This is a follow-up question to this thread.

Is it possible to say the following?

Ich war gerade dabei die Tür abzuschliessen, wenn/dann/als du anriefst.

The other post mentions the text below, but that doesn't sound nice to my Dutch ears.

Ich war gerade dabei die Tür abzuschliessen. Da hast du angerufen.

  • 5
    The first sentence is correct, if you use "als". You could also use the second sentence in oral speech. "Da ist/hat ..." is a common introduction, if you want to emphasize some surprising event. Mar 16, 2019 at 23:55
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    But the latter sentence is what German speakers would actually say. We love concatenated main clauses. People would separate it with a comma instead of full stop, though.
    – Janka
    Mar 17, 2019 at 2:07
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    @David Schaap Question: What is the circumstance of the meaning you are looking for: should both things have happened in the past and finished? So you look for a wording to express the continuous form of two events of which none goes on now? And that the "as you called" is told when the described moment is also in the past? NIce in which way: to the one that is told I was closing the door? Mar 17, 2019 at 10:57
  • 1
    Related question with a very informative top-voted answer.
    – guidot
    Mar 17, 2019 at 11:22
  • @ShegitBrahm I'm looking for a way to describe that I was doing something, while something else happend. Like "I was just watching TV when you came in." Apr 7, 2019 at 13:47

5 Answers 5


The common way using continuous form is using dabei sein ..., als:

Ich war gerade dabei die Tür abzuschließen, als du anriefst.

However, the German language really provides a true continuous form similar to the English language. This form turns more and more obsolete and is hardly in use. It is constructed by using the Mittelwort der Gegenwart (present participle), emphasised here:

Ich war die Tür abschließend, als du anriefst.

As as side note: Bavarian dialects do not provide a Mitvergangenheit with the word war (Mitvergangenheit of sein) as the only exception and fall back to Vergangenheit in the second part:

Ich war gerade dabei die Tür abzuschließen, als du angerufen hast.


Your first example is only correct in this form:

Ich war gerade dabei die Tür abzuschließen, als Du anriefst.

If it sounds nice or not, depends largely on the context and what follows. And in speaking your voice.

So if I want to make it nice, I would rather react on phone with

Schön dass Du anrufst.

then I would go on:

Ich schließe noch eben die Tür ab. (if you need to regardless the call) /

Wollte grade die Tür abschließen, das brauche ich jetzt nicht. (if it was depending on the call)

  • 1
    Deine Antwort unterstellt, dass der Anruf noch andauert. Auch ergibt sich aus dem Satz nicht, dass das Abschließen wegen des Anrufs unterlassen wurde. Mar 17, 2019 at 1:47

When you interrupt someone by calling you will more often hear a simple:

War gerade am Abschließen/Gehen/Kochen/Essen/Fernsehen/Lesen/Schlafen.

This is a little more colloquial but closer to continuous form in the meaning of just now. It can also be used in the always/constantly sense like:

Er ist ständig am Schimpfen.
Sie ist laufend am Reden.
Es ist immer am Regnen.

  • 1
    This does not address the question.
    – Carsten S
    Mar 17, 2019 at 10:40
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    I understand the question "Nice ways to describe the continuous form" as a general question asking for a similar form in German language. Grammatically "Infinitiv mit zu" is no continuous form but absolutely identical to the English form "to". But continuous has distinct differences in meaning. What do you understand?
    – xenoson
    Mar 17, 2019 at 14:42
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    I do not understand the title to be part of the question.
    – Carsten S
    Mar 17, 2019 at 22:52
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    "Gerade am ... sein" is "Rheinische Verlaufsform". This is part of some dialacts from parts in western regions of Germany. It is no Standard German and it is not used in other regions. Mar 18, 2019 at 11:55
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    Reminds me of a joke. On the street, husband shouts to wife: "Weißtu wat du bis?!? Weißtu wat du bis?!? Du bis dein Absatz am verliern!" Mar 18, 2019 at 12:20

Ich war gerade dabei(,) die Tür abzuschliessen(,) wenn/dann/als du anriefst.

I was about to close the door, when/then/as you called me.

This simple translation should give you an idea: the first two are incorrect, but the last one fits. "wenn" could be right in the future, but "war" and "anriefst" are in the past, so "wenn" doesn't work here, because wenn is conditional and not time-related. And as it gappened in the past you can't say you're going to close the door, when you call. "wenn" can also be translated as "while" but also this doesn't work here as it happened in the past and in the past you juse "als" in germany. Also the first comma is optional and the second one shouldn't be used. I'd recommend to use the first one as it looks better. Don't ask me why, but it does. However I know you can skip it. The second one (you used) is not necessary, but you can use it too.


Only this option is correct:
Ich war gerade dabei die Tür abzuschliessen, als du anriefst.

The problem with this one
Ich war gerade dabei die Tür abzuschliessen. Da hast du angerufen.
is that the gerade in the first sentence demands that something else happens in parallel before the sentence closes.

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