    Subjunctive 1, Present, Active

    Er sagt, er sei unschuldig. – He says, he is innocent.

    Sagt ihr, dass ihr hübsch seiet? – Are you saying that you are handsome?

    Subjunctive 1, Future Active

    Mein Bruder sagt, dass er verspätet sein werde. – My brother says he will be late.

    In der Zeitung sagt er, dass er in Düsseldorf sein werde. – In the newspaper he says, he will be in Düsseldorf.

    Subjunctive 1, Past, Active

    Der Verbrecher sagte, er sei nicht da gewesen. – The criminal said, he wasn’t there.

    Der Schüler hat gesagt, dass er krank gewesen sei. – The student said that he was sick.

    Subjunctive 2, Present, Active

    Wenn ich eine Frau wäre, hieße ich “Frau Antrim”. – If I were a woman, I would be called “Frau Antrim”.

    Wenn meine Mutter nicht hier wäre, würde ich Eis essen. – If my mother weren’t here, I would eat ice cream.

    Subjunctive 2, Future, Active

    Es würde leicht sein. – It will be easy.

    Wir würden nicht kluger sein. – We will not be smarter.

    Subjunctive 2, Past, Active

    Wenn ich da gewesen wäre, hätte ich die Kekse gegessen. – If I had been there, I would have eaten the cookies.

    Wenn die Hunde gut gewesen wären, hätte ich keine zerbrochenen Spielzeuge gefunden. – If the dogs had been good, I wouldn’t have found any broken toys.

    sein - every tense, mood, and voice

    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.