3

I have a question on tenses in german, I find it difficult to sometimes distinguish between them. For instance, I have the following sentence:

In Wirklichkeit gibt es die Stadt länger.

So Gibt in my opinion is in the present tense, however, the entire sentence describes the past.
How do you tell?

8
  • "however, the entire sentence describes the past" How so? It's present tense. länger refers to the past, but doesn't affect the tense. Same in English: "Actually the city is existing for a long time." Jul 29 '20 at 10:42
  • Doesn’t it mean something like, “Actually the city existed longer”?
    – se718
    Jul 29 '20 at 10:44
  • 1
    No, it means that what I said in English. If you want to express your example in the comment, it would be: "In Wirklichkeit gab es die Stadt schon länger." So no confusion about the tense. Jul 29 '20 at 10:45
  • 1
    @πάνταῥεῖ The German sentence seems strange to me. I wouldn't say something like that. However, I'm pretty sure it would be present perfect in English: "The city actually has existed for a long time."
    – Roland
    Jul 29 '20 at 11:26
  • 1
    Morphosyntactic tense marking and semantic tense/aspect/mood can be different in most languages. "You will have gotten an email yesterday" -- is that future past? Past? A strange aspect? Wrong? Same here. Present tense is used in an imperfective aspect. Jul 29 '20 at 12:51
6

This is present tense, and in German that is correct for describing a current state, even when stating that it has been like this for some time.

Ich wohne seit 20 Jahren in Kreuzberg.

It is just that English handles this differently and uses present perfect (continuous, I guess).

I have been living in Kreuzberg for 20 years.

This is one of the differences that German speakers have to learn when learning English, too.

2
  • Thanks. While I am sure that my answer is great :) and in this case already backed by comments, it is usually good practice to wait before accepting an answer so as to not discourage others from writing even better ones.
    – Carsten S
    Jul 29 '20 at 11:37
  • More generally, it's better to think of all German tenses as following their own rules and to learn them without trying to match them up with English counterparts. There is some correlation but it's not going to be 100% match and it will cause confusion you assume that there is. This holds for other aspects of grammar as well, for example don't identify German nominative case with English subject. This is one of the things that makes learning a foreign language so challenging (and fun btw).
    – RDBury
    Jul 29 '20 at 16:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.