I've heard the phrase or the question "Ich war laufen" or "Warst du laufen? I assume it's another way to say "Ich bin laufen gegangen", is that right?

  • What is the difference between both constructions and in which cases is the one used instead of the other?

  • Does this apply to all verbs which require "sein" form instead of "haben" in the perfect tense?


2 Answers 2


The construct "ich war laufen" / "Ich bin laufen gegangen" is, as RHa pointed out correctly, called Absentiv.

Both your examples are not so much an answer to "what did you do?" but rather to "where have you been?"

You were asked for a location and answer with an activity (which may somehow imply a location - If you answer "ich war schwimmen" that closely implies you might have been somewhere where this is possible, probably to the pool). That activity is your reasoning why you have been absent, thus Absentiv.

The difference between your two examples is mainly that

Ich war laufen

would answer the question "where have you been?" and

Ich bin laufen gegangen

would answer the question "where did you go?"

The Absentiv is always constructed with some form of "sein" + infinitive, regardless of whether the verb would rather take "haben" as auxiliary in perfect tense:

Ich war arbeiten

Means "I was at work/in the office/workshop/...", even if arbeiten requires "haben" as auxiliary in perfect tense.


No, laufen sein and laufen gehen are two different things. The difference is about Northern and Southern German:

Wo warst du? — Ich war laufen. (Northern German and writing use Präteritum)

Wo bist du gewesen? — Ich bin laufen gewesen. (Southern German uses Perfekt)

Instead of a place where someone was, she responds with an action, laufen. This is pretty logical because when you constantly move, you haven't been at a single place of interest.

This use of the bare infinitive follows the pattern of modal verbs:

Ich wollte laufen. (Northern German and writing use Präteritum)

Ich habe laufen gewollt. (Southern German uses Perfekt)

For the main verb gehen, Northern and Southern German both use Perfekt.

Ich ging laufen. (Writing uses Präteritum)

Ich bin laufen gegangen. (Speech uses Perfekt)

  • Thank you for the thorough explanation. It was helpful. just one thing I want to mention, I live in Bavaria, which is supposed to be Southern German and here I hear people use Präteritum as you pointed out in the first example. I guess that Bavarian is a bit different than the German as they like to say :)
    – user31936
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 14:26
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    Ich bin laufen gewesen is generally right in German, not only South. And I reckon Ich war laufen is also right in the South
    – äüö
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 14:36
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    ... with the caveat that in the Southern parts of Germany nobody would say Ich habe laufen gewollt using this standard variety of German. People will use their dialects, e.g. Swabian I han laufa wella, I bee laufa ganga, I bee laufa gwäa. As soon as they switch over to standard pronuncation, they (tend to) use also more "northern" (as Janka puts it) syntax, e.g. Ich wollt' laufen, Ich war laufen, etc. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 15:32
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    I’m pretty sure this answer entirely misses the point. By a marathon.
    – Jan
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 16:23
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    @Janka Bist du dir über „Ich habe laufen gewollt. (Southern German uses Perfekt)“ sicher? Ich bin zwar aus Hamburg, habe aber Familie in Schwaben, und „Ich habe laufen wollen.“ („I han laufe wella.“) klingt für mich viel natürlicher.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 13:01

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