I have seen people write like this:

  1. Bist du der Junge, der meine Tasche gestohlen hat?

but also

  1. Warst du der Junge, der meine Tasche gestohlen hat?

  2. Das war mein Vortrag, vielen Dank für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit.

but also

  1. Das ist alles von uns, vielen Dank für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit.

  2. Er war der Sieger letzten Wettkampfes.

but also

  1. Er ist der Sieger letzten Wettkampfes.

  2. Er war der Mörder.

but also

  1. Er ist der Mörder.

  2. Wie viel kostet deine Jacke?

but also

  1. Wie viel hat deine Jacke gekostet?

  2. War er der Mann, der den Preis gewonnen hat?

but also

  1. Ist er der Mann, der den Preis gewonnen hat?

Those are several examples. According to the things that I've seen and my knowledge, both ways of writing are correct. But I'm really not sure now, I need your thoughts on this! Do people who speak German talk/write this way too? Are the both ways of writing correct? If so, which way is more often used? Thank you!


As far as I can tell, you are looking at pairs of sentences where present and past might seem to be interchangeable.

A scenario: Yesterday, your colleague told you a story about a person called Weininger. Today, your colleague starts talking about Weininger again. If you don't remember yesterday's interaction at all, you would say Wer ist das denn? However, if you remember the name but not the story, you would say Wer war das nochmal? In this case, the particle nochmal makes the intended meaning clear enough that Wer ist das nochmal? is equally possible. This is what happens in your examples one and six: they're about the distinction between learning something for the first time (present) and having learned something before, but not being able to recall (past).

Second scenario: Your colleague has bought a new watch. You could ask either Was kostet die Uhr? or Was hat die Uhr gekostet? The two can be very close in meaning, the potential difference being that the present refers to a regular market price and the past to some special deal: Normalerweise kostet das Ding über tausend Euro, aber mich hat sie nur fünfhundert gekostet. (There are other possibilities, of course. Was kostet die Wohnung? might refer to monthly rent payments, Was hat die Wohnung gekostet? to a purchase.)

This might be what is happening in your example Wie viel hat deine Jacke gekostet? Usually, kosten is a static and durative event, but here it is a bounded event, referring to the purchase of a particular jacket that took place at a specified time. This isn't due to the past, but rather to the ambiguity of the jacket either referring to a model or an instance of that model.

Dieser Chip (model) hat vor einem Jahr noch über tausend Euro gekostet. (static, durative)
Dieser Chip (instance) hat mich damals über tausend Euro gekostet. (bounded)

  • Thank you so much for your response and very sorry for the late reply, but I think this is exactly it! Same as Janka said before, in the end they are correct no? Just referring to a less/more specific moments in time? I completely understand what you mean, but could you explain more regarding the difference between scenarios like "Ist er der Mann, der den Preis gewonnen hat?" and "War er der Mann, der den Preis gewonnen hat?" and also between "Er war der Sieger letzten Wettkampfes." and the "ist" counterpart? Das habe ich noch nicht richtig verstanden. Vielen Dank im Voraus.
    – user38477
    Jun 6 '19 at 7:32

All your examples are correct, but they mean slightly different things.

I think you are struggling with the dual function Präteritum has in German. For once, it's the standard tense for stories told. It's not about the past then, but about a fantasy time the story plays in. Which may be the past but doesn't have to.

The other function is the replacement of the Perfekt tense, which denotes past events from the current time. This is common with the auxiliaries and the more north you get in Germany, the more other verbs are also affected by that phenomenon.

Whether you use Präsens or Perfekt/Präterium depends on whether you talk about current/ongoing/future events or past events. German does not employ a zoo of tenses for that purpose but just those two/three.

  • Very sorry for the late reply and as always thank you for your help Janka. You are right, I'm still pretty confused about how this works. But if my examples are already correct, then I think I have a pretty clear image of this, and that relaxes me. I guess at the end of the day languages are flexible and I shouldn't stress too much about something like this.
    – user38477
    Jun 6 '19 at 7:12
  • 1
    David Vogt has put it a bit better in his answer, but I repeat this again and again either: in German, tenses are just another marker clarifying the intent of the statement. This is very different to English where all things have to fall in place or you sound like a dork.
    – Janka
    Jun 6 '19 at 14:45

This is not really about Präteritum/Perfekt. In most of these sentences you are comparing the present tense and either the preterite or the perfect.

Let's look at some of your examples:

  • Bist du der Junge, der meine Tasche gestohlen hat? [present]
    Warst du der Junge, der meine Tasche gestohlen hat? [preterite]
    -- Are/were you the boy who stole my bag?

  • Wie viel kostet deine Jacke? [present]
    Wie viel hat deine Jacke gekostet? [perfect]
    -- What does/did your jacket cost?
    It would be possible (but unusual) to use the preterite instead of the perfect:
    Wie viel kostete deine Jacke?

The other examples are similar.

If you are looking for more information on when to use the perfect/preterite look here

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