German Past Tense – The Pluperfect Tense

German pluperfect tense

German Pluperfect Tense

Previously we introduced you to some German past tense forms like the perfect tense and the imperfect tense. In this article we will be looking at the pluperfect tense.
The pluperfect tense sounds complicated but is actually pretty straight forward.

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When to use the pluperfect tense?

The pluperfect tense is used to describe something that had happened or had been true at some point in the past. In English, you will see the pluperfect used in sentences with a form like “I had gone” or “you’d given”.

For example:
He had come home late. ⇨ Er war spät nach Hause gekommen.
We had forgotten his birthday. ⇨ Wir hatten seinen Geburtstag vergessen.

Forming a sentence in the pluperfect tense

The pluperfect tense is formed in a similar way to the perfect tense in that it has two parts:

  • The first part is the imperfect tense of either haben or sein.
  • The second part is the past participle.

Some verbs are built with sein and others with haben. Which verb to use follows the same rule we discussed in our perfect tense post. The majority of German past tense sentences are constructed using the verb haben, however when talking about something movement related, you would use the verb sein.

Pluperfect tense with haben

The table below shows how a basic sentence is formed using the verb haben. You will see that haben is shown in the imperfect tense.

Pronoun haben Past Participle Meaning
ich hatte gelesen I had read
du hattest gelesen you had read
er / sie / es hatte gelesen he / she / it had read
wir hatten gelesen we had read
ihr hattet gelesen you had read
sie / Sie hatten gelesen they / you had read

Example sentences:

I had forgotten my wallet. ⇨ Ich hatte meinen Geldbeutel vergessen. (Literal: I had my wallet forgotten.)

He had lent me €100. ⇨ Er hatte mir 100€ geliehen. (Literal: He had me €100 lent.)

We had bought him a car. ⇨ Wir hatten ihm ein Auto gekauft. (Literal: We had him a car bought.)

Pluperfect Tense with sein

The table below shows how a basic sentence is formed using the verb sein. You will see that sein is shown in the imperfect tense.

Pronoun sein Past Participle Meaning
ich war gefahren I had driven
du warst gefahren you had driven
er / sie / es war gefahren he / she / it had driven
wir waren gefahren we had driven
ihr wart gefahren you had driven
sie / Sie waren gefahren they / you had driven

Example sentences:

You had arrived late. ⇨ Du warst spät angekommen. (Literal: You were late arrived.)

You had been to London. ⇨ Ihr wart in London gewesen. (Literal: You were in London been.)

They had already left. ⇨ Sie waren schon weggefahren. (Literal: They were already driven away.)

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