I know when to use sein and when to use haben for the present perfect. My muscle memory doesn't always agree with me on that point, though, which results in my starting a lot of sentences with ich habe, and then realising that I should have said ich bin. Starting anew is awkward, and I don't want it to look like I don't know the difference.

Until I've taught my subconscious to use the right auxiliary verb: Are there other verbs that can be used to save the following sentences, resulting in approximately the same meaning?

  • Wir haben ... (Wir sind letzte Woche nach Deutschland gefahren)
  • Ich habe ... (Ich bin in der Stadt gewesen.)
  • Er hat ... (Er ist gestern angekommen.)
  • Napoleon hat ... (Napoleon ist 1814 ins Exil gegangen.)
  • 2
    "Ich habe.. äh .. ich bin in der Stadt gewesen." Find someone to teach you to properly pronounce the "äh". This is not a joke. In France, someone taught me to make a proper "euh" instead when I break a French sentence.
    – Phira
    Commented May 30, 2011 at 15:52
  • "I know when to use sein and when to use haben for the present perfect." Really? Which of the following do you think is correct, then: - "Er hat dort gestanden." - "Er ist dort gestanden." Correct answer is, of course: it depends on where in Germany you are.
    – Ingo
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 13:59

4 Answers 4


Some suggestions:

Ich habe ... gestern etwas in der Stadt erledigt

Er hat ... gestern sein Ziel erreicht

(Don't use Plusquamperfekt here, also see this question

Napoleon hat ... 1824 Frankreich verlassen und ist ins Exil gegangen.

As deceze already wrote, it's hard to keep the exact original sense of your phrase. A motion stays a motion and generally requires sein as Hilfsverb. And I also agree that there's absolutely no problem with starting a sentence again. It happens to native speakers as well.


You could kratz' die Kurve and bend the sentence:

Wir haben... letzte Woche eine Reise nach Deutschland unternommen.

But you can't really do that without changing the meaning of the sentence in many cases.

German is very rigid in its grammar, if you start a sentence in a certain way you're basically bound to continue it in a certain limited number of ways. There's no real way to get around it. This happens to natives as well though and it's not too unusual to sometimes start a sentence over if you realize you wanted to say something else halfway through.

  • I think your suggestion for the first example is great. If there is no general solution, I'm looking for such solutions to these specific examples.
    – Tim
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 7:17
  • @Tim It really doesn't mean the same as what you want to say though, depending on the situation the conversation will take a completely different turn because of it. "Ja? Wo sind sie denn überall hingefahren?" - "Äh... nein, wir waren nur in unserem Frankfurter Büro..." It might get even worse: Ich habe... einen Spaziergang in der Stadt gemacht. That's completely different from "Ich bin in der Stadt gewesen." It's not really a good substitute for saying what you meant to. ;-)
    – deceze
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 7:23
  • If I have to make some compromises to save my face, I will :)
    – Tim
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 7:26
  • 5
    I think it's actually important to correct yourself. Trying to wiggle your way through won't improve your German the way correction will. I'd be more impressed by a non-native who can correct himself on the spot instead of stumbling through a conversation, even if it slows the conversation down a bit. :)
    – deceze
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 7:27
  • 2
    BTW, Japanese is an awesome sentence-bender language. You can just keep tagging on stuff at the end of a sentence until you run out of breathing air. Maybe you want to try that instead... ;o)
    – deceze
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 7:30

Just start the sentence anew. That’s not really a problem, it happens to me all the time (native speaker). Usually, trying to bend a sentence around just makes it awkward and harder to understand. And although people try it again and again (me included) it almost never makes sense.


Just do like everybody does when they decide to say something completely different.

Wir haben letzte Woche … also wir sind letzte Woche nach Deutschland gefahren.

(You’d have put a bit stress on the ‘sind’ there, I think. But only slightly. And don’t pronounce the ‘also’ too much. Let it come out naturally.)

Or, even better:

Wir haben letzte Woche … also letzte Woche, (da) sind wir nach Deutschland gefahren.

(No extra stress on the ‘sind’ here. Because of the change in word order, all your listeners will forget what you said before.)

Of course you should pronounce ‘haben’ as /ham/. Listeners expect a way less coherent grammar when the pronunciation is lax.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.