I am trying to get a sense of how the simple past tense is used in spoken German. If I were talking about a film, would it sound overly formal or stilted to say:

Der Film handelte von …

or would it be more natural to say:

Der Film hat von … gehandelt.


I believe it depends on where in the German language area you would say it. I understand that the past tense is still alive in its northern parts, though I can't say whether a speaker would use it in the example you gave. In the south it would certainly sound stilted.

That said, the most natural way to talk about a film is to just say:

Der Film handelt von ...

since the film wasn't about that only that one time you watched it anyways.

In Austria, there are only two cases of past tense use that I know of (in spoken language), which are the past tenses of "sein" and "wollen": "Ich war ..." and "Ich wollte ..." sound perfectly natural. With all other cases, you would use the Perfekt, "Ich habe gedacht..." etc. This will vary depending on your location htough.

  • +1 on the example. If it's not needed to talk in past/future tenses for understanding, German speakers generally prefer present tense.
    – Janka
    Feb 4 '17 at 0:24

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