In English present perfect is used to show that something happened in the past which has an effect that still remains till now (present).

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Now let's take a look at a simple Present Perfekt sentence in German.

Wir haben schwer gearbeitet.

As far as I know, it must be translated as "We have worked hard". Meanwhile it is translated "We worked hard.", which means it is in simple past tense!

These examples confuse me. I don't know when I can use Present Perfekt?

Is the German Present Perfekt both English Simple Past and Present Perfect?


1 Answer 1


Usage of tenses in English and German is different, so while the English present perfect tense and the German Perfekt are formed in a very similar manner, you should not equate them.

Generally, the German Perfekt and Präteritum (or whatever you like to call them) express the same thing, using one or the other does not express a difference in meaning. So when translating from German you should just see them as “some kind of past tense” and then choose an appropriate tense in the target language by context.

The other way around, which of those two German tenses is used is a bit more difficult. It will indeed depend on the register and the speaker (there are differences between Northern and Southern Germany). You should be aware however, that both tenses are often mixed and which is chosen depends on the verb and does not differentiate in meaning. For example

Ich war im Büro und habe an dem Vortrag gearbeitet.

would be perfectly valid.

  • While in general there is no semantic difference between the perfect and the preterite a speaker can use the perfect to give a statement a more "perfective" (or rather "resultative") meaning. E.g. "Ich habe die Tür zugemacht" emphasizing that the door is now closed, not the action of closing the door. But the perfect doesn't have to have this meaning, it can simply replace the preterite. As a general rule, in spoken German the perfect is preferred, whereas in written German the preterite is preferred. When telling a story from the past the preterite is the usual tense (Erzähltempus).
    – RHa
    Jun 2, 2017 at 6:56

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