Simple Past with “haben”

Hallo, Deutschlerner! The verbs “haben” and “sein” can be tricky in pretty much every tense. When you talk about things that you “had” or “were” in German, you need to use the past tense to do this. 

As I’m sure you already know, the Präteritum tense is generally used when writing in German about past events, but the Perfekt is used when speaking. 

But with these two verbs, it sounds a bit weird to say “Ich habe einen Hund gehabt.” when you could just say “Ich hatte einen Hund.” or “Ich bin nicht zu Hause gewesen.” when you could have said “Ich war nicht zu Hause.”

So today I’m going to teach you the conjugation and use of “haben” and “sein” in the Präteritum tense. 

The best part is, when you learn this version of just these two verbs, you can easily teach yourself another tense in German and the dreaded Konjunktiv 2 becomes a piece of cake. More about that at the end of the lesson. 

“haben” and “sein” in the Past Tense (Präteritum Guide)  - A2/B1 German Grammar

Conjugation of haben in the Präteritum Tense

DeutschEnglisch
ich hatteI had
du hattestyou had
er, sie, es hattehe, she, it had
wir hattenwe had
ihr hattetyou had
sie, Sie hattenthey, you had

Examples of haben in the Präteritum Tense

DeutschEnglisch
Als Kind hatte ich viele Ninja Turtle Spielzeuge.As a child I had a lot of Ninja Turtle toys. 
Hattest du viel Spaß auf dem Konzert?Did you have a lot of fun at the concert? 
Der Räuber hatte ein Messer.The robber had a knife. 
Die Schülerin hatte ihr Buch nicht.The student (female) didn’t have her book. 
Das Haus hatte gelbe Fensterläden.The house had yellow shutters. 
Meine Schwester und ich hatten Katzen als Haustiere.My sister and I had cats as pets. 
Hattet ihr die Antworten auf alle Fragen?Did you have the answers to all the questions? 
Die kleinen Kinder hatten keine Zeit zum Schlafen.The little children didn’t have any time to sleep. 
Hatten Sie früher Haare?Did you used to have hair? 

Conjugation of sein in the Präteritum Tense

DeutschEnglisch
ich warI was
du warstyou were
er, sie, es warhe, she, it was
wir warenwe were
ihr wartyou were
sie, Sie warenthey, you were

That’s right, folks. War is in the past in German, where it should stay. 😀 

Warning: Was & Were Are Confusing

If you are an English native speaker, you may be asking, “why isn’t he, she, it were” in the English translation?

Well, that would be the subjunctive mood in English. That should be reserved for hypothetical type situations in English.

If I were an Oscar Meyer wiener, everyone would be in love with me.” I’m not an Oscar Meyer wiener and I wasn’t one in the past either. This is the proper use of “I were” or “he were”. 

Examples of sein in the Präteritum

DeutschEnglisch
Ich war dünner, als ich jünger war.I was thinner when I was younger. 
Warst du gestern bei Johns Party?Were you at John’s party yesterday? 
Einstein war sehr klug.Einstein was very smart. 
Scarlett Johansson war im Avengers Film.Scarlett Johansson was in the Avengers film. 
Es war gar nicht so schwer, Deutsch zu lernen.It wasn’t hard at all to learn German. 
Wir waren mal glücklich.We were happy once. 
Wart ihr schon einmal in Berlin?Were you in Berlin before? 
Die Eltern waren im Wohnzimmer, während ihre Kinder im Keller waren.The parents were in the living room while their children were in the basement. 
Waren Sie danach sehr müde?Were you very tired after that? 

Bonus About Learning haben & sein in the Präteritum

The bottom line is that as long as you can conjugate these verbs in this tense, you can talk about anything that you were or had in the past. But that isn’t the best part about learning these verbs in this tense. 

If you know how to conjugate “haben” and “sein” in the Präteritum tense, you likely have already learned the Perfekt tense. If you know both of those things, you can use the Plusquamperfekt

This is basically when you talk about past events that happened before another reference point in the past. 

DeutschEnglisch
Er hatte den Kuchen schon gegessen, als seine Mutter ihn informierte, dass der Kuchen für eine Party war.He had already eaten the cake, when his mother informed him that the cake was for a party. 

Another Bonus About Learning haben & sein in the Präteritum

If you add an umlaut to all of the forms of “haben” and “sein” in the Präteritum tense, you have made the Konjunktiv 2. Just don’t forget to add an extra E for du and ihr. 

DeutschEnglisch
Du wärest klüger und hättest mehr Geld, wenn du Deutsch gelernt hättest.You would be smarter and have more money, if you would have learned German. 

With the power of the Perfekt and Präteritum tenses, you can create the Plusquamperfekt and the Konjunktiv 2.

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