I recently learned that the perfect form for modal verbs uses the infinitive rather than the past participle, for example:

Ich habe lernen müssen.

My question is when does one use the past participle? Gekonnt, gemusst, gemocht etc. I have never heard it properly used in spoken language and it seems pretty rare to find it written as well.

  • Colloquial you may here these forms with the present perfect. "Ich habe das gedurft." (as opposed to "Ich durfte das.") This is, I guess, but restricted to few regions (and even there not everyone would say it like this). The example given in Kilian's answer is a good one, too: "Mathematik habe ich noch nie gekonnt."
    – Em1
    Jun 24, 2016 at 12:26

1 Answer 1


The forms are somewhat dispreferred, but they work just as regular syntax would predict they would.

For instance, you would ordinarily say

Mathematik konnte ich noch nie

rather than

Mathematik habe ich noch nie gekonnt

when talking about the past, but if the context really requires the perfect tense rather than the imperfect, it's there for you to use.

However, in long auxiliary chains the alternative morphs for the participles (which look as if they were infinitives) are much preferred:

Dass das Referendum gelingen würde, habe ich nicht wissen können

is much preferred to

?Dass das Referendum gelingen würde, habe ich nicht wissen gekonnt.

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