I am curious, in English it is possible to convey past, present, and future through helping verbs and/or just infinitives.

I did drink -- I drunk/drank (my dialect says "drunk;") this is Past.

I drink; this is Present

I will drink; this is Future

*or also: I shall/must drink for imperativicity or determination.

I am awares in German, „Ich werde trinken“ is possible for: "I will drink (Naught: 'I will to drink/I want to drink --' such be ‚Ich will trinken... ‘)" The same I am aware that both languages essentially have mostly the same grammar (all things given,) so also is there a helping verb in German for past tense to maintain an infinitive, and, be it possible, how shall one combine sein plus an infinitive as I am awares „Ich bin trinken... “ is either not common or not exactly acceptable.

I thank you all in advance.

  • 1
    "both languages essentially have mostly the same grammar". Only they do from an extraterrestrial perspective.
    – c.p.
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 5:58
  • 1
    I disagree, english is mainly less inflected -- both are west germanic languages, the grammar is much the same; I can't think of a single thing that is not the same. Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 6:16
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    The use of do is an English peculiarity.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 6:43
  • This is true, but I am curious if there is an equivalent term in german. I don't think ‚‚tun‘‘ can be used. I highly doubt a word would be the same if german doth have a word for this particular case. Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 6:46
  • Your attempt at archaic sounding language does not help understanding, and it is frankly annoying.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 7:24

4 Answers 4


There is a form of past auxiliary(seemingly) + infinitive in German that from a pure grammatical view would be congruent with what you are looking for, but it means something entirely different:

Ich war schwimmen

This does not translate to "I was swimming", but rather to something along the lines of "I was at a place somewhere else to swim".

This construct is also not limited to "sein" and "haben", but can also be used with verbs of movement:

Ich gehe schwimmen.

Mein Sohn ging spielen.

(My son went to a place somewhere else to play)

This even works with "sein" like in

Ich war gestern nicht arbeiten.

(Which doesn't mean "I haven't been working yesterday" but rather "I wasn't at the place where I normally work yesterday" - I cannot find a more literal translation to bring the difference across)

Note the verbs "sein" + "haben" used here are not used as auxiliaries, but rather are full verbs

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    The only thing I can think of that that would still be literal enough to be that and carry the same meaning would be: I was at swim/ the swimming -- I was yesterday not at work/ the work(ing/s) Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 17:41
  • Well, literally it would be I go to swim - Which is not what I'd call correct English, or I go to work, but that's a substantive as well in English.
    – tofro
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 20:55
  • Ich war schwimmen. doesn't explicitely state to be at a special place for swimming (as it could have happend in your bathtup). Of course, you have to be at a place, where swimming is possible, to swim, but that's not the point of that sentence. Ich war schwimmen. rather emphasizes, that I did the whole process associated with swimming (maybe going to a special place, changing clothes, the actual swimming, drying up afterwards, maybe going back). So, the construct sein+infinitive with sein in past does also work semantically as the OP thinks, but it hase heavy side connotations.
    – Toscho
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 18:39

The German »Perfekt« tense is built with haben/sein + Partizip II (which is the same as the past participle in English).

So in your case: »Ich habe getrunken«

An infinitive would be wrong. But »Ich bin trinken« is also possible in colloquial language. It’s a special grammar form called »Adsentiv« which responds to questions like »Where are you?« or »What are you doing?«

  • I do not think that “bin trinken” is properly described as short for “bin trinken gegangen”. german.stackexchange.com/questions/15529/…
    – Carsten S
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 6:59
  • Ich danke Ihnen. I did know that, but I do thank you, I suppose it is truly not possible that german has a word equal to "do" to form a past tense with an infinitive. Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 7:08
  • And neither does "Ich bin Trinken" imply that you're a heavy drinker, only that drinking is your current occupation. (As in what you do at the moment, not what you do for a living.)
    – sgf
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 13:23

There is also the grammatical form tun+infinitive of verb. It is lowly valued and associated with people not capable of or not caring of correct grammar. (Which is why it's most often used with du.) Its usage is probably dependend on dialect as well. It is semantically equivalent to the verb itself but has the syntactical difference, that only tun is conjugated. So this forms behaves just as the usual English version of do+infinitive of verb.

Ich tu trinken. → Ich trinke.
Tust du trinken? → Drinkst du?
Ich tat trinken? → Ich trank.


In German when you want to say "I am drinking.", you say "Ich trinke." — the present works as present continuous. You should not use "Ich bin trinken.".
The Germans do not often use "Ich werde trinken", that is only written not spoken. You can use the present but you must explain when, like for example "Ich trinke am Morgen.", so that people understand that you are talking about the future.

  • Futur is not only used in written language, but its oral usage is heavily dependend on the sociolect.
    – Toscho
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 18:41

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