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This is a question about a specific use of the simple past after als. It's different from the more general question of when to use the simple past and the present perfect, which has been discussed already in previous posts.

I have a friend from Hamburg who seems to prefer the simple past after als with verbs that she would otherwise use in the present perfect, such as:

Ich war gerade angekommen, als du mich sahst.

German is not my native language, but it's very jarring to me to hear the simple past in the 2nd person for verbs other than sein, haben, werden, and the modals, even when talking to someone from Northern Germany. I probably would say,

Ich war gerade angekommen, als du mich gesehen hast.

but my friend says sahst sounds better to her. And this happens in very informal spoken conversations with verbs that I rarely hear in the simple past (e.g., ... als das Telefon klingelte.)

Is there some general grammatical rule about verb tenses after als, or is this just a regional or age-based style preference? (My friend is elderly.)

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    Note simple past is basically non-existent in some southerly dialects - So, depending on where you are, you might hear it rarely, but, the further north, the more often. – tofro Aug 30 '18 at 17:21
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The more north you get, the more verbs people use in speech in the simple past tense rather than perfect tense. Hot candidates are

  • sein, haben, werden (of course)
  • müssen, können, dürfen, sollen, wollen, mögen (not möchten!)
  • gehen, laufen, fahren, warten, kommen
  • sehen, hören
  • bekommen, geben
  • essen, trinken

(plus their prefixed friends, of course.)

It's really a matter of dialect, not of age or personal preference. Neither connected to als.

  • Interesting. I could swear that the "als" was having this weird effect and causing her to use the simple past for everything (e.g., "... als du mir halfst"). Perhaps this is just another case of me seeing a pattern where none exists. But I'm sold on the present perfect for most verbs. – Dan Leifker Aug 30 '18 at 20:05
  • That would be an odd personal preference then. But in general, people from the north are very open to the use of simple past in speech. It's not abhored as in the south. – Janka Aug 30 '18 at 20:57

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