I understand the meaning of each auxilary verb (and their grammatical usages) but when do you use each in practice. For example: “Sie ist gestern nicht mitgekommen.” I get that “mitkommen” is an intransitive verb, so if you use an auxilary, you’d use forms of “sein,” but why in this form (ie, why not “Sie kam gestern nicht mit”). Alternatively, why would you not use an auxiliary in this sentence: “Das wusste man früher allerdings nicht.”

  • 1
    Präteritum is mainly used for written texts, while Perfekt is used in speech. No strict tense relations, these aren't a thing in German. The more north you get in Germany, the more common verbs are used in Präteritum in speech, too. But never more than a dozen (+prefixed verbs) or so.
    – Janka
    Feb 9, 2019 at 12:46
  • You may also want to read this article: belleslettres.eu/content/verb/… (in German). The author argues there historically is a system –three, to be exact–, which live on until today. But unfortunately, northern and southern speakers are divided which of the three systems should apply when and now it's all a mess.
    – Janka
    Feb 9, 2019 at 14:43
  • 'I get that “mitkommen” is an intransitive verb, so if you use an auxilary, you’d use forms of “sein,”' - that doesn't sound right. You use forms of "sein" (rather than "haben") because "kommen" (and verbs derived from it) is one of a couple of verbs (usually related to movement) that form their perfect tense with "sein". It has nothing to do with transitive/intransitive. Feb 9, 2019 at 14:54
  • @O. R. Mapper: read the belles lettres article, it focuses on that.
    – Janka
    Feb 9, 2019 at 15:07

1 Answer 1


“Sie ist gestern nicht mitgekommen” and “Sie kam gestern nicht mit” are two different tenses (Perfekt and Präteritum), while they have the same core meaning ("she did not come a long") they are used in different contexts.

It is similar in a lot of ways, but not exactly the same, as the English present perfect ("she has come along") and simple past ("she came along").


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