Conjugation – der Indikativ – Compound Past (das Perfekt)

Haben or sein is conjugated in the present tense, and the past participle (Partizip Perfekt) of the main verb comes to the end of the sentence. These two elements (haben or sein, and the perfect participle) make a so called sentence frame:

  haben / sein            +          Partizip Perfekt
    conjugated in the present tense

Haben is used with the verbs that can have a direct object (e.g. kaufen (etwas) – buy (something); sehen (etwas) – see (something)). Verbs that cannot have a direct object are accompanied either by haben or by sein; the construction for each verb has to be learnt. At any rate, verbs without a direct object that express movement (e.g. gehen – go, kommen – come) or change of state (e.g. einschlafen – to fall asleep, erwachen – to wake up) are used with sein.

Conjugation in Perfekt

The reflexive verbs are always conjugated with haben:

   sich waschen

ich habe mich gewaschen
du hast dich gewaschen
er hat sich gewaschen
wir haben uns gewaschen
ihr habt euch gewaschen
sie haben sich gewaschen

As for the sentence frame, the past participle always comes to the end of the sentence, not necessarily right after haben or sein. This means that all the other parts of the sentence precede the past particple, e.g.:

Ich habe gelernt. (I have learnt / I learnt.)
Ich habe viel gelernt. (I have learnt a lot / I learnt a lot.)
Ich habe gestern viel gelernt. (Yesterday I learnt a lot.)
Ich habe gestern um 5 Uhr mit meinem Freund zu Hause  viel gelernt. (Yesterday at 5 o’clock I learnt a lot with my friend at home.)

Ich bin gekommen. (I have come / I came.)
Ich bin aus der Schweiz gekommen. (I have come / I came from Switzerland.)
Ich bin gestern mit dem Zug aus der Schweiz gekommen. (Yesterday I came from Switzerland by train.)

Er hat sich gewaschen. (He washed / he has washed [incl.: himself].)
Er hat sich heute Morgen mit viel Wasser gewaschen. (This morning he washed [himself] with a lot of water.)

Note that das Perfekt can express not only the same meaning as the English present perfect (though the formation is very similar) but also the meaning of the simple past and several English tenses. Thus, ich habe gelernt can mean not only that “I have learnt” but also “I learnt”, “I had been learning” and so on. For information about using German tenses see this chapter.

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